Photo by Camila Falquez for Vogue Spain.
In a time where rap and hip hop seem to dominate the music industry, flamenco is gaining momentum. Rosalía Vila Tobella, who uses the monomymous stage name Rosalía, is creating a new image for the two hundred year old artform, and it is becoming increasingly popular amongst a new global generation of fans. From bringing relevance to old tradition to dominating spotify playlists, this 25-year-old musician is breaking down barriers to the beat of cathartic palmas hand claps.
Born in the small industrial town of Sant Esteve Sesrovires in Spain, Rosalía grew up taking dancing lessons and attending mass on the weekends with her grandmother. She uses aspects of her culture to create aesthetics which enhance her music and tell her story. In an interview, she told the BBC: “I got obsessed with flamenco when I was 13 and flamenco is my foundation, but I'm always trying to understand la musica tonal - other cultures, other music. I grew up with Tupac Shakur, but I also loved Wagner and Chopin.”
After years of studying flamenco under the instruction of José Miguel Vizcaya, Rosalía was accepted into the prestigious Catalonia College of Music to study flamenco, a study only granted to one student every year. From there, she worked with Barcelonan flamenco guitarist Juan "Chicuelo" Gómez at the 2013 Panama International Film Festival, attended the New York Conference for the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP), and was the opening act for Miguel Poveda. In 2016, she released her first album, Los Ángeles, which soon became critically acclaimed and kept the flamenco theme which is prominent in most of her works.
Following the release of her three singles, Malamente, Pienso en tu Mirá, and Di mi Nombre, she released her second album El Mal Querer, working with producer Pablo Díaz-Reixa (known as El Guincho), who contributed R&B and hip-hop sounds to compliment the flamenco-pop mix of the album.
Storytelling is an important aspect of her songwriting. El Mal Querer retells the story of the 13th century Spanish novel Flamenca, in which a man traps his wife (whose name is also the title of the novel) in a tower and forbids her to leave. Every song in this conceptual studio album illustrates a different chapter in the novel .
The music video for Malamente, one of Rosalía’s most popular songs from the album has won two Latin Grammy awards and received over 70 million views on YouTube since it’s upload in May of 2018.
Above, Rosalía performing Me Quedo Contigo at the Goya 2019 festival.
However, some critics have accused Rosalía of cultural appropriation. They argue that since flamenco comes from the Romany people of Andalusia (a city in the south of Spain) and Rosalía is from a town near Barcelona (located in the northeast), she should not be allowed to incorporate elements of flamenco into her music. Silvia Cruz Lapeña (a Spanish journalist) told the New York Times that some members of the Romany community have felt “a lack of respect because she only takes the aesthetic part of the history [such as] the earrings, [and] the hair”. Some speculators have even accused her of using a fake Andalusian accent. Rosalía has responded, telling the New York Times in an interview that she does not believe that flamenco is owned by just one culture. “This music is not about race or territories. Jewish culture, Spanish culture, African culture, Gypsy culture - this mix made flamenco what it is.”
Rosalía has kicked off 2019 with her new single, Con Altura, which features J Balvin and El Guincho and her film debut in Dolor y Gloria (Pain and Glory), which stars Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas. She has performed at Coachella and is now touring across the United States.
Rosalía performing Con Altura with J Balvin at Coachella. Photo credit: iHeartRadio