NEW ARTIST DISCOVERY: Catalan Flamenco Queen Rosalía Rejuvenates Traditional Genre

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Somewhere between 2006 and 2007 in Sant Esteve Sesrovires, Catalunya, a town in outskirts of Barcelona, a young 13-year old Rosalía Vila Tobella made a discovery that would change her life forever. Through the musings of legendary flamenco cantaor Camarón de la Isla blasting from the speakers of parked car near her school, Rosalía experienced what she told Billboard is “the most honest and visceral music,” and what would become the fuel that has driven this young artist’s exceptional career thus far.  

The origins of flamenco music date back to the 18th c., from Andalusian in the South of Spain. Though thought to have been brought to Spain by the Romani people, the genre was adopted by a wide variety of cultures and through the course of the past four centuries has become widespread throughout the world. Flamenco music is characterized by strong, emotive vocals accompanied by complex, rhythmic guitar lines, percussive instrumentals, and dance. It was the traditional, fiery passion of flamenco music that first enticed the young Rosalía, but her modern spin on the genre is what has spurred a rebirth and mass acceptance of the art form amongst the youth of Spain and the world at large.  

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Rosalía did not grow up in a musical family, but as a child was constantly found dancing and singing around the house. After her discovery of flamenco, she taught herself to play the guitar and piano, and began studying with her mentor El Chiqui, who she would study with for eight long years. Mastering the art form of flamenco is almost an oxymoron, as the study of the genre is meant to be a lifelong pursuit. Rosalía explained to Pitchfork that “To learn flamenco is to swallow your pride … The best flamenco singers are old. That’s what made me think, ‘OK. I have my whole life to get better at this, and I will always have something to learn.’”

Though her scholastic endeavors in flamenco may be life long, Rosalía has already created quite a name for herself as the force rejuvenating this nearly 250-year old genre. In 2017 she released her debut album Los Ángeles, an acoustic throwback project featuring a collection of standards reinvigorated by Rosalía’s beautiful, controlled vocals and larger than life persona. This smashing release not only caught the attention of Spain, remaining on their charts for a whopping 67 weeks, but the world at large garnering a nomination in the Latin GRAMMY’s for Best New Artist. Thus far, 2018 has seen the release of singles “Malamente” and “Pienso en Tu Mirá” off her upcoming album El Mal Querer, set to release Nov. 3.

El Mal Querer was inspired by the 13th-century novel Flamenca, which Rosalía found by chance. The novel chronicles the story of a married couple and the husband’s dissent into a crippling feat of jealousy, leading him to go insane and imprison his wife. Rosalía took the leading creative role on the project, co-producing it with electronic Spanish musician El Guincho. The album is a departure from her original debut, mixing elements of hip hop and R&B, along with traditional flamenco melodies.

Both singles off the album are accompanied by powerful music videos, garnering Rosalía both accolades and criticism. “Malamente” became a viral sensation, racking up 1 million views in the first 48 hours of its release, and now up to 24 million and counting. The video features traditional images of Spain reinterpreted, such as the imagery of bullfighting being applied to an epic motorcycle collision and nazarenos, those individuals who parade around the Spanish cities disguised in blue hooded robes during Holy Week, found riding atop skateboards punctured with nails. Some criticism of the imagery utilized in the video comes from those who misinterpret or disapprove of the use of traditional symbols in a non-traditional setting. To this criticism Rosalía told Pitchfork “I like to do things in my own way and have my own personal language, but I can’t control how it’s received. I don’t expect everyone to like it.”  

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