The Dharma of Sebastián Yatra

Sebastián Yatra sitting on the floor in a colorful button down shirt
Photograph by Erick Fernando Quezada

Sebastián Yatra is staking his claim on the Latin pop throne. Last fall, the Colombian singer-songwriter was invited by Latin pop kings Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias to open their joint U.S. tour. Just one year later, the emerging pop prince is currently being heard around the world with music from his new album Dharma, which has already amassed over 2.3 billion streams since it was released on January 28, and Disney’s Encanto soundtrack—he sings the heartfelt “Dos Oruguitas,” a tune penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yatra is also on the Academy Awards shortlist for Best Original Song—a nomination could lead the musician to perform at the Oscars.

“That’s just insane!” the 27-year-old exclaims over Zoom from his home in Miami when asked about the nomination. “I cannot believe it! I’m still processing it all. I’m crossing my fingers to see what goes down with the Oscar nominations, and I would love to be in L.A. for the ceremony.”

Before going global, Yatra was born in Medellín, Colombia and later relocated to Miami with his mom at age five. After playing Troy Bolton in his school’s production of High School Musical at 12, he decided to become a singer. His inspirations as a kid reflected his bicultural roots, from Colombian icons like Shakira and Juanes to pop crooners like Michael Bublé, Josh Groban, and Andrea Bocelli. After spending a decade writing and recording songs that hit in Latin America, Yatra cracked the U.S. in 2016 with his breakthrough smash “Traicionera.” The steamy reggaeton song recalls his experience caught up in a romance with an enchanting “traitress”—and an equally amorous music video charmed over 540 million viewers on YouTube.

“Living in this work bubble, singing every single day in different places, I didn’t see [the song’s success] as someone could see it from the outside,” Yatra says. “For me, it was just like, thank god we did good with this song, and we keep working and working. Once I stepped back a bit, I finally opened my eyes to the amazing possibilities and how much everything had changed.”

Photograph by Erick Fernando Quezada

“Traicionera” was from Yatra’s double-Platinum certified debut album Mantra, which featured a sound that leaned heavily into reggaeton music. For the follow-up, 2019’s Fantasía, he decided to record an album full of ballads. Yatra proved that he could be successful in any genre when the music video for the tender “Un Año” with Mexican group Reik racked up over 658 million views on YouTube. In 2020, the album garnered him a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Pop Album.

“I didn’t write Fantasía or make an album only of ballads thinking of how big of a success it could be or not,” he says. “I did it because I knew it was something that could actually connect and accompany you in so many different moments of your life. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It gives me energy and gasoline to keep going and keep trusting my instinct.”

Following Fantasía, Yatra expanded his reach with collaborations like “Magnetic” alongside K-Pop group Monsta X and “Runaway”—a track that featured the Jonas Brothers singing in Spanglish. Things came full circle to the Latin market when OG heartthrobs Martin and Iglesias selected Yatra to open for their tour, which was first postponed in 2020, but resumed last fall.

“That was a huge dream come true. Ricky and Enrique have been a huge inspiration,” Yatra recalls. “The reason I started doing ballads and then party songs, I saw the example that that could work without being stuck in one genre because of Ricky and Enrique, seeing everything they have done across the board and in their careers.”

Like Martin and Iglesias, Yatra himself has suddenly become a Latin heartthrob. While on tour, he compared abs with the two luminaries in Instagram posts. “I think Enrique has more abs than me!,” Yatra says with a laugh. Reflecting his pop star status, his other abs-filled IG posts have adoring comments from women and gay fans, which he acknowledges with a smile. “I’m proud of my fans in the LGBTQ community,” Yatra says. “I’m with anybody that’s just true to their heart. Be honest with yourself and whatever your heart says. It’s the right thing. I love that everyone is being able to express themselves more nowadays and just be true to themselves.”

In his new album Dharma, Yatra follows his heart with a bit of Buddhist philosophy that he discovered while in quarantine during the pandemic. “Dharma means accepting your reality,” Yatra says. “In Buddhism, it’s the other side of karma. Karma is the lessons—and lessons hurt. Dharma is once you learn from those lessons, you have a higher conscience and you accept life as it is. Dharma, to me, is being present and here, and it has to do a lot with this point in my life and what I want the rest of my life to be.”

Yatra took more creative control with the album and pushed himself sonically as a pop star. “I really let myself go and be directed by my emotions,” he says. In the soaring “Pareja Del Año” with Puerto Rican rapper Myke Towers, Yatra blends reggaeton with a string arrangement that’s closer to Bach than Daddy Yankee. He taps into his angst-driven alternative side in “Melancólicos Anónimos.” Later, in the sunny “Tacones Rojos,” Yatra embraces his inner rock ‘n’ roller like a Latino Roy Orbison. He also pays homage to his Colombian roots with the vallenato in “Dharma” alongside local legend Jorge Celedón and Spanish singer Rosario.

Yatra additionally honored his country in Disney’s Encanto, a film that centers a magical casita in Colombia. Lin-Manuel Miranda hand-picked him to sing the movie’s main theme “Dos Oruguitas.” The Spanish ballad received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song and is also at No. 36 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, in addition to the Oscars nod.

“It came out in Spanish across the globe,” Yatra says. “Even in China, Russia, and Australia. Everywhere! This song is being heard in Spanish, in this beautiful movie, which is pretty epic for me and for Colombia. Working with Lin-Manuel and the whole team at Disney was a huge pleasure. They gave me space to be creative and put my heart and style into the song.”

Later this year, Yatra will be making his acting debut in the Netflix Spanish musical Érase Una Vez... Pero Ya No. His world tour for Dharma kicks off this month in Mexico. He will also tour the U.S. solo for the first time toward the end of 2022. Through it all, Yatra remains zen about his future.

“I stopped worrying so much about the outcome of things,” he says. “I feel like more doors are opening now that I’m more focused on the process and having fun with it. I’m just enjoying my music and my art. I’m falling in love with it once again and I’m having a good time.”