Nancy: I’m Nancy Solomon in for Tanzina Vega. Welcome back to The Takeaway.
Nancy: Last month one of the most successful singer songwriters in Latin America won her second Grammy Award.
Nancy: That’s Natalia Lafourcade. The Mexican singer won her Grammy Award for her album Un Canto Por Mexico, Vol. 1. In 2017, a devastating earthquake struck Mexico, killing thousands and destroying many areas in Southern Mexico. In the state of Vera Cruz, where Natalia is from a cultural center aimed at preserving son jarocho, a regional folk musical style from the state, was badly damaged. In 2019, Natalia gathered other musicians and organized a benefit concert to help raise funds for the center. This album, based on that 2019 concert, features traditional Mexican musical styles, including mariachi, soon huasteco and many others.
Joining us now to talk about her Grammy win and the album is Natalia Lafourcade. Natalia, what a treat to have you on The Takeaway.
Natalia: Thank you so much for having me.
Nancy: Huge congratulations on the Grammy win and the three Latin Grammy Awards as well. What a year for you. That must feel pretty good?
Natalia: Yes. Especially in a project like this where there’s so many people involved and there’s so many energy and magic and spirit put into this music. We are very proud and very happy that this is going this way.
Nancy: Not to mention you released the album during a global pandemic. What were the challenges there with that?
Natalia: Especially in this moment. Also, the spirit of the project. It’s been a whole journey and so many people involved so far. The musicians, but also the organizations and all the people that are working in order to build this important place for music and in Jaltipan, and the musicians in this album. I feel so fortunate because there is people so talented people there, and I feel very proud to be part of this beautiful and magic project.
Nancy: Let’s play a clip from the album. This is the song Mi Tierra Verracruzana.
Nancy: This song is about the state you grew up in, Veracruz. it’s not typically what one hears on the pop charts either in terms of the lyrics or the styles. Tell us about the song.
Natalia: I was working on this, many of the songs of this two volumes of music is part of the music that I record sometime ago for two other albums that are called Musas. It’s a homage to the to the Latino American folklore, Latino Americano. I wanted to write a song that would be about the place where I grew up, the place that I love and that most inspiration gives me, which is one of the place which is my home, which is Veracruz, which I the state Chapultepec, which is this little town that I love and what I live in.
I wanted to put that color and that emotion that it gives me in the lyrics. I wanted to talk about the food, the people, the colors, the landscapes, the flavors. I don’t know. I wanted to put all that Mexican thing into the song. I remembered that I was trying to write this song for months. Then it was in this suite, it in Los Cabos, because I was having a show there. I remembered that I stayed for the weekend and I said, “I’m not going to go out from the room until I finished the song.” I had it in my mind, I had a melody and then the idea, and the idea of what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t finding the way to put it so on the paper and the music.
I say, “I’m not going out,” because we were going to go into the studio for recording the album, to record the album soon by the time. I was like, “I better finish this one because I really want to sing to my town and Veracruz.” I stayed there for three days, [laughs] wrote down. I ended up writing three of the most important songs for the album, which was Tú Sí Sabes Quererme, which is another one that is going to be in the second volume and Mi Tierra Veracruzana. I don’t remember the other one, but it was a very beautiful, productive week.
Nancy: You’ve been called a guardian of Mexican culture. Are you comfortable with that description and what is it that you’re trying to do?
Natalia: Guardian. It feels pretty if they say that, it’s a lot of responsibility as well if they put it that way. I’d like to say that I love this music and I love playing around with the folklore and this traditional music. I don’t know if I’m going to be in this place forever because I am very curious as a musician, as a writer, as a singer, interpreter also as well. I don’t know, but I love doing this music and I love it because it makes me feel so strong because it’s the type of music we have here is a is a story, is the genders of the folklore. We have so many. It’s so interesting for me, I’ve been learning so much.
Since I work with this music, I feel like better human, better musician, better person. I don’t know. I just love it. I just love sharing a lot. This music, it has such a great spirit, makes people so happy.
Nancy: You started your career as a pop star. Here’s one of your first hits from 2002 called En el 2000.
Nancy: That’s quite different from the traditional Mexican music that you’re currently performing. How did you come to the traditional stuff?
Natalia: It’s been a very, very long journey for me. I think there was a moment in my career, probably in the third album, which was called Hu Hu Hu, there was a very special and interesting moment for my career where it felt like everything was out of its place. I was exploring and trying to find a way of do it and make it my own way. I traveled to Canada and I was trying to stay a step away from my country, my people, my family, my friends, my career, trying to find my own way, because it was before I felt I was doing what others wanted me to do. Then I came back to Mexico, trying to reconnect with Mexico and my audience.
I realized that I needed to, I needed to put out a record and I didn’t have enough music and I didn’t have the right music. I was like, “I still need to learn how to write a very, very good song.” I said, “I’m going to work with Agustín Lara’s music, which is what my very important composer from Mexico, from Veraruz as well. I discovered his music and I was just super impressed and motivated about working with his music. That was a very, very first step to try this new world. It was so good for me because I discovered the singers from my country that are like that Etta James or Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday that I really admire, and I was listening.
Before I was like, “I don’t know if we have this in Mexico.” Then, thanks to our singer, I discovered Toña la Negra’s voice which is one of my favorite singers. I was like, “Wow, this music is like, the Bolero, is like jazz in Spanish.” It’s like that incredible standard but in Spanish. I just said, like, “I need to turn my head and find, and know the music that was made in my country before, and try to learn from the masters like in Latino American, and also Mexico.” My attention went to another direction. I ended up listening to the music that is part of the place where I grew up, which is son jarocho, which is the ranchero, and bolero, and cumbia.
I just ended up trying those changes and those flavors into my music and see what happened. Making that a very strong influence for me so I could have this taste and this essence in my music. I was dreaming people from other countries to listen to my music and say, “This is the Mexican lady.”
Natalia: That style, and that music, and that all different things. Not just the music, the influence about the culture would be impressive into my music, so it will be printed into my music.
Nancy: You recently released a single Alfonsina y El Mar. It’s a song from the ’60s first made famous by Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa.
Nancy: It’s such a beautiful but sad song. What motivated you to want to cover that one in particular?
Natalia: That song, it’s been in my life since I was very little. My father would play that one on the piano. I remember for a long time trying to sing that song, trying to put it in my voice, and it was very difficult for me. I don’t know why. Well, it’s a very difficult one. The period and the pain. The story behind the song, it’s so strong that, I don’t know, I wasn’t able to do it. This year, I took my guitar and I was trying to find a way of singing that melody, and I could do it. Finally, I was like, “I finally can sing it,” because, for a long time it was hard for me.
I wanted to put it out, just as a collaboration also with Noah Georgerson and Ljova and some friends in the states that were helping me with the recording and the production of the song in the distance. I just wanted to put this one as a commemoration of the women for the month of March. Also, the video, which is the video where I am playing around with a discipline that I love, which is dancing. I was dancing for the sea, and for the waves, trying to make this connection with the Earth. Especially this year and last year, for me, the connection with this place, which is this beautiful beach, where we went to for making the video. It’s just one of my favorite places in the world.
I feel so safe there. During the pandemia of here last year, I was going to this place and I was dancing there. I was just moving my body, I’m playing and making improvisation with my body there, and the waves, and the sea. There was a moment I felt like I was having a very strong connection to it as if we were having a conversation by moving our bodies. I talk about my body, but also Mother Earth’s body. It feels so magic for me. There was a day where my husband and my friends were coming with us or I asked them to hold the phone and make a video of me making this improvisation with the sea and the nature.
They did it and then we just found that it was very pretty to put that experiment with a song on top. That’s how we finally made the video. I don’t know, I just wanted to share that as a inspiration for women to be free, and to dance, and hoping that this could be a way of living for us in the short future where we can arrange all this different problem and matters that we’re going through to finally get this liberty, and this freedom, and this happiness, and this connection to ourselves and souls.
Nancy: You’ve also been outspoken about the systemic killing of women. In 2020, there were nearly 1,000 women who were victims of femicide, which is the killing of women because of their gender. What are your thoughts on the recent protests about the murders?
Natalia: Well, I believe that there’s a very strong work that we must do together. I believe that it’s very important to see how these people are working because it makes you stop a minute to think about what’s happening. I think that since a certain time ago, we’re finally making this question and devati, I don’t know how you say that word, but we’re starting this conversation on the table about what’s happening in our world, and what can we do to change it. It’s a work we must do, and hopefully we can find a way to arrange all this violence to women, but also to human beings in this world.
In some way it goes beyond that, it goes to the point that we should see each other and find the respect of life that we must keep for all the time. It’s about education, it’s about how we grew up. What are we learning since we’re children in our houses? I think there’s so many people in the world that are sick, but in the spirit are very, very deep ill. This must be fixed. We must work together as well, to fix it. Trying to work in our spaces, in our places. Even though it’s a very little thing that we can work inside ourselves to help each other. One woman seeing another woman and saying like, “I’m going to give you my hand. I’m doing better than you but I can help you out. I can make something for you.”
I don’t know. I think it’s a very important moment and very special to see how much work it’s been done nowadays. It gives you a faith to see that, that things could change. I believe that things could change and I try to do and be a part of it by making music that will inspire others, and that will put them in this frequency of love, which I think it’s so important to keep every day.
Nancy: One of the higher-profile killings was a woman named Victoria, Salvadoran migrant, who was detained and killed by Mexican police in Toulon. That’s raising the issue of the Central American migrant crisis there. How’s the government been responding since that happened?
Natalia: Well, people complains because there’s so many women that have been declaring, declaring is that how you say? The violence or the murder and-
Nancy: Decrying the violence.
Natalia: Thank you. At the very, very end, they don’t do nothing about it. It seems that they don’t do nothing about it, because it keeps happening. It’s a very delicate thing. It’s a very delicate problem. As I said, it must be fixed. They must find the solution for this. It’s very sad and that’s probably one of the things that makes me sad about the things that happen in Mexico for me, because it’s so unfair at the end. It shouldn’t be that way.
Nancy: Thank you so much. Natalia Lafourcade is a Grammy Award-winning Mexican singer and songwriter. Natalia, thanks so much for your time. It was great to talk to you.
Natalia: Thank you, too. Thank you for having me. I hope people can listen to this music and this music makes them happy, just as happy as it makes me. Thank you for the interview.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.