Sebastián Yatra: ‘Before, I was a robot on stage. I had not worked at all on my inner world’

The Colombian singer, who coaches children on ‘La Voz Kids,’ talks to EL PAÍS about the importance of mental health, his connection to God and why he’s a big exhibitionist

Sebastian Yatra
Colombian singer Sebastián Yatra at the Hilton Hotel in Madrid.Andrea Comas
Héctor Llanos Martínez

At the age of 12 — an age close to that of the young contestants he coaches on the Spanish television talent show La Voz Kids — Sebastián Yatra decided that he wanted to be a singer. From that moment, he prepared himself diligently with his mother, María Adelaida Giraldo. Yatra — whose father is a prominent Colombian businessman, Aníbal Obando Agudelo — recognizes that his mother is the true maker of his success. The 28-year-old from Medellín talks about his family from Spain, where he is touring this summer.

Question. What do you want when you have everything?

Answer. Well, inner peace. To accept life as it comes. I am learning to live in the present, without worrying about the future.

Q. Does success come with so much stress?

A. Everyone around you has different interests and expects something different from you. The record company, your team, your family, your friends, your partner... And, in the midst of all that, you have to get on stage and make sure thousands of people have a good time.

Q. How far have you gone to achieve success?

A. Before the pandemic, I was in such a whirlwind that I was like a robot on stage. I was excited about being the guy who did the most shows; to the point of doing inhuman things, like doing four performances a night or taking 13 flights in a week.

Q. Did having to stop because of the pandemic make you reflect?

A. I suddenly found myself cooped up in my house for five months. And I was again my siblings’ brother and my parents’ son, not that famous singer who came to visit from time to time. I also changed work teams and closed many interpersonal relationships.

Q. You say therapy helped a lot.

A. Yes. I had not worked at all on my inner world. Yoga and the connection I have had with God since I was 12 years old also helped me.

Q. Your religious connection coincided with the beginning of your musical career.

A. It gave me a lot of strength. It helped me to have more awareness and responsibility, to find a purpose in all this music; that it was more than money, fame, cars and women.

Q. Did you miss out on partying in your teens?

A. At that time, I was doing vocal exercises every day to practice my falsetto. At parties, I didn’t drink; I would go to my car for a while to practice them. Music helped me lead a very healthy path. I have never tried drugs. Since I had responsibilities, I didn’t have time to make foolish decisions.

Q. But in the world of music, you have surely run into them.

A. Yes. They are everywhere. But it’s such an energetic issue... If someone is high, I don’t realize it. I feel that their personality is like that. A thousand times, people say: “Oh, look at how high that person is.”

Singer Sebastíán Yatra at Hilton Hotel in Madrid.
Singer Sebastíán Yatra at Hilton Hotel in Madrid. Andrea Comas

Q. Would you have gone on a show like La Voz Kids?

A. Yes. For those kids, it’s a way of understanding the consequences of dedicating yourself to music. I went to the American Idol auditions in Chicago when I was 14 years old. I went to the next round, but I decided not to continue because, if I did, I would have had to sing in English by contract.

Q. You chose not to be bound by the rules of the show.

A. It happened to me again when a producer told me that Univisión was creating the show La Banda, with Simon Cowell. They were looking for the Spanish-language equivalent of One Direction, but I wanted to be a soloist and I turned it down too.

Q. Has your mother been your manager?

A. Never officially, but she’s in every conversation with my team. She is one of those women who make things happen. My brother Andrés is a writer and my brother Juan has a pizzeria in Colombia, and she also helped them set up their businesses. She has also been my dad’s biggest support in his career.

Q. She’s a force of nature.

A. She’s like Clara, the character in the novel The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, who when she died there were no flowers in the home and everything fell apart.

Q. Medellín has produced artists such as Juanes, Karol G and J Balvin… Why are so many musicians from the city successful worldwide?

A. Drug trafficking isolated us. No country invested in Colombia. And there’s the topography. It is a city in the middle of the mountains, without much infrastructure. Everything has been difficult for us and that has given us an important work culture. We are talented artists, but not with the undeniable prodigious talent of someone like Messi or Beyoncé. We have had to build our talent.

Q. Do you feel objectified when social media users comment on your sexual attributes, which are hinted at in some of the videos and selfies you post?

A. If they are good comments, I’m happy (laughs).

Q. They are usually positive.

A. I am satisfied with my body and I am a big exhibitionist…

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