The voice of a child trickles, “toma este puñal dorado y ponte tú en las cuatro esquinas, y dame tú de puñal”, or “take your golden dagger and put yourself in the four corners and stab me”, a raw divulgence setting a solemn tone for Rosalía’s debut. Having surpassed the genre fluidity of any contemporary Spanish artist, Rosalía’s experimental approaches began in the ardent arrangements of Los Ángeles in 2017. An honest, and adamantly passionate body of work, this album began as a testimony to flamenco heritage. What quickly emerges is a contemporary interpretation of cantes (traditional flamenco songs), propelling a colossal undertaking of vulnerable storytelling to the forefront of the project.
The conception of Los Ángeles consists of reworked cantes, serving as contemporary revisitations of everything flamenco has to offer. It’s critical to note, this album is neither fusions or versions; rather transformations of classic cantes. From alegrías, to tangos, and fandangos, the singer encompasses various orchestrations from the genre, exploring a variety of melodies and moods. We see Rosalía draw from a number of artists like Rafael Farina or Juan Talega, brilliant minds from the genre often recognized for their own personal interpretations. It would be an understatement to say Los Ángeles flourishes with a number of traditional references. Using these oral histories as a base for developing her own interpretations, Rosalía argues that she converted the cantes into arranged songs. “Those who know something about flamenco will be able to identify them, because we are influenced by that, but we do our own thing,” the artist commented in an interview.
Guided by the fluid capacity of her range, the Catalan artist is accompanied by fluttering nylon chords that prop the work. However, this dynamic only creates a bittersweet juxtaposition, as the album is weighed down by dark and mournful narration translated through the vocalist’s meditative lyrics. With death, morbidity, and suffering often enduring themes in flamenco music, the Catalan artist became fascinated with reinterpreting these storylines by breathing new perspectives into this passionate art form.
“Catalina” continues to be the landmark composition off this album that has followed Rosalía into her career, however there are still a number of spectacular standouts in Los Ángeles. One of the darkest moments off the work “Nos Quedamos Solitos” is an incalculable reckoning of sorrow. The track unravels in a simple series of lyrics, capturing the death of a mother leaving two children hopeless. Unbounded tension crafted by the nylon strings unravels in a state of trembling anguish, before returning to a more steadfast melody. “Por Mi Puerta No Pasen” also surveys this state of apprehension, playing with odd textures that are continuously ignited by a tape recording playing backwards. The song itself serves a bold testament to contemporary flamenco, with Rosalía’s profound voice consistently guiding and challenging the guitar throughout.
A personal favorite “Te Venero” lifts a weight off the body of work, opting for an easy melody that eases into a clever improvisation. Highlighting the vocalist’s range, the guitar riffs off into a series of playful patterns. “El Redentor” revisits the previous melancholic songs, shrouded with an unpredictable urgency. Unbalanced arrangements constantly escape each other evolving with an infinite series of strings, the overpowering space brings out a breathtaking elasticity in Rosalía’s voice.
Carried by pain, urgency, and intimacy it’s almost quite apparent why Rosalía may have moved into exploring other genres in her career. Not to say flamenco was a limitation for the artist, but rather her bravery to bring the art form and it’s often painful themes into other contexts lead the musician to expand her musical inclinations. Now an irreconcilable force among the pop landscape, revisiting a project like Los Ángeles is a reminder of what propelled Rosalía to her stardom. She remains an incredibly proficient storyteller drawing from tradition and the most intimate parts of her being, seamlessly translating her incandescent spirit to a global audience.
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