Natalia Lafourcade meant her fifth studio album to be accessible, easy to listen to, and enjoyable; a kind of pop a la Mexicana. She succeeded. Its creation is also fully detailed in the eponymous documentary Hasta la Raiz that premiered at this year’s Los Cabos International Film Festival.
Shot in black and white, the camera follows Natalia and her band as they get to work at Sonic Ranch in Texas, a recording studio located right along the US-Mexico border. We experience the way songs are broken down, compositions are developed, instrumentation chosen, and how the tracks themselves begins to take a life of their own. To that end, the most enjoyable part of Bruno Bancalari and Juan Pablo López-Fonseca‘s documentary is not Natalia herself, though her magnetic energy easily transcends the lens, but that it’s a film about the creative process, and how that requires both a clear vision and adaptability.
Each song on the album has a story. For example, “Vamos Negrito” was written while touring in Colombia in honor of the Afro-Cuban trumpet player that is part of her band. It references the classic Latin American folk song “Duerme, Duerme Negrito” which was popularized by Mercedes Sosa. Bringing the album’s narrative to a full circle, the last track, “No Mas Llorar” is a song of emotional freedom, one that foregoes the pain left by a lost love for the optimism and excitement of a future unknown.
Via the documentary, we also spend time in Natalia’s apartment with her four cats: Joaquin, Ramon, Leonora, and Frida. Natalia seamlessly moves from the piano to the guitar and back to find the right rhythm and tonality for each track. Though she labors methodically at home and in the studio, a different Natalia comes to life on stage; one who gives herself completely to her audience as much as she feeds off them, and who, like a Pied Piper, leads them dancing through the party she’s thrown for them.
In Hasta La Raiz, Natalia Lafourcade surfaces as a true artist with a very clear musical vision, but always ready to lend an ear to the suggestions of her producers and band members. During the Los Cabos Film Festival, Remezcla got the opportunity to chat with Natalia. Here’s some of what she had to say.
Read the rest of our coverage of the Los Cabos International Film Festival here.
On her previous album, Mujer Divina, an homage to Mexican singer and composer Agustin Lara
I wanted to interpret Agustin Lara’s music because I felt that I needed to learn something; something that was missing in my voice and my way of composing, but I didn’t know what it was. I also didn’t know that Agustin Lara was going to give me an answer. It was beautiful to make that project because it is a part of my story, my musical career. I was one artist before Agustin Lara and another after Agustin Lara. The guy just got inside me. Literally. I could feel him inside me. The way I was making music changed. It made me connect with Mexico. It gave me a sense of pride about being Mexican, being Latina. I wanted to become a composer that wanted to give something to Mexico before anywhere else. It made me view the stage as a sacred place. It became a magical space. It became a space where, when you connect with music, when you connect with songs, and all of a sudden that transcends, and you connect with people. A magic explodes that nobody can explain but everyone experiences.
The importance of sound, whether the sound of an instrument, a speaker, a mix
Sound is very important to me. It’s one of the most important aspects. But I worry about sound after worrying about the song. For me, that’s the most important thing, the number one thing, above all, so much that it became my priority recording this album, and I said, “I’m going to have a room to write.” And now I have a room in my house only for writing. Because the connection to the word allows you to go to any studio and hire an incredible engineer and make something with a beautiful sound. So yes, I love guitars and all that stuff, but I learned from Agustin that a good song can hold with the worst guitar. In all contexts, it’s a good song.
On what it’s like to compose a song
Well, I’m trying to connect the words with the melody. I’m trying to put together the puzzle. I think that songs are puzzles you’re trying to put together. What you’re trying to say and what you would like to generate, but with elements that are not in your control as well. And it is a bit like meditation. You have to… open things, which I don’t know how to describe but you open something in you and eventually all the information just falls into place. So you have to be there, attentive for whenever the phrases come out. So what I do is I throw any nonsense, words, things that have to do with what I want to say in the song, but that doesn’t mean that’s how I’m going to make the song. There are times that I get out of bed with a song that I had been thinking about for six months, and I can put it together in thirty minutes. It would seem easy but it’s not– I had been working on it in my head.
The effects of a Trump presidency on Latino audiences in the US
I can tell you in my case, it took many years for me to be able to perform in the US. It took me years. It’s really difficult to get all the paperwork. I can’t imagine what it would be like now. I hope a ray of lightning hits this man so that he becomes illuminated. He has to become illuminated because he’s there now. So he needs become sensible. I think we’re all scared. I hope it’s not so bad for music because there is a very big Latino community that willingly welcomes you with open arms any time. So I hope they continue to allow us to go and share our music. The US Latino public for me is like one of the most beautiful ones that there is. It’s an audience that welcomes you with such gratitude—it’s very different. That audience greatly values that we travel and bring them a little piece of what they long for, what they miss from their homes, that forms part of their stories, of their past. And these people welcome you with a lot of emotion. And I feel it warms their hearts and their souls greatly, because many of them work very hard in order to be there, in order to continue to support their families, and it’s important that music and art continues to be brought to all these folks. So let’s see what happens.