“Only because I can, I’ll rebel. That’s how I like to be,” sings Juan Wauters in the opening track of La Onda de Juan Pablo in a stimulating invite to Wauters own experimentation with the traditional music styles of Latin America.
La Onda De Juan Pablo developed as an album after a period of travels. Coming to light in a time where Latin trap artists are at the top of the line, underground and indie Latin artists have managed to embraced their roots and develop a sound of their own impact. Simply because it’s inevitable to avoid having a conversation about a Latinx artist or two — with artists like Helado Negro, Rosalia, Bad Bunny, Balún, Alex Anwandter, Los Wálters, AJ Dávila, Buscabulla, Natalia Lafourcade, Hurray for The Riff Raff, Princess Nokia, just to name a few, the Latin American spectrum is broad for one main reason: there’s recognition and respect for each and everyone’s own artistic vision and a strong resonance of each cultural background. Juan Wauters’ newest album is not an exception. It welcomes vulnerability, perfectly mixed with Wauters trademark lo-fi guitar arrangements. It’s potent, funny, and curated within a variety of sounds that are borderline recognizable, but still new because they are uniquely his.
I must be honest and say that this ‘assignment’ was forwarded to me a while ago. I didn’t listen to the album until a few days ago, coincidentally before heading home to Puerto Rico for a short visit. Was there a universal reason for this? I have no idea. But after being bombarded by the Island’s own typical music on the 6th of January at a Three Kings Day party, I understood the obvious: How would anyone not feel the urge to promote and preserve the sounds and movements of generations? The union of folkloric arrangements and newer genres is not new, but Wauters makes the transition seamless. A little bit here, a little bit there.
La Onda de Juan Pablo slowly builds up an album that was parallel to his experiences throughout South America, Central American and the Caribbean — specifically in Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and Chile to Mexico and Puerto Rico. “Machete” coexists not only as the intro to the record, but also the outro — the first being soothing compared to the groovier of the latter. They speak about how his ‘canto’ or singing allows him to be who he is and where he is.
Followed by a more effective trade is “Disfruta La Fruta,” where Juan lists his favorite fruits, and encourages the listener to enjoy them as well. Juxtaposed by synths and flutes, the guitar fixates in the background as a secondary character in this storytelling of fruits and mundaneness: its uneasiness is pleasant and unexpected. The joys in life are simple. And you can tell Wauters enjoys this. It’s a hymn to fruits.
Juan’s stories and guitar arrangements are cohesive. While “El Señor” vibrates with his echoed voice, there’s a display of thread genres that goes from música popular to an almost fast-paced bolero. In his attempt to write a song about someone else’s experience, he allows us to understand his vision and inspiration, and that is that everyone deserves their own story and those stories can be sung.
While Latin American music has gone through a boom and been rising in the past couple of years thanks to mainstream radio stations, it’s impossible to ignore the transformation of genres across underground songwriters. The exploration of Juan Pablo Wauters across Latin America allowed him to pick melodies that spoke to him. From trios and saxophones in “Blues Chilango” to the bolero and warm weathers in “Guapa,” Juan challenges the perception of these traditional arrangements. For example, “Blues Chilango” is very sensual and also melancholic, whilst “Guapa” is more danceable. An ode to a woman where the clave key, played at a slower velocity and tempo is still explicit and catchy, and the percussion sections reminisce of salsa fundamentals and guaracha.
Take for instance the Afro Cuban grooves found in “Camdombe”, the only instrumental track in the album—although towards the final stretch of the song Wauters recites a poem of sorts, the festive atmosphere, with bossa nova and samba grooves, are done by an ensemble of instruments that are not typical of the genre and converges with each track magically. After this, traveling with him is simple, and not distracting. “Un Buen Día Hoy Será” is all about him and his guitar. A soothing experience that’s uplifting and hopeful, contrasting the thematic elements of the song relating to routine: being awaken by an alarm clock, taking the train, meeting people in the train that are going to work, and working for “lo que es justo cobrar” (what’s fair to get gain). Following up is “Mi Vida” where Juan reflects on the sad life that he must live, but he still has a good time doing so. The conversation that the protagonist of “La Onda de Juan Pablo” has is not personal to Juan only— growing, making music, reflecting on life, relearning from the country we come from and its traditions, and accepting these. In line with everyday life, there’s nothing better than to end the conversation with a modern lo-fi ranchera from the Uruguayan-born musician. We need songs about routines, conformity, and self-discovery — time to show who you really are.
“La Onda de Juan Pablo”, which follows up Wauters 2015’s “Who Me?,” is out via Captured Tracks. Follow Juan’s Travel Journal & Interactive Map Through Latin America.