Words by Victor A. Rodriguez
If you would have told us flamenco fused with hip-hop and reggaetón would one day have kids in the suburbs and inner cities alike, bumping their heads in their cars, reciting lyrics in Spanish at concerts and festivals. Well… we might have gotten more than a chuckle out of it. Yet, in 2019 that is exactly what Rosalía did.
Born Rosalía Vila Tobella in Sant Esteve Sesrovires, a small town north of Barcelona. She delved into music early in her life. Learning how to play guitar at a mere seven years old. By 11 she was on to piano. By 16 Rosalía knew this is what she wanted to do with her life. So, she dedicated herself to music, obtaining formal training at the Institut Montserrat Colomer in Sant Esteve Sesrovires. All the while, getting her hustle on by performing at shows, competing in musical competitions and cutting tracks on the side.
After performing locally for a few years and recording tracks on a local level she encountered Spanish record producer Poble Esponyol. He would help to shape her fist album. In 2017 she released Los Angeles. The album was a reimagining of flamenco classics. It received consumer and critical acclaim alike. Resulting in a 2017 Latin Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. Yet, the Catalan star was just getting started.
In 2018 commenced what can be characterized as the El Mal Querer initiative. It would ultimately be her second studio album; however, it began as her graduate thesis. Written by Rosalía and co-produced with longtime producer El Guincho, El Mal Querer was an experimental concept album. As she told MTV it’s about all sides of love, the good, the bad, the toxic. It was a gamble. The flamenco star put all her resources, financial and otherwise into the project. Failure was not an option.
The buildup and promotion began in 2018. In May, she released a single entitled “Malamente”. It was a game changer. Billboard named the track one of the songs that defined the 2010s decade. Three more singles followed, and the full album dropped in November of 2018.
Yet, it was in 2019 that its impact would be felt. Rosalía hit the road to work the album. Performing across the world. From Glastonbury, to Lollapalooza’s Chilean and Argentinian editions, to Africa, and the Coachella and Made in America festivals in the United States.
Lest you think it was only the road that loved her. You’d be wrong. Media, critics and fellow artists alike lauded praise. Fans could not get enough as the first four singles of from El Mal Querer landed in the top ten of the Spanish Singles Chart at the same time, with “Di mi nombre” becoming her first number-one single. Artists clamored to collaborate, with the likes of J. Balvin joining her on “Con Altura” and Ozuna on the track “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi”. She also became a critical darling.
Thus far it has resulted in four Latin Grammy wins and recently two Grammy nominations. One for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album and one for Best New Artist. The latter a history making nomination. The first ever Best New Artist nomination whose material is in Spanish.
However, it’s not all sunshine and roses, some critics have accused of Rosalía of cultural appropriation due to heavy use of Gitano symbolism in her work. While stateside, her Catalan roots have caused some to question her Latinidad.
Yet, the artist has taken the high road. Focusing on what matters – the music. When told of her historic Grammy nominations she told Billboard.com “It means that no matter which language you’re using, if the music that you’re doing comes from a pure place and connects with people…it’s just about the music and the energy that the music has.”