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Grammy-Winning Latin Artist Draco Rosa Opens Up About His Battle With Cancer


It's been almost a decade since award-winning Puerto Rican artist Draco Rosa has released a new album.


DRACO ROSA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rosa began his career as part of the Latin boy band Menudo. Insert scream here. He later wrote and produced songs for his band member and friend Ricky Martin, including Martin's hit song live in "Livin' La Vida Loca."


RICKY MARTIN: (Singing) Upside, inside out - livin' la vida loca. She'll pull and push you down - livin' la vida loca.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Later, Rosa had turned his attention from sugary pop to alternative rock, creating darker, progressive songs. Now, on his latest album, he shares his personal story of survival. For the past eight years, he's battled cancer. Rosa recorded most of his album on his farm in the mountains of Utuado in Puerto Rico.

ROSA: I went out there to heal. I was sick for a while and in and out of clinics and hospitals. I would go always to my monte sagrado.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His "Monte Sogrado" - or sacred mountain - became the name of his album. And he joins me now from our studios in Culver City, Calif. Hello.

ROSA: Hi. Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rolling Stone called this album rock 'n' roll as near-death experience. You've kept your fans waiting a long time for your latest album. And you've been open about battling cancer.

ROSA: Yeah. It's been a while. I have been open. It's been good for me to stay open about. And I've learned a lot. And I continue to learn. I've had my five-year milestone, which has been amazing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Congratulations.

ROSA: I'm clear and free. But, you know, it's always that haunting. So you just kind of manage it best you can.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How has it changed you and your music?

ROSA: What's changed is just me as a man, I think, as a father, that sort of thing. You know, I mean, the weight carries there - you know, family, gratitude, this level of - at least a semblance of satisfaction on many levels, you know? And I think that that has changed. When it comes to the music, I've been pretty honest along the way as to - what I mean by that is true to wherever I'm at that moment. I don't necessarily follow any niche.


ROSA: (Singing in Spanish).

"Monte Sagrado" is an album that is celebrating life and is celebrating vitality. It's not the album that I delivered originally to Sony. I delivered a batch of songs that are - not one of them are on this record. I went ahead. I just was feeling great, healthy. And I went ahead and did this album. And thankfully, they're into it, I think (laughter).


ROSA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You recorded this in the mountains of Puerto Rico at your farm. Why there?

ROSA: I do live up in the mountains. It's an 100-acre estate with a river running through it and what have you. Next door is what they call a (speaking Spanish), the ceremonial indigenous park of the Taino, you know? The Spanish came. That's where they ran to. And so there's this air of mysticism. And I've realized that, you know, people felt this huge respect for the land. And I just - you know, I'm a bit of a romantic and a surrealist at heart. And so yes - easy for me to slip into that zone.


ROSA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you can sort of hear that in one of your songs. And I can't say the full title because, even in Spanish, it has a bad word in it. But (laughter)...

ROSA: Oh, yeah...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's about pain. And, basically...

ROSA: ...About pain.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...You're telling pain to go take a hike (laughter).

ROSA: Take a hike. Yeah, yeah. That's right. That's right. It takes a lot. You know, I've had two stem cell transplants. The first transplant I found myself wondering, why did I do this to myself? And my nurse was telling me to forgive yourself, Draco. And I didn't quite understand it the first time. The second time I did. And in my worst moment, when things were very scary and it was hard to stay optimistic, I did manage to find gratitude. And it was that gratitude that gave me - you know, where I was able to move to push aside fear, confusion, doubt, all these things that were interfering, I think, with the healing process. And so the album revolves around that sort of (speaking Spanish), that awakening, you know, that just landed on me in April. And I was just feeling strange. And it was just I was feeling normal. And that wasn't normal to me. So...


ROSA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You sound like you're in a great place now.

ROSA: Yeah. I think so. You know, you go through this cancer thing. It either kills you, or it does great things, you know? It changes your life in many ways. You start a new life. And so I am very, very grateful. But I feel like I'm better now because we can talk about this sort of thing. I can - and it's brought clarity. And so, you know, it's nice to look back today and see where you came in. So that clarity has come with all this, you know, trying to just stay alive.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Draco Rosa's new album is "Monte Sagrado." Thank you so very much.

ROSA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Speaking Spanish).


ROSA: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.