How Sebastián Yatra's 'Hardest Year' of His Life Inspired New Album 'Dharma' (Exclusive)
By Liz Calvario
Erick Fernando Quezada
There's a newfound sense of serenity and gratitude within Sebastián Yatra. After having "the hardest year of my life, emotionally," the 27-year-old singer tells ET, from his home in Colombia ahead of the release of his third studio album, Dharma, that he's looking at life in a whole new way.
Radiating positivity that transfers from the screen, he reflects on his latest achievements. His song, "Dos Oruguitas," from the Disney animated movie Encanto, has reached the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs and has been streamed over 29.5 million times on Spotify.
"It's crazy, right? I posted that the other day on my Instagram and I was like, 'Sorry, Bad Bunny,'" he says of taking the Puerto Rican artist's spot on the chart. "And I'm coming out to get you Farruko with 'Pepas' with 'Dos Oruguitas.'"
"It's just magical like Disney, es un encanto estar ahí," he elates. "And it's actually the highest I've ever been on Hot Latin Songs. I think we're close to my first No. 1. 'Dos Oruguitas' has literally just been a gift in my life [that] God has sent me and the universe, and I'm grateful."
Never prouder to be Colombian and representing his country with the song, Yatra was chosen by Lin-Manuel Miranda to sing the Spanish and English versions after hearing his song, "Adiós." The single was released in 2021 and forms part of his latest album.
"It's luck," he expresses. "There's so many amazing people they could have chose to perform this song, and the fact that they called me, it's just part of my dharma, of my destiny. Lin-Manuel heard it and they told me that … it had made him feel a lot of stuff, and that he said, 'This is the voice that I want singing 'Dos Oruguitas.' So you never [know]."
"That's the important thing of doing things with your heart and not looking for the results, just transmitting the emotion and being true to yourself," he notes. "Because 'Adiós' is a song I wrote and I sang because of all the emotions I was feeling at some point. It was never released to be a huge hit… That would've been cool, but it was just to help people that were going through the same thing -- and look where it ended up taking me."
Dharma, which means accepting reality, was chosen as the name of the album after he underwent some lifestyles changes. In his description for the LP, which features an array of genres from pop, rock, vallenato, reggaeton and more, he wrote, "I focused on making what I felt with the rhythms and harmonies that convey THE TRUTH of the story I wanted to tell." So what is Yatra's truth and the story he wanted to share?
"There were a lot of stories. I didn't have one specific story. Each song just had a different truth. I wanted to let that story guide me toward the best genre or type of chords to tell that story," he explains, elaborating that he didn't go into creating the album with one theme in mind. Instead, it was a collaborative effort between him and the writers he worked with, who brought their ideas and personal stories together.
"When I wrote 'Tacones Rojos,' I'm like, 'I'm going through this and I want to write a song that's beautiful just to tell somebody how important they are in my life and that they are a ray of light that comes in through the window,'" he adds. "We started with some chords that felt happy. I didn't really know what could happen with the song or not. I just wanted to express the emotion. We ended up doing this beautiful song that is pure happiness for people."
The song's success, Yatra says, "helped me regain that confidence, that it's all in the music and in the honesty of the message."
One could say that every song Yatra writes is very personal to him and fans can learn more about him through his lyrics. "Yeah, in a lot of song you can learn a lot about me," he agrees, before noting not all of them are personal experiences. "There's ones you can learn a lot about my friends who I write with. But the cool thing is that in each and every one of the songs, of course, I put in details of my own life. There's songs on the album that maybe aren't about me, but then there's parts and little chunks of it where I tell my own story inside that."
"Because with every love song you can find, you can identify yourself somehow," he continues, before touching on a couple specific tracks on Dharma.
Songs like "Modo Avión," "Las Dudas" and "Tarde" speak to a relationship. In 2020, Yatra went through a public breakup with his girlfriend of almost a year, singer Tini. Fans speculated that "Tarde" might be about their romance when he sings, "Tu tatuaje lo borraste, ¿dónde está?" Tini previously confirmed she covered some of her past tattoos.
"But that lyric isn't mine. It wasn't about my life, for example. 'Tu tatuaje lo borraste, ¿dónde está?,' that was actually Elena Rose that I wrote it with and I sing with her. She's the one that came up with that lyric," Yatra says. "So we all felt that…and then there's some things about my life. But that's the fun thing for fans as well. They go and they search and they're like, 'What's about his life and what's not?' And that's the thing about assuming things, that a lot of times you assume things are a certain way and then the reality is not what you actually expect."
Yatra, however, admits that "Tarde" is the one of the songs that he identifies most with and has "beautiful" and emotional lyrics about seeing an ex after a breakup.
As for "Modo Avión," he shares that it was a song that was already started before he jumped on board. "I put like 'Mexico' and I say 'Tulum,' very specific things in my life are in the song that happened there," he explains. "What I did was, I take the lyrics towards where I want it…Maybe 'Modo Avión' wasn't 100 percent to do with my life, the way it's gone down…but there's a lot of elements that have. So each person can take what they want from it."
Whether it's collaborating with his "favorite" people like Elena Rose, Justin Quiles, L-Gante, Aitana, Mariah Angeliq and many more, Yatra shares that he followed his gut when deciding who he wanted to feature on his songs. He also admits it was his "desire as a fan" of these artists to get to work with them. "'Dharma' with Rosario from Spain and Jorge Celedón from Colombia, since we're mixing flamenco and we are mixing vallenato," he touches on one song. "So it was more from a fan point of view because I'm a fan of my music… If I can't become obsessed with my music and be a fan of it and listen to it to heal and to feel all these emotions, how do I expect someone else to do it?"
When asked if Dharma would have sounded different if it wasn't for the pandemic, Yatra blatantly replies, "I think my life would be very different. People's lives would be different, but it's the way it has to be because that's part of our dharma, our destiny…We're accepting our reality and a lot of things have happened that have hurt and we wish hadn't happened. But if they hadn't, we wouldn't be better people now and we wouldn't be growing, and growing hurts."
Yatra calls 2021 "probably the hardest year of my life, emotionally." "You want me to be real honest with you?" he asks as he takes a sip of his coffee. "Around September, I got introduced to yoga, Kundalini, and I started doing it and I started going to the psychologist all at the same time."
"I made these two big changes and really giving that time to myself to focus on my mind and my soul and give myself that space every single day," he continues. "And it's really helped me and it's changing my life and it's helping me be more present, but it's like a daily practice. It's something you have to do every single day because our mind it forgets quickly."
Yatra says he's not "always clear" and still has lows." "I have anxiety at times, I have fear. I have doubts. I go through everything and I have sadness. We've all experienced loss at some scale," he explains. "But I also have a lot of happiness, and I have a lot of reasons to be smiling. And even if I didn't have all these things that have happened thanks to music, I'm on a journey to be able to be present and happy even if I didn't have them, because I never know when this is going to work out or not. But I'm trying to be present all the time and be my best self every single day because you have no other guarantee than today."
The biggest lesson he's learned is that true happiness is only going to happen "when you have the will and the courage to follow your heart." Expressing that he can't measure success with money or fame, Yatra says he can only measure it by how he feels when he wakes up and when he goes to sleep. "I'll never regret the things that I did, but I could regret a lot of things that I didn't do," he relays. "I can face pain, but I don't know if I can face frustration."
Fans can expect to connect with Yatra when he goes on tour in February. The singer describes his upcoming concerts as seeing oneself "reflected in these songs." He's more involved than ever, from the visuals to the choreography, band and storytelling. "It's a show that has grown a lot compared to any of my other shows… And I think you're going to love it," he adds.
Of course, he also learned some tips and tricks from Latin superstars Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin when he toured with them last year. While they didn't specifically tell him what he should do, he learned by watching them.
"They lead by example," he shares. "Always being on time, respecting their crew and respecting all the people around them…Their posture onstage, the way they prepare for shows and the respect that they have for the stage."
Yatra will also be starring in the Netflix musical miniseries Érase una vez... pero ya no, by La Casa de Las Flores creator Manolo Caro. Yatra hopes to continue acting in the future and teases, "It's in my plans to keep acting. There's stuff in the works."
There's also a possibility of him performing at the 2022 Oscars if "Dos Oruguitas" gets nominated in the Best Original Song category.
"I think if it gets nominated for an Oscar, there's a high chance of seeing me onstage at the Oscars singing it," he shares. "So I'm just crossing my fingers because it would not just only be historic for me, but for Colombia and Latin America."
There's bright skies and plenty of opportunities ahead for Yatra, who states that he can't quite define what his next chapter will look like. "Life's never going to be what you imagined one hundred percent," he shares, before adding, "So you just let it be. The right things are going to come for the right reasons."