We know Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi to be the shining emblems of “Despacito,” but Erika Ender is a supernova in her own right. Her co-pen game helped the country’s now-hottest song and most streamed track ever take flight, bringing worlds together through the power of language.
Born in Panama, Ender is not only a Latin Grammy–winning songwriter and TV personality, she’s also the first woman songwriter whose résumé includes a No. 1 on Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart in Spanish—the “ultimate gift” for the woman whose sweat and tears went into making dreams a reality.
At a moment many consider a turning point in music and popular culture (read: crossover), we sit down with Ender and discuss the significance behind “Despacito,” women in music, Justin Bieber on the remix, and much more. Get acquainted.
VIBE Viva: How do you approach songwriting?
Erika Ender: For me, songwriting is a mission. I started writing songs at the tender age of 9, first because it was the most beautiful and artistic way I found to express myself (as well as singing). Later, I learned that it could take me away from this world, while I created my own, in a space of three to four minutes. Then I confirmed it made me happier and made eternal the best moments I could live, and I found out that it cured me from any pain life could bring me. Writing makes me translate emotions such as love, pain, even injustice, into art. It became a real mission which I tend to accomplish every day while I sit down to create with the responsibility of making people’s soundtracks. One song can really make an eternal mark on others’ lives. It decides what it wants to reach and how far it wants. Songwriting is one of the best blessings of my life.
Did you at all anticipate the success “Despacito” has garnered?
We knew we had a hit in our hands, but we never imagined how far and big this would become. It had its own wings and decided to fly way farther than our imagination.
How do you feel about it now that it is as successful as it is?
More than happy, and way more than grateful. After 25 years of an amazing career full of wonderful achievements and also lots of difficult moments and lessons, “Despacito” came in as an unexpected crossover (since the song is in Spanish) and as the cherry on top for my amazing 25th-anniversary celebration: The Latin Grammy, the induction to the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, and, right after, this enormous phenomenon that really connected with people around the world. It has become the best gift ever for a woman that believed in herself, that has worked hard based on her talent, values, and perseverance, and I’m pretty sure all involved feel the same. Fonsi, for example, is an amazing hard worker, and I do believe he really deserves this big success.
What doors do you hope this opens, both as an artist and for Latino communities?
As much as possible. We are rich in rhythms, in melodies, in lyrics… We have a very special flavor and a unique way of expressing. We are open, happy, and loving people. It shows in everything we do. The world needs more of that.
How do you feel about Justin Bieber’s remix?
It was a beautiful surprise that he decided to record the song, and even more that he did it mostly in Spanish. It took the song to new and amazing places, though it was already a big hit in so many ways… But he really opened new big doors, and we are happy and grateful for that.
How do you feel about Spotify naming him the New Latin King?
I think he honored our language by deciding to sing the majority of the song in Spanish, and I think he did a pretty good job.
You are the first woman songwriter to have a No. 1 on the Billboard 100 in Spanish. What does that mean to you?
I feel a great responsibility. In an industry where there are 20 men to one woman, being able to achieve the title of the only Hispanic woman to have a number one as a songwriter in the Hot 100, with a song in Spanish, makes me want to keep doing my best and share this achievement with other women. From a special and humble place of my heart, I am encouraging them to believe in their dreams and letting them know, it is possible… You can do whatever you want based on all the good you can give. I’m not telling them “Do what I did” or “Be like me”… Simply is a way of showing them: If I could do it, you can too! Set your own goals and don’t stop till you reach them! No matter how hard it may seem, and no matter being a minority. The road will only make you grow as a person and as a professional, until you become the person that’s ready for that dream to become a reality.
Who else have you lent your talents to?
My songs have been recorded on more than 160 international CDs during the last 20 years… At least 40 important singles in different territories. I am so grateful to all of my colleagues that really believe in my art and talent. I really put my heart into it, trying always to give to the artists that record my songs the best place I can, the best song I can, and the one that would really be as special as if they wrote it themselves.
And who might you be working with now, after setting records with “Despacito”?
I’m still working with amazing Latin colleagues I love and admire, but “Despacito” has opened new doors and markets for me as a singer and as a songwriter. So now I’m working more the Anglo music world as well as the Brazilian market. I’m half Brazilian, and though I’ve already had a couple of nice accomplishments in that country, now I’m really embracing all opportunities that are coming with the biggest names of Brazil.