There is something undeniably magnetic about Rosalía. The Spanish artist’s music, personality and visuals are gripping in a way that differs from a typical pop star. Her album Motomami, released in March, has its fair share of upbeat tracks, but they’re not the kind of pop anthems that feel made for 24-hour radio play. The album’s 16 tracks are energetic in their seamless dynamics – shapeshifting and genre-bending within the songs. And this style reflects Rosalía herself, who is not afraid to play and draw from all parts of her world.
Rosalía recently announced her first-ever world tour, and while she says she’s excited to perform classics like “Malamente” and “Con Altura,” fans should expect her to break new ground. “People who have watched the El Mal Querer shows will now be like, ‘Oh, that’s different,'” she says. The artist recently spoke with NPR Music’s Anamaria Sayre about recording the global motomami, choosing to forego viral features and turning a poignant voice memo from her grandmother into a song.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To listen to the audio version, click on the link above.
Anamaria Sayre, NPR Music: I want to talk about this beautiful album you released not long ago, Motomami. You made the most of this album during COVID-19, right?
Rosalía: Much of the project was done in 2020, but also while I was on tour in 2019 [and] also in 2021. It was a whole process of three years. I was in the US and far from my family and far from my country. It was tough, but it really grew me as a writer and producer. I am very grateful that I was allowed to do this project.
Apparently [making the albums] Los Ángeles, El Mal Querer, you were very close to the family. You were close to home when you made these. this distance, [can] do we hear that on the record?
One hundred percent. If I hadn’t traveled and if I hadn’t spent so much time in Miami, Los Angeles, New York and then Puerto Rico, the Républica Dominicana – all of these really influenced the sound of this album, even the way I it write spanish. All my texts used to be full of Spanish. Because I went to the grocery store and bought things and spoke in English, those things even made me think in English, and that then affected how I wrote. I think it’s such a blessing that I was able to spend time here because I was able to learn. [The U.S.] is such a different place and i love it. I think it changes the way I make music.
Flamenco is a sound that recurs in every single one of your works, but now you integrate salsa, bachata and reggaeton. After recording these sounds, how do you see yourself continuing to grow as you evolve?
I [have] never found music to be separate. I think [that’s] has always been there [and] that it’s more radical now. It’s just that now that I’ve traveled and my life has changed, I get more inspiration from more places and people. That makes it even clearer to me that it’s about this human manifestation. This expression – which for me is music and style – I choose these styles, the bachata, the reggaeton, all because I love them and I want to honor them. And I think those were the right styles for what I wanted to express with this album.
I’m a big fan of [the Spanish artist] Martirio.
She’s like the OG “Motomami”, you know what I mean? how she sings [how] She puts on her sunglasses. The energy is crazy.
I feel like hearing sounds like theirs, there’s almost that precedent for Spanish artists to experiment with [that] way of combining flamenco with other sounds. Do you feel like there’s something distinctly Spanish about your openness to experimenting with all these different sounds?
If you think about it, flamenco – for example guajira, rumba, colombiana, milonga, all of these are part of the flamenco corpus. Which shows how flamenco [has] since its inception, of course, has always seemed like an enigma. For me [and] contemporary artists, traveling and all that influences and makes artists [make] Music that inspires [by] different places. But also the digital age – the digital age and the internet have made such a difference. You can always see these influences in flamenco, and I think it’s always been a dialogue between artists, between places, between cultures. I love this cultural diversity. I think it’s even more radical today. It’s something to celebrate.
Speaking of a variety of sounds, you’ve been featured on countless albums by different artists, but you only have two features on this album. I love that you own this album very much – it’s your record, you own the sound. Where did this choice come from?
It’s quite intentional. This is the first time I’ve made an album that has autobiographical content. It was really important that the personal tone, the avowed tone, was there from start to finish. If I [made] an album with that intent, but then doing so many collaborations just for streams and numbers that it would lose that original intent. So I thought no. [The rapper] Tokisha is such a great motomami, you know? She is such a beautiful creative mind and why not celebrate her in the same way on the album? Abel [Tesfaye, The Weeknd], he’s always been a great musician that I love and I wanted him to be there. I had “La Fama” and then I was like, “Okay, let me call Abel, let me see if he’s interested in jumping on this song.” And he jumped in.
What I love about your record [is that] you are so present When I experience it, I think, “Rosalía is taking us on a journey and it’s on her terms.” It makes me feel like, yes, own your creativity.
Of course there are many people I admire who have contributed to the project. At the same time I was the first to go into the studio and the last to leave. I spent 16+ hours a day producing and writing for months and it was a tough process. Fun sometimes, but also very hard. And of course, I’m honored to work with these people I admire and curate the ideas they bring to the table. But at the end of the day, this project has a lot of personal content.
When you’re in the recording studio with male artists, how do you pursue your creative interests?
I’m just expressing. I like going to the studio. It’s something I’ve always needed since I started music when I was 16. I’ve always experimented, I always work long hours and I always say what I want to achieve. I usually have an idea of a song I want to do before I make a song. Sometimes it can be playful to start like this beat. “Saoko” for example, the first song on the album where you can hear the intent [making] a song work that has some reggaeton – OG reggaeton influence – but also a touch of jazz here and there. I walked into the studio knowing this was what I wanted, but then it took me time to get there. The people I work with are many men [and] also women. But my whole team is made up of women and I often feel like I’m surrounded by men and I’m grateful. I’m always very sure about what I want to create.
How do you stay empowered to express your sexuality in your work, music, and imagery when you’re in an industry that’s all about marketing sex appeal? Where do you say, “This is something I do because I want to do it and this is who I am.” How do you express and maintain that certainty?
I think people sense it when it’s real, when it’s coming from the middle. When it comes from the middle of an artist, you can put it more honestly. I really don’t want to share anything that isn’t honest. And then sexuality is part of my life – it is part of life. There is also something to celebrate. I was thinking at Motomami about how to make an album and make songs about stuff like that [is] Part of my life. I celebrate transformation. I celebrate spirituality, but just as much as I celebrate sexuality. There you will find a song like “Hentai”.
When you were in different songs and you came into the studio with these huge reggaeton heroes, what was it like? [for] the young version of you right now [wanted] Make music? How was this experience for you?
I’ve always seen myself as a musician. I grew up listening to music in college. When I go into the studio, I don’t see myself as anything other than a musician, and I put myself in my place [in] Worship of the song we’re going to do that day. Well, I really don’t care who’s there. I’m really always thankful for the people I can be surrounded by. I learned a lot from the great artists with whom I was able to exchange ideas. But I see myself as a musician and I see them as musicians when they are in the studio with me. And it’s all about the song. It’s about nothing but the song. I think when you put yourself at the service of something valuable – like a creative process – it’s very powerful.
I have to highlight one of my favorite moments on the album. It is the moment when you include your abuela. It was like listening to my Abuela. On the song “G3 N15” your Abuela says: “God and la familia. That’s it. That’s the focus.” And she says: “Family is always important. You’re carrying a path that’s a little bit difficult. When I look at it, I think what a complicated world Rosalía has gotten into. But well, if you’re happy, I’m happy too.”
My abuela, mi yaya. She actually said that in a voice memo on WhatsApp. It was in the middle of the pandemic and I was in the US, in Miami. And she sent me this note and I was in the studio and I was like, “No, I have to use this.” This is exactly what I wanted to talk about and share. I used mi abuela’s voice in a Pro Tools session and I thought, “What music should I put on alongside her voice? What should I use?” And then it occurred to me. When I was a kid I was at my grandma’s house and she had this clock that played this tune. I don’t know if this sounds familiar to you, but it is [Rosalía sings the “Westminster Quarters” melody.] This melody is my grandmother’s clock.
Did she want you to be a singer? I know my Abuela, she’s from Mexico and she’s always wanted me to sing boleros. She says, “Oh my god, if you only sang boleros.” If she could make you sing something, what would it be?
I think my grandma would have loved it if I sang like Maria Callas. She wants me to be an opera singer. She always felt that opera is much better than anything else. You know, like the crème de la crème.
The opera is so great, so impressive.
I agree. But the thing with the new generation, I think it’s different. I’ve always felt, and people around me have always felt, that there is no better music than others. There is no better style than others. There is no good or bad in music.
Do you feel that there is a sound or an idea that will always accompany you as an artist as you develop?
I think transformation is for sure – the celebration of change and freedom. It’s something very important to me, that word. I think it was very present during Motomami. And how can I be freer? I always think so. I think my favorite music is very human. My favorite artists are very human. They show their contradiction. They show how they change. And I love that and I feel connected in perspective. [Copyright 2022 NPR]