Natalia Lafourcade Made Mexico Proud at Festival Miami

As the biggest hurricane ever recorded ripped into Mexico’s Pacific coast Friday night, singer Natalia Lafourcade pleaded on behalf of her country — for the world to wake up to the realities of an ailing planet. “I invite you to reflect,” the Mexican indie pop star said in Spanish to a packed Miami crowd. “The planet is yelling. This is its complaint for all of our foolishness.”

It was one of many intimate moments between the 31-year-old singer and a rapt, seated crowd at Gusman Hall, where she performed before 600 people as part of Festival Miami, a fall concert series hosted by the University of Miami Frost School of Music. With simple, gracious style, Lafourcade’s acoustic set transformed the performance hall into a cozy stage; a single blue light shone down on the petite singer, who stood with her guitar on a bare wooden platform.

Since she first emerged into the limelight in 2003 as a teen, Lafourcade has released five albums and won a slew of awards. But her latest release, Hasta La Raiz (To the Root), has a more visceral, introspective tone than anything that’s come before it. And as she presented her new work on Friday, the pop darling proved to a devoted audience that she’s a grown-up songstress with a thoughtful, resonant message.

Flanked by her guitarist Gustavo Guerrero, as well as a keyboardist, she opened the night with “Para Que Sufrir” (“Why Suffer”), a song with clear bossa nova influence that in many ways represents the tone of the album: melancholy over what’s lost, and yet optimism for a new beginning.

The LP, which debuted at number one in Mexico and has garnered six Latin Grammy nominations including Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Record of the Year, was written and recorded after a breakup and is clearly the result of a period of frayed, raw emotions.

Lafourcade’s sound has always been experimental — a fusion of acoustic guitar with Latin, jazz, pop, rock and bossa nova. But her new sound, set to an emotional journey from heartbreak to healing, is a powerful maturation.

Lafourcade launched into “Ya No Te Puedo Querer” (“I Can’t Love You Anymore”) by joking that her break up made her want to “slit her wrists.” The powerful, playful ballad with an energetic chorus is the reality of an expired relationship that’s hard to let go of. Then sitting down to the keyboard, she poured her heart out with eyes closed for “Palomas Blancas” (“White Birds”), pleading “Que nunca se acabe nada de lo nuestro” (“May nothing of ours ever end”). And still more upbeat was “No Mas Llorar” (“No More Crying”), something of a pop-rock mantra to look around, greet the sun and the wind, and keep moving forward.

The album also captures Lafourcade's affection for her native Mexico, celebrating a renewed appreciation in the shadow of a vulnerable moment. In “Vámonos Negrito” (“Let’s Go Negrito”), she smiled as she sang of her homeland, through tribal percussion, dreamy melodies and rapid guitar strumming.

Some of the most elated crowd reactions came late in the show in response to acoustic versions of her older pop hits — like the 2003 single “En El 2000” (“In The Year 2000”). The crowd was faithful and sang along to every word.

On a lighter note, and as if to prove that she’s perpetually heartbroken, she sang the song she wrote after her first break up in middle school: "Elefantes." It was a throwback to simpler years, when love didn’t have such high stakes. But her performance of it also underscored her evolving musical prowess. She masterfully worked the pedals to create a symphonic and layered recording of her voice, resulting in a mature rendition of an old favorite. It earned her cheers and a standing ovation.

By the end of the night, Lafourcade stood alone on stage, basking in the warmth of an adoring crowd. And to close, she sang her own beautiful rendition of the 1950s Mexican ballad “Cucurrucucú Paloma,” by Tomás Méndez. The title refers to the call of a dove, and the lyrics, of course, allude to lovesickness. It was the quintessence of today’s Natalia Lafourcade — straight back to her roots. 
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Jessica Weiss