Whenever an actor or musician wins a major award, they climb on stage to tell the world that they “never expected this.” When they lose, it was always “an honor just be nominated.” Mexican singer/songwriter Natalia Lafourcade has been on both sides of the coin, having won the Latin Grammy for Best Rock Album for her 2006 record, Casa, and again in 2013, for Best Alternative Music Album for Mujer Divina, Homenaje a Agustín Lara. She was nominated two more times, but lost, for her self-titled debut and later with 2009's Hu Hu Hu. Perhaps unsurprisingly, later next month, Lafourcade will once again await to heat her name be called, or not, at the 2015 Latin Grammys.
At this point, it would be understandable if she treated all this like old hat. She should even be allowed the usage of some well-worn cliches and empty words to satiate the public and inquiring media. Instead, when discussing yet another Grammy nod, she sounds genuinely excited and proud.
“It's amazing, especially because the thing that makes it so special is that I've been working with so many people in order to have the album and to make the music come true. There are so many people on my team helping and working really hard. When we got the news, they were all very happy and it gives you the comfort and the sensation that all the decisions that you made during the process of the album – recording and making the album – were good decisions.”
Speaking to New Times from New York City a few days before her show at the UM Gusman Concert Hall as part of the ongoing Festival Miami, a humble Lafourcade sounds like she has no clue that she is one of the brightest talents in music today, regardless of language.
Over the phone, she's as charming, friendly, and pleasant as her music. However, even a gentle spirit like her is susceptible to the thorny side of love.
Her latest LP, Hasta La Raíz (“To the Root”) is a gorgeous and intimate work of pop music. Deeply personal, the album captures Lafourcade's affection for her native Mexico and examines the heartbreak of a shattered relationship. Written in the aftermath of a breakup, Hasta La Raíz, is oftentimes melancholic, but with a subtle passion that never allows the record to slip into anything approaching maudlin.
Hasta La Raíz grabbed the attention of her music industry peers once again for her fifth Latin Grammy nomination. Nevertheless, as much as she appreciates the recognition, Lafourcade judges success in an all-together different manner.
“I would say that success is whenever you're happy doing whatever you're doing. Sometimes you can get the wrong idea of success. You might be working a lot or doing a lot of things, but you are not happy. I try to think about a dream or something that I want to to do and if I can do it and I finish that dream or project and I am happy, that is a very successful moment for me.
“Plus whenever I get to have concerts with people, and they come to the show and at the end everyone is happy and they're having a good time, then that's a very successful moment. It's about having fun and enjoying it.”
Lafourcade will have such an opportunity this Friday at Festival Miami, a fall concert series hosted by the University of Miami Frost School of Music. Appropriately enough, the shift in sound on Hasta La Raíz was the culmination of learning experiences for her. None more so than, in a conscious effort to “try something different,” the time spent studying legendary Mexican composer Agustín Lara.
“I started working with his music and there was a moment when I decided to start working on new stuff, but my stuff. I wanted to have the sensation that I was having with his music. It wasn't easy to make his music for me. I really had to open my heart and let myself be more naked so I could go into the emotions of the songs that I was trying to sing. When I did that, I learned that I needed to probably do the same thing with my music if I wanted to have the same feeling.”
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That honest desire and instinct to leave herself vulnerable indeed achieved an artistic maturation immediately apparent on Hasta La Raíz. It comes through a combination of evocative indie rock, bossa nova grooves, and warm, jazzy pop all accompanied by her tender, girlish vocals. Of course, Lafourcade is mindful that as cathartic as this may all be, it's hardly just about her.
In regard to her fans in general and those residing in the daily turbulence of Mexico, where she still lives and has no intention of leaving, Lafourcade understands the role of music and the effect it can have on others.
“One of my goals and one of the things I want to accomplish with the music and the people, I want them to be happy and I want them to enjoy the music. Whenever they come to the concerts and I see their faces, there are certain times that I am like: OK, I think now we all are forgetting anything else that isn't in this place...We are all trying to figure out if we are happy or not, dealing with our insecurities or whatever. What I want is to give people the sensation of faith and peace and healing. I think we should open our hearts and connect. When we let ourselves connect to others, we can connect to the universe and do good things for the universe and the people that are around us. I think that is important and I try to have that in my music.”