Why El mal querer by Rosalia is a revolutionary masterpiece

Rosalia El Mal Querer
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Rosalía Vila Tobella, better known as simply Rosalía, is no stranger to the Spanish audience. After the release of Malamente -a powerful mix of flamenco and urban music- the Catalan artist became an instant hit among Spanish youth and a cultural phenomenon.

 

Given the complicated and fascinating history of flamenco, a genre that dates back to the 18th century and that is tightly linked to Andalusi and Romani people, Malamente sparked a very heated debate on cultural appropriation with Rosalía at the center of it. Some sectors pointed out that the music of Rosalía -a white, middle class Catalan woman- was instantly praised as revolutionary and got the support of Sony and that she uses iconography of Romani people (who have suffered discrimination in Spanish society for centuries). Similar fusion flamenco artists from Andalucía, southern Spain, where Flamenco mostly developed,  have been either dismissed or perceived as ‘cani’ -‘chav’- music.

Although this debate is still ongoing, at this point it’s safe to say that El mal querer, Rosalía’s sophomore album, is wildly regarded as a brilliant, revolutionary, addictive and carefully crafted concept album that put Flamenco in the mainstream. Rosalía’s reach has expanded from Spanish hipsters to worldwide success and, although reviews might not mean much to fans, who devour the artist’s content regardless of the debate around her, non-Spanish media outlets like The Guardian rated the album 5/5 and the usually overly critical US alternative music magazine Pitchfork gave it a remarkable 8.8/10.

 

The music videos accompanying her singles -two of them, Malamente and Pienso en tu mirá produced by Canada- have helped boost her popularity. Their iconography is inspired in Barcelona’s suburbs -the polígonos or industrial parks- and Canada cleverly -and controversially as we know- used traditional religious symbols traditionally linked to Andalucía such as the Penintentes. The conceptual album, as explained by her, was inspired in the 13th-century occitan novel Flamenca, that tells the story of a woman trapped in an abusive relationship that eventually breaks free. Rosalía’s videos, as envisioned by her, are an integral part of the story.

‘El mal querer’ is Rosalía’s final project for her musical studies and a very personal feat. The artist has worked alongside El Guincho, a popular Spanish producer, to realize her vision down to the last comma. Together they have created a complex and revolutionary album riddled with sounds effects that effortlessly combine more traditional flamenco tunes -Que no salga la luna- with the experimental De aquí no sales -featuring motor sound effects- in a way that songs like the spiritual Bagdad -which includes both a sample of Cry me a river and a children’s choir- do not seem out of place but rather just another piece of her personal puzzle. El mal querer is much more than the hit Malamente and it’s worth digging into. You will not regret it.

 

‘El Mal Querer’ by Rosalía is out now. Listen to it here.
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