Natalia Lafourcade wasn’t supposed to be here. She had made important plans. She thought she would be quietly at home in Mexico City with her father and sister, who has come to visit her from Chile. “I started a moment, space, to spend time with my family, at home, to reconnect with me, to compose again, to write, to create again at home. That’s his only project right now. He interrupted it this weekend to come to Los Angeles because this Sunday he has to sing at the Grammy Awards ceremony. She is nominated for an award for “Musas”: A tribute to Latin American folklore in the hands of Los “Macorinos, Vol. 2”, the second volume of the project that set out to study and revitalize Latin American classics. Lafourcade (Mexico City, 1984) hosted EL PAÍS at the Sony Music Latino offices in Los Angeles. There he spoke of the music he continues to explore and of the artistic and political moment in Mexico.
He asks. This album has already won the Latin Grammy for the best folk music album. Curiously, this Sunday is competing in Grammy Gringos as pop.
Answer. That’s the way things are. I don’t understand it either. You have to ask other people. Personally, I don’t think this is a folklore album as such. It’s much deeper. This album was like a flirtation with folklore, a way of paying tribute to it in my own way and the way of Los Macorinos. A way of approaching a world that makes me infinitely rich and seductive. I assume that you have to know those kinds of things that bring you closer to the land, to the people, to the communities, to the history behind it, to everything that comes with interpreting folklore. This was a kind of approach and flirtation with something that generated a lot of restlessness and curiosity. In the end, this album was accessible to all people, of all ages. It mixed generations. For me, that’s one of the nice things about the project.
Aren’t we in a moment of deeply Mexican art that is triumphing outside? These days in this city we only talk about Rome.
Art is art. I think it’s wonderful what’s happening with that film. I saw it before I left. I have several friends who worked on it. When I saw that film I saw its meaning, the whole fabric in the story, what it shows about Mexico, but also about humanity. Of our nature as humans.
Did you imagine that the United States and the world were going to assimilate it so well?
When I saw it, I knew it was going to be very moving. In fact, I went with several people and there was this debate about whether it was a commercial film or not. There were those who said it was a good film by Alfonso Cuarón but didn’t think it would be very commercial, like other of his films. I thought the opposite. I felt that this is the time for those kinds of projects that move fibres, that today we need to have them removed and remind us what we are like as human beings. It’s like Coco (she performed the song in last year’s Oscars), it doesn’t matter if you’re Mexican, German or wherever you’re from, it moves you because it’s human, it goes far beyond the language you speak. There are many layers. In Rome, the number of layers is impressive. It’s not just the story, it’s the universe of each character. And that’s how we are. At the same time, there are now many themes that distract us from this sensitivity.
You can see a connection between so much international success of things that are deeply Mexican.
What I think is happening is that we Mexicans are becoming very empowered in the pride of being Mexican. In starting to raise our faces. In saying this is what we are and this is what we have. There’s good, there’s bad, there’s everything like everywhere else. But we began to feel very proud and honoured of the positive and to promote it. We had our golden age in cinema and music. I believe that now that air is returning as if to raise our gaze and to do things from our own identity and our own seal, from our culture, our tradition, from what we are. And we are taking those elements to create something current, new, that can innovate but that connects us with the past.
What are the elements that shake that up? Here there’s a tendency to explain everything by Donald Trump.
Yes, I think crises generate the opposite. The bad meets the good. One can fall into the error of stagnating and saying that everything is wrong, everything is upside down. But I believe that many people are diverting attention to all these riches and all the positive aspects that we have as Mexicans and as Latin Americans. It’s empowering us. Instead of concentrating on making certain people change their way of living and thinking and their convictions, do it rather by creating your own, with that which identifies you. I feel that this is what happens, that there is an Alfonso Cuarón and a Guillermo del Toro and these characters who channel these situations through cinema. The crisis becomes an inspiration and interesting things start to emerge in art because there’s something to talk about, something to say: ‘No, wait, let’s remember, we have this’. There’s something you can do to sensitize and move. I think it becomes like a generator of the opposite.
As if they had decided to like themselves before trying to please others.
Exactly. I feel that we are living in a moment where we say: what a great thing it is to be Mexican, what a great thing about our roots, what a great thing about our people, what a great father of our history. In our history, there have been moments when we have lowered our heads and let them trample on us. But we are going to stop wanting to be the way they are outside, we are going to begin to be ourselves and carry on our tradition with pride. That’s starting to happen. And the more people do it, the more they start to say, ‘I’m going to be proud of who I am. You start to reflect a little on how important this is. In my case, I feel that the strength that I have as an artist today comes from having started an approach to my roots as a Mexican, understanding where I come from, with this project (2017-2018), with Agustín Lara’s project (2012) and the album Hasta la raíz (2015). I wanted it to sound like Mexico. I didn’t want it to sound like an artist from anywhere else in the world, I wasn’t interested. And what I wanted most was to sing for Mexico. I remember telling my management team: ‘I’m interested in singing for Mexico, I don’t want to go to any other country without first having generated a connection with my people. First there and then we’ll see. That gave me a lot of strength.
He said that on one occasion he would vote for Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He’s already president. How are things going?
It’s a process, like everything else in politics. It is presumed that a change is coming. I feel it’s a complex moment. He said it himself. It requires a lot of patience and a lot of collaboration from everyone. I feel that it is impossible to put all the responsibility on a person or his team. I feel it is everyone’s responsibility. It is up to all of us to wake up and generate a very broad, very large and very deep consciousness. There are many problems that have been there for years. It’s not like in months these problems are going to be solved. It is very complex and very deep. I am excited to think that we are living in a moment of change. And there are things that are uncomfortable. It’s as simple as when you have a closet that you want to accommodate. You know that you want to accommodate it in a certain way but you know that inside there are things that have been there for a long time, they have become dusty and are no longer useful. You want to reorder this big closet. Then you start taking it all out and seeing things for things. And that’s when you start analyzing paper for paper, it doesn’t work for me, I’m going to burn it, I’m going to give these clothes away… When you turn your face and see everything outside, that closet looks like four closets. Cleaning it takes time. I feel that this is our moment.
I understand that choice is not to change by itself.
It is a mistake to think that change happens overnight. And that it happens on its own or that it happens in the hands of others. Change happens if we all collaborate with change. If we put that in López Obrador or in his team we are wrong, it is not that way. I voted for López, I can tell you, in the hope that we will have a change. But I don’t expect him to make the change, no, I would expect us to make the change together.
He hasn’t revealed anything about any musical project. To what extent is he resting? Is it possible to know anything about what he’s up to?
Right now the project I want to boast about is the reconstruction of the Son Jarocho Documentation Centre in Veracruz. It is a centre that preserves all the traditions of southern Veracruz. It has dedicated itself to documenting the history of the Son Jarocho. It collapsed with earthquakes. They stayed in the street, the students took classes in the street. It is a community centre where cooking classes, loom classes, marimba classes, zapateado, is a community centre in one of the places most affected by violence and narco in Veracruz. We have begun the work of finding funds and there are already many of us. At the end of February, we lay the first stone. It’s a musical project because, in the end, it’s for art. I’m learning a lot from Son Jarocho. I think that’s going to give me a lot of inspiration to know what’s next. You have to go out to life and wet your feet with earth and something different. Eventually, the rest comes.
Unauthorized translation of the original article in Spanish, published on February 9, 2019, in the Spanish newspaper El País by Pablo Ximenez de Sandoval.