Erika Ender, the co-writer of “Despacito” — the Spanish-language dance hit that turned into a worldwide sensation — has a few ideas about the secrets to its success. One thing, she says, is its message to take it slow in a fast-moving world (“despacito” is the diminutive of “slow”). Another is the fact that she, a female songwriter, shaped its portrayal of seduction, even though the song was recorded by men (her song-writing partner Luis Fonsi and rapper Daddy Yankee, later joined in a crossover version by pop star Justin Bieber).
Then there is the song’s seemingly magical ability to cross borders at a time when there is much talk of building walls (it tied the record for most weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart — where non-English music rarely appears — just as US President Donald Trump fights for a border wall to keep out Latin American immigrants).
But Ender’s bottom-line answer to the question of what made the song such a success? “I have no idea,” she says with an infectious laugh, her eyes alight beneath an exuberant fiesta of blonde curls.
The 42-year-old singer-songwriter, who was born in Panama and now splits her time between Los Angeles and Miami, talked to AFP on Wednesday in Mexico City before giving the keynote speech at the Women’s Forum, an event designed to bring together leaders and generate creative ideas on gender issues in a Latin America plagued by inequality and violence against women.
Q: What was it like to watch your creation basically set the world on fire?
“It’s been amazing. I’m really grateful for what’s happened. Way beyond a victory for all of us involved, it’s a victory for Latin culture. The whole world is singing and dancing in Spanish. It’s kind of a miracle, in such a vulnerable moment, because of everything that’s been said.
“I think that people connected with it all over the world, and it’s a confirmation of how music can cross borders, can really connect with people’s hearts and unify us… They were talking about building walls and we’re tearing down those walls with music.
“I have no idea why it became the huge hit it became. I don’t really think and feel that we did something different while writing the song. I’ve been writing songs for 25 years and had amazing moments in my career with different songs. But I never ever thought that this song would cross over this way.”
Q: As a woman, how did you feel about writing a reggaeton song, a genre that has a history of machismo? And as the co-writer, how do you feel about the fact the men who sang it have gotten most of the credit?
“I think it’s a song that expresses our desire to seduce each other and love each other much more slowly than the pace the world is moving now.
“To me it’s about a beautiful kind of seduction, with class and elegance, the kind of seduction a woman likes, at least speaking for myself.
“I didn’t write it thinking about a man or a woman… Obviously, because of the (reggaeton) genre, it sounds very different and breaks all the norms, because it’s a genre that’s been very aggressive against women.
“At the end of the day, what matters are results. Early in my career I had to hide my name on demos sung by men, because if I sent it with my name they said, ‘Nice song, but it sounds really feminine.’
“But I don’t see art as a competition. I see it as sharing. My colleagues and I all know who wrote the song… I’m just grateful the universe, through this song, opened so many doors, opened the world for me.”
Q: So have you bought a private jet?
(Laughs.) “Everybody’s just thinking about the money, and I really think that what we have to focus on is the way that miracles happen, the way the world gets connected and united by a song. It’s amazing.
“Of course a big hit gives you a lot of money, but I don’t do this for money. I do this because I truly think that whenever we have the power to translate emotions into melodies and lyrics, it is such a great gift. I try to do it as responsibly as possible, knowing that I’m marking someone else’s life. I’m doing someone else’s soundtrack.
“And this has been the soundtrack of half the planet, so I’m really grateful for that.”
Joshua Howat Berger