Last Wednesday, Juan Wauters rocked a simple pink turtleneck and newly shaved haircut while he nervously paced back and forth on the historic El Cid stage in Silverlake.
His eyes were on the ground as he puttered around the stage creating an awkwardly endearing stage presence. He proceeded to go on a long opening monologue about how the audience makes the show.
“If there is no audience, there is no show,” Wauters stated, turning the attention and gratitude onto the crowd.
The room gathered an eclectic group of people. Accumulating a cult following, audience members were obviously longtime lovers of Wauter’s work. As he played jams he wrote back in 2014, everyone present knew each and every word.
Wauters proceeded to state, “the show is only happening because you are here,” creating a loving, two-way emotional exchange between him, the artist, and us, the viewers. These interactions sparked a dynamic relationship between art and reception of art for Wauters and his audience.
Wauters’ music has captured my heart since high school when I stumbled upon his 2014 solo album, N.A.P North American Poetry, which is as it sounds— a work of North American Poetry sonically and stylistically. Wauters is originally from Montevideo, Uruguay and moved to NYC in the early 2000s. His sound is a perfect mesh of Brooklyn Indie and South American folkloric tunes.
Wauter’s music oozes early 2000’s NYC anti-folk sounds, feeling like a cross between Florist, Frankie Cosmos, Devandra Banhart and traditional South American folk. Wauters explores his Uruguayan roots on his latest two albums, Introducing Juan Pablo and La Onda de Juan Pablo (which translates to “the vibe of Juan Pablo”). The first of which, being mostly English and the second entirely in Spanish. It was a bold move to release dual albums.
La Onda de Juan Pablo is a more uptempo album channeling South American rhythm, percussion and traditional folk styles. Wauter’s recorded it while traveling with minimal equipment through Central and South America and recording with various musicians in each country. Each song is rich in the folk traditions of the corresponding country. Traditional Latin styles like Candombe, Milonga, Cumbia and Ranchero can be heard on the album. Wauters is taking risks by returning to roots, but for all the better as his music is rich in heart and soul and stands apart from his contemporaries.
After his initial monologue, Wauters proceeded to play an acoustic set ranging with tracks across all of his studio releases since 2014. In between songs, Wauters continued to engage with the crowd. He touched on the duality of language and how it differs for him singing to an audience in English versus Spanish. Wauters said it helps him realize what music means to him “besides language.” This really touched me as I’ve always believed that music is the feeling we don’t have the words to express. In a video released by his website accompanying his album La Onda de Juan Pablo, Wauters stated how he was proud to present an album in his native language with “no barriers.”
After a long acoustic set, Wauters left the stage for a while. If the audience thought the show was over, they thought wrong. About ten minutes later, the velvet curtains on the El Cid stage parted and Wauters emerged with a guitarist, flutist and percussionist. The show was only beginning.
The tone of the show was pure, gritty, raw and intimate. Wauters equally captures an audience with just himself, his nontraditional voice and guitar, just as much as he does with a full band. There is something inherently captivating and interesting about him.
Wauters is taking risks and being unapologetically true to himself and his roots through his music. It’s taken a while for him to reach a wider audience due to his completely unique sound but his musical quality is also what has brought him cult success. His performative stage presence was bizarre, unpredictable and vaudeville-esque at times. You couldn’t seem to take your eyes away from the stage as he monologued, blew kisses to the crowd and also pretended to destroy his guitar multiple times.
He mentioned that he has a show booked every night through December first and was deciding to take risks in the way he performs. A risk well taken in my opinion. Wauters concluded his set with the band and then closed the show the way he opened it- with an intimate two-way dialogue between the artist and the audience. Closing the show with some hits from N.A.P North American Poetry, Wauters touched my heart and put on a damn good show, shattering all my expectations for what Wauter’s next move may be.
Besides his latest two albums, Introducing Juan Pablo and La Onda de Juan Pablo, you can listen to Wauter’s collaboration with Mexican musical project, Vacación, on Spotify.
Marina Pipher is a Los Angeles based filmmaker, musician and writer studying Film Production at The University of Southern California.