Rosalía breathes new life into flamenco
The music video for Rosalía’s “Catalina” is dark and minimalistic, like the music it accompanies. We see a blurred, zoomed-in view of the 24-year-old Catalan as a lone guitar fervently plays a distinctly Spanish set of chords. After about 10 seconds, her name is flashed on the screen, and her arrival is announced by a view of her unobscured face and a startlingly intense, passionate command: “Quítate de mi presencia que me estas martirizando,” (“Get away from my sight as you are torturing me”). As the chords come crashing down, she continues her plea, demanding “Ponme la mano aquí que la tienes fria \ Mira que me voy a morir,” (“Put your hand here because it’s cold \ See that I’m going to die”).
“Catalina” is a reinterpretation of a standard dating from decades ago, and while Rosalía shares little in common with its original writer, Manuel Vallejo, she imbues an identical sense of tragedy. “Catalina” is emblematic of Los Angeles, an album made up of stunning vocal performances that need little more than producer Raül Refree’s classical guitar accompaniment to convey a profound feeling of loss and heartbreak, as well as a constant state of tension and drama.
Flamenco is a result of centuries of intermingling between Roma of Indian origin, Moors, Jews and others in the Andalucía region of Spain. Equal focus is placed on dance, vocals and guitar, combining to create a genre that is filled with passion and seductiveness. Rosalía has been involved with the genre from an early age, even receiving classical training. Her impressive vocal control is evident throughout the album, especially when she uses a very tight, quick vibrato that still traverses different parts of her wide range.
Notable tracks such as “Catalina” and “De Plata” feature impressive displays of Rosalía’s focused, intense vocals, but she is equally adept at singing with restraint. In “Si Tú Superias Compañero,” she whispers dark, morbid lyrics over Refree’s soft accompaniment, but slowly and steadily, the song picks up its pace and adds strings and diverse percussion. She shines as well on a haunting cover of Bonny Prince Billy’s 1999 song “I See a Darkness,” inserting herself into a canon of famous covers, including one by Johnny Cash.
Perhaps Rosalía’s biggest contribution to the world of flamenco is creating a compelling, thoroughly modern introduction to the genre. While still emblematic of Spain’s musical tradition, the genre has had a natural decline in popularity. Rosalía, while trained in its classical elements, makes flamenco feel new again. Her voice has a distinct sense of energy and freshness that is powerful enough to tell stories covering a wide range of emotions. Her age is not limiting, rather it propels her music to new heights, breathing a fresh breath life into flamenco music.