Last year Mexican musician Natalia Lafourcade decided to cast off modern pop sounds and investigate the rich musical history of her Latin American heritage. Her album Musas included folk inspired originals plus covers of songs by legendary Latin musicians like Violetta Parra, Agustin Lara and Simon Diaz. It went on to win the Latin Grammy for Best Folk Album as well as becoming a huge commercial success. Her second volume appears less than a year afterwards, the haste of recording partly because of the advanced ages of her collaborators Juan Carlos Allende and Miguel Pena of Los Macorinos (both in their eighties) and also due to the renewed creativity Natalia found in this project. In the songs of the past she found not only her roots but a way forward for her music.
Musas Vol. 2 begins with an original song, one that oozes such seductive Cuban rhythms it could make anyone want to drink rum and dance on a table until the sun rises. Her aim on the first album was to create a sound warm and rich like ‘wood’ but on this second volume her ambition appears to go even further – this music captures the sound of her beating heart.
In the video for Alma Mia Natalia and Los Macorinos play for a group of elderly people who by the end join in on the song – such is music’s power to connect across the generational divide. It is the most stirring song on the record and orginally written by Maria Grever, one of Mexico’s most famous female composers, who was known for the original version of What a Difference a Day Makes. In an interview Grever once said ‘It is my wish and yearning to present the native rhythms and tunes from a real perspective, but with the necessary perspective to appeal to a wide audience.’ You feel Natalia has now taken up her torch for the 21st century – encouraging her young fans to understand their own musical history but also engaging those music fans even beyond Spanish speaking countries.
The two solo written original songs on here Hoy Mi Dia Uno and Derecho de Nacimiento channel the spirit of the muses she celebrates. Written specifically for her collaborators the acoustic guitars complement her stunning vocals and create a timeless sound.
Natalia also celebrates the power of female voices and songwriters throughout both projects. Buena Vista Social Club member Omara Portuondo again appears, adding her voice to the beautiful Desdenosa, along with legendary Mexican singer Eugenia Leon. The album also contains an acoustic lament called Eclipse, originally written by Cuban composer Margarita Lecuona which is one of the most warm and lovely tracks on here. You sense a strong Frida Kahlo inspiration in her aesthetic for this album both visually and sonically, with flowers on the cover and in her hair plus there is a similar strength to be found in the powerful outward gaze of her musical vision.
Tus Ojitos is a Peruvian waltz, beautiful and romantic. Duerme Negrito is a lullaby, a little bit of throwaway fun with humour and whispering vocals. Luz de Luna is one of my favourites, evoking the richness of classic Mexican rhythms.
La Llorona is seven minute traditional Mexican song, with just the acoustic guitars and her voice. This song was a signature tune of Chavela Vargas and is all the more poignant because Juan Carlos Allende and Miguel Pena of Los Macorinos were her long time guitarists. Its hauntingly stark arrangement makes it one of the most affecting songs on the album. Te Sigo takes the pace back up with a flamenco beat, and the way her voice echoes and fades towards the end of the song is perfect.
Humanidad is another seductive treat, with the voice intimately whispering to us above the gentle strum of the guitars. If you are not in love with her vocals by this point in the album then she will make sure you bend to her will by the end of the song. The final track is an instrumental where she steps aside and lets Los Macorinos take centre stage. In the end this album is not just about one woman’s voice or talent – this is about the celebration of Latin American musicians and their shared collective history.
Natalia says the purpose of Musas is ‘recovering hidden and forgotten treasures.’ The crystal clear production of the album evokes that mysterious past in a fresh and modern way. This album just sounds so beautiful that the language barrier is immediately forgotten. If you’ve never listened to Mexican or Latin music before then let Natalia be your guide. The musical muses are no doubt looking down on her with admiration and approval.
Tiny Desk Concert: https://youtu.be/JODaYjDyjyQ
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