Rosalía and Refree: Catalina

Emotion in song is built of shape, intention, belief, breath and control. It’s respect for the musician who accompanies you and the 80 year old masterpiece of Picasso that stands behind you:

Rosalía laces two early 20th century flamenco songs together to build her own Catalina. She starts with the 1926 La Catalina by Manuel Vallejo:

She adds Testamento de Gitano, by Miguel de Molina, here performed in traditional style by  La Argentinita, famous for working with Lorca and Salvador Dalí in the 1930s:

Why not stick with one song? Because, I imagine, Rosalía wanted to create something right for the 2017 anniversary of Picasso’s painting and the horrors of the Spanish Civil War which inspired it. RTVE‘s Suena Guernica required something new and thoughtful.

La Catalina is lovely, but it’s less than 3 minutes long. And that’s with one verse repeated. The line Ponme la mano aquí, que la tienes fría/Give me your hand, how cold it feels contains a world of emotion and the history of a broken love affair within it. Whether you speak Spanish or not, you feel the chill in Rosalía’s voice. It’s the chill of love that is leaving, the chill of a lover’s hand. In the context of Guernica, it also contains the idea of death. Watch her sing the word here at .47 seconds, 1.29 and1.43. The original Catalina ends at 2.02 as the change to Testamento de Gitano begins :

Jorge Drexler, Uruguayan musician and doctor, another of the performers on Suena Guernica, put out a call on his Facebook page for traditional decimas (the Spanish poetic form of 10 lines, 8 syllables per line, with a rhyme scheme A, B, B, A, A, C, C, D, D, C). This is a sample of what he collected (full version here) :

Back to Rosalía. Part of the joy of her music is her skill at the traditional, brought into the 21st century. Here are flamenco palmas punctuating dance in the 1960s:

And here’s Rosalía using palmas to punctuate her music in 2018:

What can you learn from Rosalía, if you plan to sing in English, not Spanish? You can learn voice control (watch her videos – especially the close-up live ones). You can learn stagecraft (watch her concert videos). You can learn how to respect the traditional, while bringing it into the modern world. As Rosalía puts it

“My influences are, I would say, Lil’ Kim  for example, but at the same time Camarón. I like Chopin, I love Mozart. All these influences, I think they are in my music”

BBC Interview 2019

© Sing Better English 2019

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