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Sarah La Morena: Music On My Own Terms

Gabriela Sanchez
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In late 2020, just when the music industry slowed to a crawl, Sarah La Morena became a viral sensation, gaining a massive following in just a few days; yet she’s hardly just an overshared post. Hers is the story of an Afro-Mexican woman who embodies regional music that defies expectations and gives us all passion. Social media might be crucial to the charismatic singer but at the center it’s something more powerful: Love for music.

Sarah Palafox’s story begins on both sides of the border. When she was little, her foster parents split the family’s time between Zacatecas and California before settling in the U.S. when she was nine years old. It was in this environment where Palafox first fell in love with music.

“I really, really love being in Zacatecas,” Palafox tells Remezcla on a catch-up call in early January. “I love it over there more but there’s just much more opportunity for me here; I’m still in touch with my family from there.”

Palafox’s fate was sealed when she took the stage for the first time. While attending a wedding when she was in high school, Palafox sang with the band supplying the event’s music and felt something otherworldly; the band encouraged her to become a singer and invited her to join them. After graduating, she worked as a waitress in between gigs, her passion growing as she gained experience, investing herself in any style that she needed to sing: Baladas, cumbias, norteñas; anything. Palafox never had singing lessons and had to learn on her own to take care of her voice.

“I would replay my videos and I would listen to what I did wrong and I go back,” Palafox confides. Her passion was present throughout; “this is my moment,” she would think to herself every time she would go onstage.

Through the years Palafox always counted on the support of her family, as she figured her path and her career. “[My] parents always pushed me to follow my dreams,“ she says. Her friends were also instrumental to get her career off the ground, as they would film videos of Palafox singing and upload them to Instagram. She made the jump to become a professional singer thanks to the aforementioned app as she would post covers, growing her audience exponentially.

Instagram has helped Palafox connect with people who enjoy her music and helped her become a bigger deal. In August 2020, she went viral when a video of her singing with mariachis was shared by thousands of people, including Gael García Bernal. Part of the appeal of the video was the fact of seeing a Black woman singing mariachi, but Palafox is far from a novelty; she uses her platform to project her real self, showcasing that she is more than anyone’s preconceptions of her.

“Social media is important to me because it’s such a big platform, and you can reach so many people,” Palafox tells us. “I can perform and a lot of people can see the Black girl singing in Spanish; that’s cool but I feel like they can see my page and get to know more of my story, why I do what I do, and get to know my personality. I love that I can interact with people and actually talk back to the people that support me.” The social network also allows her to monetize her talent and passion; usually, this happens when brands reach out to her to review their products, usually clothes and shoes.

It was through Instagram that she got signed to her label, Joyas Musicales. While she tells us that she had offers before, they were the first to encourage her to be a singer on her own terms. “[They] reached out to me, we just instantly clicked and we became like family,” Palafox says. “They were super helpful and things just went from there. We started making music and now we’re working on new projects. It’s really exciting. The biggest thing [for me] was [that] I wanted to be myself. I can have an afro and sing cumbias; other people would want me to dress more Mexican or to wear my hair a different way, and that’s just not me. They also taught me how to use my name to my advantage.”

Sarah La Morena is about to release her first EP which will feature full norteño and banda music while also being hard at work on a second release that will find her take on another Latinx genre. To her, this is second nature, thanks to her days fronting a grupo versatil.

“I feel like I just get into whatever I’m doing and I really feel it,” she explains. “There’s not a lot of artists who sing cumbia and mariachi and so on, you know? I really want to break that barrier and do something different.“

More than anything, her motivation to grow bigger and better is far deeper than just becoming popular. She sees her children as her driving force, drawing a full circle with family and love as her inspiration. It’s what makes her overcome any adversity. “I feel like a lot of people told me I couldn’t do what I do. I feel like if my kids see me do it, they’ll know that they can do anything and they’ll have my support. Also financially; I want to leave my kids with something. I don’t want them to struggle or see me struggle or anything so that’s just what keeps me going.”