Rosalía, who features on Afa’s Live on Saturday, has been a sensational artist since her breakthrough. She has also undergone a transformation in recent years, making her Spain’s biggest pop hero of all time.
She had already brought Spanish pop music back to the top of the world. But with Motomami, album they released earlier this year released, Rosalía now tears around the world even faster, preferably on her rear wheel. This can also be seen in the clip that accompanies the song Saoko.
Motomami is a tribute from the singer to her mother. He always brought little Rosalía Vila Tobella (Barcelona, 1992) to school on a motorcycle. The singer thought that was very normal at the time, but on closer inspection quite heroic. Motomami grew into a symbol of freedom, for women who step on the gas and do what they want; in everyday life or in the grueling competition of the music industry.
Now, ten months after its appearance, Motomami mentioned in many year-end lists and Rosalía still scores one hit after another. On YouTube, she has already reached an incredible two billion views for her addictive song Con Altura. And Rosalía travels the world with her Motomami circus. Her tour took the singer to Spanish stadiums, then across South and Central America, then to the US and now back to Europe. She can finally be seen again in the Netherlands on Saturday, after her still rather modest festival appearance at Down The Rabbit Hole in 2019, where she just broke through.
The transformation that Rosalía went through and what she sings about Saoko (yo me transformo, ‘I transform’, she repeats in the chorus), is at least as remarkable as her current global victory lap. Rosalía began her musical career with a studied version of flamenco, the Andalusian folk art that she passionately admired and wanted to make her own.
It was difficult for her to be taken seriously, because in Spain flamenco is seen as a sacred art and anyone who tries to give it an outside twist is opposed. Rosalía did not come from an Andalusian flamenco family, so her art could not be genuine.
Freedom and sexuality
She persevered. In 2017, Rosalía performed on a small scale, singing on a stool next to a plucking guitarist at the Dutch Flamenco Biennale. She sang beautifully, but also a little timidly, not exactly with the original vocal power of her predecessors in the genre.
When two years later in an interview with de Volkskrant reminded of that achievement, she said she looked back at herself with amazement, from another planet. The transformation started around there, she said.
She had studied flamenco for years. ‘I learned all the fixed forms by heart and started singing and composing nicely myself.’ But Rosalía wanted to unleash her creativity. ‘I discovered a sound in my voice that did not necessarily belong to flamenco. I wanted to express my feelings. I started experimenting.’
The musical adventure that followed led to the controversial record El Mal Querer from 2019, an album that combines flamenco with deep electronic production and hip-hop elements. It was smooth and catchy pop music, but with an avant-garde edge and also sharp and socially critical lyrics about freedom and sexuality, about male dominance and the misery that follows from it.
El Mal Querer was hailed as an artistic masterpiece. But the singer decided not to take it easy. In it Volkskrantinterview, she said she wanted to focus on all the music that had gripped her as a child, from Puerto Rican reggaeton to traditional Colombian dance music and from festive Catalan rumba to Cuban mambo.
And yes: on Motomami flame all the lively styles in an explosive song mix; once again polished and very accessible pop, once again with a deep angle and lyrics to crack your head over. In particular, the urge for artistic innovation gave Rosalía great reviews and an audience of millions far beyond Spain and Latin America. After previous successes with the band Mecano and singer Enrique Iglesias, Rosalía is now the biggest Spanish pop star in history.
She could be, too, because she knows how to get success from a unique use of social media. In recent months, she made pop history by scoring a hit before it was even released. Her mambo-like summer song Dispatch, where she once again celebrates her uninhibited artistry, was launched bit by bit during her concerts. And teasers for the song were released on TikTok, with a video of Rosalía, which was then imitated by thousands of Tiktokers.
The song flew over millions of phone screens, and when it was finally officially released three months ago, it immediately became a global summer hit, also because millions of fans could already dream about the lyrics and the accompanying dance. According to experts in the music industry, Rosalía pushes boundaries and flouts all the laws that colleagues still try to comply with.
This is also why Rosalía is no longer opposed in Spain, but celebrated, not only as the greatest, but above all as the most original pop hero the country has ever produced.
3 songs by Rosalía that you must listen to and see
One of the most poignant songs on her album El Mal Querer, from 2019. Bagdad is named after a famous sex club in Barcelona and is about a woman caught in a male power game. She prays to God in a text that will grab everyone by the throat.
Not for nothing is her biggest hit: Con Altura is a wonderful earworm with a grueling reggaeton beat, an exciting contribution from the Colombian J Balvin and above all an unforgettable choreography. Watch that clip again.
Number one Candyfrom breakthrough plate Motomami, is a smartly arranged ballad that puts a dark reggaeton beat under Rosalía’s clean and sighing voice. She sings that she has turned forgetting her ex into an art form.