Written and translated by: Shaina Joy Machlus @punimpie
(Interview originally in Spanish)
Photos by: Eva Carasol @evacarasol
“I am both an instrument and an instrumentalist” Rosalía leans in and explains, her fingers laced together and her back slightly arched. Even in normal conversation her voice takes on a tone that is musical; magical. She is between press conferences and performances at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival and while there is chaos all around her, she is still, powerful, and present.
Rosalía’s instrument is her voice, which she has dedicated to the infinite complexities of Flamenco since the age of 13. “I was on the street with my friends. The cars would roll by, blasting music, and out of the loud speakers sounded Camarón, an iconic flamenco singer. Camarón was the one that captivated me and with whom I began to discover flamenco.”
Now 23 years old and having recently released her first album Los Ángeles (Universal) and a stunning new video for the single “De Plata”, it appears one day soon, someone will be saying the very same about her… “It was Rosalía that introduced me to flamenco…”
As the interview continues Rosalía weaves profoundly eloquent and insightful answers to each question with a patient and knowing half grin, promising: just wait and see, wait until the performance. There are some questions that are best answered in song.
The truth is, the fire that burns inside Rosalía can only be understood by seeing and hearing it for oneself. Watching Rosalía sing is an otherworldly experience. There are layers upon layers of rhythms. The constantly changing melodies, the timing, the voice fluctuations, all controlled to pinpoint precision. Rosalía is conducting an entire orchestra, but the orchestra is all contained within herself.
For any musician, but especially a drummer, one cannot help but be impressed by Rosalía’s use of complex rhythms. Tom Tom Magazine had the pleasure of talking in-depth to Rosalía about tempo, making music uniquely yours while maintaining its roots, and what it means to be truly happy and free.
TOM TOM: Let’s start from the beginning. What is flamenco for you?
ROSALÍA: For me flamenco is the form of expression that I have chosen. I have always liked music in general, but especially flamenco because I think it is different from other music because of its emotional weight, its depth; you can feel its density. Flamenco is ‘root’ music, it is folkloric, and as an artist, I am interested in having a foundation that has to do with roots, with a music that is of the people. I fell in love when I discovered it.
TT: And, when was that?
R: I was thirteen years old.
TT: And where did it happen?
R: In a village on the outskirts of Barcelona.
TT: What drove you to make the leap from being an admirer of flamenco to being a flamenco artist?
R: Flamenco fascinated me so I decided that I wanted to learn more about the genre and that I wanted to learn this trade; because I think being a singer is a learned trade. From thirteen to sixteen I was listening to a lot of flamenco and at sixteen I found my mentor. My mentor has always been the same, I have only had one singing instructor and he has taught me everything.
TT: And how did you find that person? Did you know immediately that they were your mentor?
R: Yes, when I met him I knew that I had found my teacher. He is a brilliant person, he is very intelligent; a fountain of wisdom. When I heard him sing I was amazed that he can sing any way he wants, he is very free with his voice and that captivated me. This type of mentorship, you can’t look for it, it’s something that comes to you.
TT: A gift from the Universe.
R: Yes, yes. Totally. His name is Chiqui, José Miguel Vizcaya “El chiqui”.
TT: For you, freedom means being able to use your voice in any way you want?
R: Yes. I feel that the freer your voice sounds, there’s less blockage or tension in you. For me, the voice is always a reflection of how you are. The voice is related so much to emotion. I’m constantly fighting to get to that state of freedom with my voice. In the moments when you find it, your whole body vibrates; it overtakes you. I am constantly searching and fighting for this state of being and I like it.
TT: And you think that that type of search has a final point or is it infinite; is it forever?
R: I think it is forever, because we’re always changing. I think there is always a little of that constant search of trying to find that perfect state of freedom; that center. Although deep down it is the search itself that is the center.
TT: Speaking about changing, when I was reading up on you I noticed a constant talk about you “reinventing flamenco, being a new face of flamenco, popularizing flamenco for a younger generation”. Can you talk about these ideas?
R: Let’s see…it is complex. It’s not that I seek to change flamenco. It is not my intention to alter, in any way, the status quo of this genre. It is more like….I sing flamenco from my perspective. For me to make music, and specifically flamenco, it is absolutely necessary for me to play in my own way. I have to try to explain flamenco from my perspective. I have not been born into a family where this type of music was listened to; my parents are not singers. Often, Flamenco is learned through being close to flamenco musicians since childhood; that has not been my case. So I do not have these experiences, I have not lived in that environment. For me, flamenco has to be something different compared to someone who has been soaking it up since he or she was a child. So for me, I think it is a fundamental part of my musical offerings. It is not rational to go and change things. Sometimes people talk to me as if I wanted to renew something. I do not want to renew anything. I am just trying to explain flamenco in the most honest way possible. I try to make music in the most transparent way I can.
TT: What is your personal dream for your music? Can you explain your vision of the future of flamenco from a personal and larger perspective?
R: I want to be working on making music for many, many years. I want to have energy and motivation to continue making discs after 60 years or more of working. I also want to purify myself as a musician, continue to learn more and grow as a musician. So what I said before about preserving flamenco, it’s not that I want to preserve it, because I think that flamenco has to be modified whether we want to or not; just by the context. It is inevitable that flamenco today is not exactly the same as it was before or a few years ago, but I think that this is a consequence of a new scene that is happening with flamenco musicians playing flamenco. I think there is a panorama or a flamenco scene that is decontextualizing flamenco from its usual place and I think that’s very positive because it’s liberating. People say it’s popularizing flamenco, this popularizing is making it accessible to people who might not have listened to flamenco before, and that’s very positive. But I think popularizing must always be a consequence and not a goal.
TT: Can you please talk about the rhythms of flamenco and how you feel these rhythms when you sing?
R: As I’ve been studying, as I’ve been forming into a flamenco artist, I have realized that you have to try to absorb how the rhythmic pattern is of each “palo”, each flamenco style, but then you have to learn how to speak over it as if you were talking. Somehow, when you combine all of this it makes a melody fit very well within a rhythm. The bulería, for example, has a marked rhythm of six by eight and when you are singing you don’t try to do it in a squared form, you have to be floating above the rhythm. You have to be almost surfing atop it.
That is the key for me at the moment, what makes me feel more comfortable within the rhythm while singing is that sensation; the feeling almost as if you are talking. When you speak, every phrase has its own rhythm, then it is like trying to maintain the internal rhythm of each phrase and each melody, because the melodies have an internal rhythm regardless of the rhythm that the song may have.
TT: And when you are singing we notice that internal rhythm in your voice but also in your hand movements.
R: The gesticulation?
R: I think it’s something very primal. Which has more to do with impulses; with drive. Drive is like fire, like when something burns you, you move. You do not choose when you move, you can’t think or premeditate how you’re going to gesticulate. On stage you always have to connect, you have to think of yourself as a channel, and then let your body move on its own.
TT: When you’re on the stage, you have so many things to do! Sing, connect to your energy flow, the other musicians….
R: Being anchored in that present moment allows you to be connected from a higher state; connected to the public, receiving what the public gives you, receiving also what your musical partner gives you, also giving to your partner who is playing the guitar. I think one has to be open for that because there are several channels within the same channel.
TT: I can imagine this kind of singing and emotional state is so physical.
R: Yes, very!
TT: So what method do you have of taking care of yourself for singing well, but also feeling good and staying present?
R: That’s a very good question, I have never been asked that before.
TT: With drummers I always ask this because it is very physical work, and the voice is a very physical instrument too.
R: You are an instrument and an instrumentalist, you know, both at once.
R: The most important thing is to be happy. If you are happy, you are well, you are connected. Happy, but real happiness. To be happy is to take care of others. Take care of the people I have around me, take care of myself. Maintain or respect everything that makes me feel good, for example eating well, sleeping for the hours my voice needs. Then there are some little rituals of caring for myself, that are necessary for my voice to be well and I respect them.
TT: And a big question to finish, what is your idea of real happiness?
R: I would say that it is like knowing how to enjoy all things, to the tiniest pieces. Know how to enjoy all the things that are happening to you; that all the time there are things to celebrate. The more present you are, the more you are anchored, which gives you more happiness. If you are really in the present, you have more peace, and for me, happiness also has to do with being at peace.
TT: And do you feel you are on the right track? You look so happy!
R: Is it noticeable?
TT: So much!
R: Yes, I am. Everything that is happening to me is like a blessing, I couldn’t ask for more. I feel very grateful and that’s why I’m very happy too. Gratitude will also help you achieve happiness; to be thankful for everything that happens.