On 'Musas,' Natalia Lafourcade Celebrates Legends Of Latin Music

Jun 7, 2017
Originally published on June 7, 2017 4:18 pm

Natalia Lafourcade is one of the most successful singer-songwriters in Latin America. The Mexico City musician has been a longtime popular and critical favorite — she swept the Latin Grammy Awards in 2015, where her last album Hasta La Raíz ("To The Core") was named Record of the Year and Best Alternative Music Album. Lafourcade has always been inspired by her musical forebears, but for her seventh album, Musas ("Muses"), she expressly wanted to pay homage to the greats of Latin American music in their "full glory."

"I wanted the music to sound made in Mexico," Lafourcade tells NPR's Kelly McEvers. "I wanted to connect to my roots."

On Musas, Lafourcade pays tribute to artists such as Agustín Lara, Margarita Lecuona and Roberto Cantoral. Some of her idols helped out: Cuban singer Omara Portuondo of Buena Vista Social Club sings on "Tu Me Acostumbraste," for instance. And the legendary acoustic guitar duo Los Macorinos — Juan Carlos Allende and Miguel Peña, who are both in their 70s — accompanies the 33-year-old Lafourcade on every song.

Allende and Peña were different from her usual collaborators, she says: "The Macorinos were more calm. They were patient with music and they were paying a lot of attention to the details."

When asked to name songs on Musas that explore Latin American musical tradition in a way that makes her happiest, Lafourcade names Lara's "Te Vi Pasar," as well as "Qué He Sacado Con Quererte," associated with Chilean artist Violeta Parra.

"That music ... has a lot of richness," she says. "When you take some of that and mix that [with] the things that are happening now and that I feel now, I think it becomes stronger. But also, my music becomes different."

Not only did Lafourcade's music change, so did her attitude towards her own heritage.

"As I have been discovering all these lyrics and these stories and composers, now I feel more proud about the place where I come from," she says. "It's really important for your spirit, and your identity also. ... I really want to become a composer for my people, my country, that will photograph the things that are happening now, in story and life and love."

Lafourcade acknowledges that her fans, who tend to be younger folks, are likely to be unfamiliar with traditional Latin American music and older songwriters. But it has become important to her to serve as a conduit to that history.

"If I can make them listen to something that will make them connect to those things," she says, "maybe I am doing something right."

Web intern Karen Gwee contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HASTA LA RAIZ")

NATALIA LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Natalia Lafourcade is best known for this song, "Hasta La Raiz." She won a Grammy last year for the album it's on, also called "Hasta La Raiz." And the album was all about a breakup. Now the pop singer is exploring Latin American folk music, mainly from Mexico where she lives and where she's from.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TU SI SABES QUERERME")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

MCEVERS: Lafourcade's new album is called "Musas," which means muses. And her muses are Latin American singers, performers and poets.

LAFOURCADE: I wanted the music to sound, like, made in Mexico. I wanted to connect to my roots.

MCEVERS: She even worked with some of these muses on the album, including the legendary Mexican guitar duo Los Macorinos.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATALIA LAFOURCADE SONG, "TU SI SABES QUERERME")

MCEVERS: They play on every track of "Musas." They're in their 70s. Lafourcade is 33. She says working with them was different.

LAFOURCADE: The Macorinos and me - there's a big space between our generations. The people I was used to work with, we will do everything faster. And the Macorinos were more, like, calm. They were patient with music, and they were paying a lot of attention to the details.

MCEVERS: And working with two or three generations of musicians all sitting down together in one room, what does that do? I mean how do you think it's affected the music?

LAFOURCADE: Sometimes the music will tell you where to go. And when you find that place I believe is when you're just connecting to the feelings and the heart and the people you're with. You're all working to have a piece of art, you know, music and trying to figure out a way of making it contemporary and modern at the same time as having this old spirit that they have. And it's beautiful.

MCEVERS: Let's listen to "Te Vi Pasar" - "I Saw You Pass By."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TE VI PASAR")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

MCEVERS: "Those eyes, two crystals - the one reflected. My love didn't notice me." These are lyrics by the very well-known Mexican songwriter and poet named Agustin Lara. I mean your audience is obviously young people who listen to you. Do you think it's important to expose them to these more traditional-sounding songs?

LAFOURCADE: Yes. If we don't listen to that music, if we don't go closer to that music, it will get lost. And this project - when I thought about this project, I was more in the mood of going back home and exploring through all these songwriters that I love that put in a place the full glory of their countries and their people and their stories and their places.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TE VI PASAR")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

I really want to become, like, a composer for my people, my country that will photograph the things that are happening now in story and in life and love but not only, like, the love of a couple, you know, the love in general. It becomes, like, a very strong influence, all this music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TE VI PASAR")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

MCEVERS: And you have all these muses for this album - of course that's the title of the album - these traditional artists and musicians who you've known through your life. Do people who hear - you know, younger listeners who hear this music now - do they come to you and say, wow, I didn't even know that existed; thank you for bringing it to me? I mean what's been the reaction?

LAFOURCADE: I was wondering how they will react to this music, and they love it.

MCEVERS: Why do you think that's important for that audience?

LAFOURCADE: Well, I think it is important because it has made me more sensitive. Some years ago, I wasn't feeling that proud of being who I am and where I come from and the place I grew up and my country and my culture. I didn't even think about it, like, many years ago. And as I went through that music, now I feel more proud. And there are many ways to connect to that. So if I can make my audience, which are very young people, listen to something that will make them connect to those things, maybe I am doing something right. I don't know (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MI TIERRA VERACRUZANA")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

MCEVERS: Natalia Lafourcade, thank you so much for talking to us today.

LAFOURCADE: Thank you so much. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MI TIERRA VERACRUZANA")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

MCEVERS: Her new album is "Musas."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MI TIERRA VERACRUZANA")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.