El Mal Querer
Sony Music Entertainment · November 2, 2018
Rosalía has spun the folkloric sound of flamenco into something deeply contemporary and personal, still embracing and honoring the tradition and melodrama that comes with it.
On Rosalía’s debut album Los Ángeles, the Catalan singer aimed her bow and arrow at the hearts of the people from her home. The album was a simple foray into modern flamenco. The sounds of an acoustic guitar and clapping hands were all that backed Rosalía’s emotional infusions. Now, with the release of El Mal Querer, her bow and arrow is aimed far beyond her home of Catalonia. In fact, it has become the shot heard around the world, with media outlets from the New York Times to El País hailing her as the next international superstar. Rosalía has done something novel with flamenco, successfully presenting it to an audience that at one point hadn’t even dreamt of listening to the hypnotic chanting. She spun the folkloric sound into something deeply contemporary and personal, still embracing and honoring the tradition and melodrama that comes with it.
‘Pienso en Tu Mirá,’ the album’s third song and second promotional single, exemplifies what Rosalía has so successfully tapped into– uniting the rhythm of flamenco with Latin pop vocal stylings. The song tells the tale of jealous lovers; in the music video, a sequence of shots shows different people staring into the camera, with a small blotch of blood growing larger and larger as they stare straight into the camera– and therefore, straight at the viewer. The people shown are diverse, spanning all of Spain, and accurately encompass Rosalía’s current manifesto. More than any other artist, she is grappling with what it means to be young and Spanish in a country that is drowning in regional turmoil and global influence. As Catalonia continues to seek independence, here comes Rosalía, with an album that has essentially united the youth of the country behind a reinterpretation of its deeply rooted folklore.
Co-produced with the Spanish electronic musician El Guincho, El Mal Querer combines those sounds of classic flamenco with elements of R&B and hip-hop. In the opening track and first promotional single ‘Malamente,’ listeners are hit with the classic staccato-ed clapping that is quintessential to flamenco, along with a light, melodic synth and a sample of breaking glass. Every song is starkly original, ripping elements of various genres and combining them into something completely new. The title of the album suggests the notion of desire (querer) as a kind of illness (el mal), and the tracks are all split and titled as chapters to a story, with tales of love and heartbreak being told from a new perspective with each song.
At the same time, Rosalía has emerged as a global feminist icon. In the album’s final track ‘A Ningún Hombre,’ she celebrates her independence, denouncing the men in her life. “A ningún hombre consiento que dicte mi sentencia / Sólo Dios puede juzgarme / Sólo a él debo obediencia,” she sings: No man has the consent to hand me a verdict, only God can judge me, I only owe him my obedience. In ‘De Aquí No Sales,’ she addresses domestic abuse, painting a picture of the excuses an abuser would use to slip away from blame. She seems to have nothing to hide, proudly letting her pain show. “Mucho más a mí me duele, de lo que a ti te está doliendo,” she sings: This hurts me more than it hurts you. That same song replaces the traditional handclaps that are littered in flamenco with a sample of a motorcycle engine, spasmodically revving as a downbeat. In fact, Rosalía even calls back to the two sources of her inspiration throughout the album. On ‘Bagdad,’ she reinterprets the production from Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me a River,’ while ‘Reniego’ calls back to a staple in the flamenco songbook.
Flamenco comes from the south of Spain, from Andalusia, and is associated to the Spanish Romani. It has a distinct resemblance to traditional Arabic music, and dates as far back as the Reconquista in Spain. It is genre filled with passion and beauty; born out of turmoil. With El Mal Querer, Rosalía has given life to the genre once more, and centuries later, it is still filled with that same passion and is surrounded by a new kind of turmoil.