The journey of life for Draco Rosa—from teen pop star to purveyor of poetic darkness, genius latin/crossover pop songwriter to philanthropist and entrepreneur—has had so many twists and turns it can make your head spin. The last few years’ battles and triumphs finally led Draco to make a personal spiritual climb back to his Hacienda Horizonte (his mountain estate) in Utuado, Puerto Rico, his homeland. Eight years after his last original project, Amor Vincit Omnia,which was also recorded in his self-constructed studio, he’s made his latest visionary artistic statement: a collection of high-voltage rock and psychedelic musings titled Monte Sagrado.“The thing about Monte Sagrado is, there’s a ceremonial park near where I live in Utuado, and there’s a very deep spiritual energy up there,” said Draco. “I went up there to do the first song I wrote for this record, and I started reading this prayer about the indigenous people. This album is about paying tribute to it, and asking for permission to enter that space.”While it’s tempting to describe Rosa as enigmatic, it might be more accurate to describe him as legendary, having composed massive hits like “María,” “La Copa de la Vida” and “Livin’ la Vida Loca” for his one-time Menudo-mate Ricky Martin and recording eclectic masterpieces like Mad Love, Amor Vinit Omnia, and Vagabundo, the latter an all-time rock-en-español cult-classic. He’s a multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy winner, inductee of the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, a bilingual, bicultural poet, visual artist, and explosive live performer.Monte Sagrado was conceived while Draco was at something of a crossroads in his life. Having spent years in and out of doctor’s care due to the onset of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he decided to spend more healing, surrounded by his 100 acre tropical rainforest where his love for coffee and agriculture represents an escape from the chaos that was surrounding him at that moment, while his wife and sons were back in California. While recording Monte Sagrado, Draco decided to focus on old school basics,using standard rock instrumentation and the energy of “live” analog recording.But even though he was ecstatic about the way the rough tracks turned out, the process of putting together the album was interrupted by the devastating destruction of HurricaneMaría, which paralyzed Puerto Rico for months. Having lost 75 percent of his crops, including a thriving coffee cultivation business, Draco turned his mountain estate into a makeshift medical center staffed with 40 doctors and nurses. Through Vox Forte Alliance, his Foundation to raise awareness and help patients through their Stem Cell compatibility and replacement process, he continues to do relief work in towns around the island. He wound up finishing post-production in California.For Draco the musical roots of Monte Sagrado were found on the road.
The opening song, “333,” is built on power chords that burst into rainbows of dense sound, featuring intense interplay between Draco’s electric guitar rythmns, alonside, upright bassist René Camacho, his long time collaborator, drummer Toss Panos and the amazing guitars solos of Doug Pettibone. Draco’s combustible self-searching lyrics. “It all came from one night in Argentina playing a festival and I walked onstage and we were going to play some other thing and I told the band to wait,” said Draco. “I just opened up and played this very simple riff and it was ‘333,’ that was the birth of the whole thing right there.”From there, Monte Sagrado peels off into an impressive array of grinding, post-punk, neo-psychedelic grooves designed to transmit a sonic compliment to Draco’s narrative desire to connect. He’s looking to connect with friends, lovers, the great green earth that surrounds him, and maybe most importantly, himself. On “Que Se Joda el Dolor” (F**kthe Pain), he’s just looking for relief from the constant regimen of medical scans, medications, and hassle in the aftermath of the recovery from his illness.In “Dentro de Ti” (Inside of You), Draco sees the train of his life hurtling toward the glow of an indifferent moon and revels in the magic of his own body’s miraculous design, connecting it with the relationships that have sustained his life. “Yo Mismo” (Myself) treads on similar terrain, but this time using a kind of psychedelic soul ambience to set off his patented double-tracked vocal choruses, dissolving into a brooding guitar riff to bring the listener down easy.All of this is not to say that Monte Sagrado doesn’t have its simple pleasures, such as the punk-metal burst of “Tu Lado Oscuro” (Your Dark Side) and soul-clapping power-chord crescendos that celebrate life in his one-night stand joyride in “2Nite 2Nite.” There’s even a playful cover of Australian singer-songwriter C.W. Stoneking’s “The Thing I Done,” arranged in a languid reggae-style fashion that that makes you feel this Caribbean / New Orleans magic.In many ways, Monte Sagrado will be seen as a newly energized follow-up to 1994’s Vagabundo, which was originally produced by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera in London re-mastered by the legendary Bob Ludwig and re-released in August of this year which also debuted #1 on the Latin Catalog Album Charts of the Nielsen Soundscan (after 22 years). Yet perhaps because it comes out of a period where Draco feels “really healthy and energized,” it seems to contain all of Vagabundo’s mystic genius while pushing the music to even greater heights. “I think with Monte Sagrado, I’m better in every way: I sang better, the songwriting’s gotten better, the players are awesome. It went down in a very natural way within all the chaos that was going on.”As he did with the ethereal majesty of the title track to 2004’s Mad Love, Draco closes Monte Sagrado with the dream-rock fugue “En Las Horas Más Tristes/Espíritu Indio (Hidden Track)” (In the Saddest Hours/Indigenous Spirit). It’s his way of finding ways to heal after the struggles and the heartbreak of hurricanes past and present. “It’s one of the more tender songs for sure—it’s family, it’s love. In the end it’s kind of like El Vagabundo goes to his Monte Sagrado.