At 30, the Barcelonan is the star of the young generation. With the insane “Motomami”, she continues to mix flamenco and contemporary, playing with codes and chapels.
This is The birth of Venus by Botticelli that Rosalía replays on the cover of her new album, Motomami. She poses there naked, with the exception of a large black motorcycle helmet hiding her face and from which escapes her long hair, also black. Dreamlike and disturbing image. A motorcycle helmet – a way of cushioning the blows – which also gives him the look of a cyborg, of a character tumbling down from a distant planet where gender would no longer matter if we are to believe his hands which mask his genitals and his chest, certainly less out of modesty than to offer another form of identity, that of the motorcycle helmet. A clear artistic reference that takes on additional strength here: that of reflecting the changes of our present time.
Rosalía says her generation (the Z), the one born with the internet in the palm of her hand, who is no longer afraid to proclaim herself a feminist or to destroy all notions of genres (biological and artistic), just to self-determine as best as possible, moving from sharp to mainstream music without swearing loyalty to any chapel. It is therefore not surprising thatEuphoria, very dark reflection of these new teenagers and twenty-somethings, illustrated one of its special episodes, broadcast at the end of 2021, with Lo vas a olvidar, a duet between Rosalía and Billie Eilish, the other great musical figure of gen-Z.
Queen, Supertramp, Bruce Springsteen resonate with her
We find in these two artists, as in certain female characters of the American series, the same intrepid and sensual looks, the same hyper-colored and decorated XXL nails, like a defensive weapon under the guise of teaser. The same mixture, too, of devastated heart and militant construction, in a world in turmoil.
Rosalía Vila Tobella was born in Sant Esteve Sesrovires in the heart of the Catalonia of textile factories, in 1992. Queen, Supertramp, Bruce Springsteen resonate with her, but what interests her, even excites her, is flamenco, which she discovered at 13 when she heard a piece by one of the stars of the genre, Camarón de la Isla. Nobody sings it or dances it at home, Rosalía has no connection with the Andalusian gypsy community – which will be widely criticized, some accusing it of cultural appropriation.
Rosalía trains in all the bars and clubs in Barcelona at your fingertips
Never mind, she trains alone, then applies for the TV show Tú sí que vales. She is only 15 years old. The jury is not convinced, but it would take more to break her. Rosalía learned the piano, practiced writing songs, then took lessons to become a cantaora (flamenco singer) professional, the one who masters the art of melisma (the fact of singing the same syllable on several notes), with El Chiqui de la Línea, recognized teacher at the Barcelona school Taller de Músics as well as to the most selective ESMUC (she will attend both). “She was driving me crazy, told “Chiqui” to the New York Times in 2019. In class, when she reinterpreted a song that I had asked her to sing, I couldn’t believe she did it so well. She was phenomenal.”
At the same time, Rosalía trains in all the Barcelona bars and clubs within reach. It is in one of them that one evening, trained by a friend, the guitarist and producer Raül Refree attends one of his concerts for the first time. It will be necessary to wait for a second, in Germany, for it to be presented to him. Back in Barcelona, Rosalía and Refree
start hanging out together in his studio.
“She had a vision and was ambitious”
Almost a year is spent drinking coffee while listening to tons of music. “Reggaeton, flamenco, but also Kendrick Lamar or James Blake. Rosalía has very good taste but in a very burst way. She has no barriers.” he tells us.
The pair decide to record an album, Los Angeles (2017), dedicated “to death”, with strong references to flamenco classics as well as a cover of I See a Darkness by Bonnie “Prince” Billy. She sings and he accompanies her on the guitar before working on the arrangements. The album will have a real echo in the Spanish-speaking world. Refree has only one word in her mouth about her: “talented”.
“As soon as we met in 2015-2016, she knew exactly where she was going. She wanted to be a flamenco star. It’s not like those musicians who are very good at their art but who have no overall vision, no sense of concept, of aesthetics. She mastered them. She had a vision and was ambitious.” Since then, Refree never misses an opportunity to send him congratulations and encouragement by SMS.
Then comes the meeting with El Guincho, an electronic musician who worked, for a time, with Björk. He therefore produced his second album, El Mal Querer (2018), which met with international success. Rosalía simply wanted electronic beats and hip-hop references (the music industry would say “urban”) to shake up the dramaturgy of flamenco and allow her to invent her own dance.
“Motorbike”, fierce; “Mami”, more tender
This hybrid, mixed-race music, which initially seemed, to some, eccentric, difficult to market, on the contrary translates the current world, where the public accustomed to listening to new sounds on YouTube no longer needs the songs to be sung. in English, nor that pop enters an ultra-formatted box. Just look at the international success of certain Spanish-speaking artists (J Balvin, Bad Bunny, etc.) or K-pop, sometimes performed in Korean.
Since then, Rosalía has had a string of featurings – with J Balvin, Travis Scott, Billie Eilish, James Blake, C. Tangana… at the risk of becoming the new “exotic” darling of an industry in a hurry to renew its heteronormative, white and English-speaking model. Remains that his duet with The Weeknd, The Fame, released last November and present on his new album, is overwhelming in his ability to borrow the refrain of bachata, traditional Dominican music, by infusing it with an electronic-melancholic depth to make the strongest of hearts cry.
“Sex is a part of life just like dancing in a club, praying to God, talking to your grandmother on the phone.”
The brilliance of pop meets the labyrinthine side of experimental music. A puzzling but successful fusion that floods his new album, where we find, on Candy, a sample of the song Archangel by London electronic musician Burial. Motomami is imagined in two parts, the first, “Motorbike”, fierce; the second, “Mami”, more tender. Two facets of the same artist who refuses to settle for a single image (whether exotic, smooth, lolitesque or otherwise) to create multiple ones, reconciling the Ancients (flamenco) and the Moderns (the electronics), performing masculinity (the black motorcycle helmet) as well as femininity (the outrageously varnished fingernails), talking about sex with confidence and letting go.
So the piece Hentai directly refers to Japanese pornographic anime. “Hentai is much more interesting than conventional porn, explains Rosalia to ID. And why not make it an inspiration for a song? […] Sex is part of life just like dancing in a club, praying to God, talking to your grandmother on the phone. I put everything on the same level.” No doubt, Rosalía follows in the footsteps of Madonna or Rihanna while inventing something else, her own (and sharp) style.
Reggaeton inspirations and jazz influences
Having become a super-pop star, laden with prizes (a Grammy Award, eight Latin Grammy Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards…), she nevertheless pursues a daring, complex, tortuous artistic work, which takes on its full meaning on this new album released after three years of waiting. She intertwines and jostles, offers jerks and kicks, tender and carried away. There is flamenco of course, reggaeton too, heavy basses, frenetic percussions, other more choppy ones, cuts, protrusions, digressions, moistness, gravity and fun, and a direction: his voice, as the deepest expression of his desire to unite, without departing from his requirement.
This voice is by turns defiant, almost aggressive, then coos elsewhere in a loving cascade. A childish and adult voice, which would say the many facets of a young artist. Exactly, Saoko, the inaugural single from Motomami, is devoted to the transformation, even to the impossibility of fully grasping a personality, always under construction, perpetually bouncing, in total fluidity, moving, aquatic.
The title samples a reggaeton tube, Saoco by Daddy Yankee and Wisin, on which she danced, when she was younger, in a club, and marries it with jazz influences. In one piece, everything is said: the appropriation and therefore the reversal of the patriarchal stereotypes of reggaeton, like the meeting of two genres a priori at antipodes, quite simply because Rosalía appreciates them and does not see why one should choose between dance to one or the other.
“Frank tells me that abra el mundo como una nuez.” – “Frank told me to open up the world like a nut, she told ID about Frank Ocean, who she hung out with in New York. Weeks, even a month after I wrote the opening track of the album, Saoko, and I remembered his phrase.”
Rosalía effectively opens up the world like a nut, without specifying whether she does so with the help of a nutcracker, kicking her heel, or rolling over it on a motorbike. Let’s opt for the second and third options, more rebellious, more feverish, more connected with the determination that she seems to show and which avoids her – at first sight – compromises vis-à-vis the entertainment industry.
It’s not surprising that she rubs shoulders with Frank Ocean, who has mastered like no other the art of injecting deconstruction into pop construction, as if it were a question of drawing unexpected doors within a castle. well build.
“I want to be a leader and show young girls that this industry is not just for men“
It is also a producer who worked with Ocean, Michael Uzowuru, who also collaborated with Beyoncé and FKA Twigs, who can be found in almost all of the album’s credits, alongside Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, Noah Goldstein (producer we found behind The Suburbs of Arcade Fire or some songs from the Blonde hair Frank Ocean, but also in the tight team of Kanye West), Caroline Shaw (American composer and violinist, youngest winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music at 30, having also spawned with Kanye West) and many others.
During our first interview, in 2018, Rosalía told us: “I’ve always loved Björk, Beyoncé, because they produce their own songs. I always try to be strong on stage, in my music, to have authority. I want this to be my vision. I choose the people around me in order to best carry out the project I have in mind. I want to be a leader and send a message to young girls, show them that this industry is not just for men.”
With his three albums, Los Angeles, El Mal Querer and now Motomami, with her furious music videos and her intense voice, Rosalía does even better: demonstrating that it is still possible to assert your uniqueness in the vast world of international pop while opening a few doors.
Motomami (Columbia/SonyMusic). Released March 18.
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How Rosalía became a myth of modern music – Les Inrocks