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


10 thoughts on “Rosalía and Refree: Catalina”

  1. Thank you for posting this! Having roots from Arab and Hispanic cultures i really connect with flamenco as it is a mix of both my cultures, so when I hear rosalias songs I always want to know the background and history and influences she has, it’s very interesting and beautiful

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi – thanks for the comment. Really glad you enjoyed it. It must be wonderful to hear the flavours of both your heritages dancing together in flamenco. If the young flamenco dancer from Cordoba in this video ever comes anywhere near where you live to perform, I recommend seeing him. He’s called Manuel Jimenez and he’s like Prince (if you can imagine Prince as a flamenco dancer!) on stage. The video begins with an interview. He begins dancing about 3 minutes in:

      You probably know María José Llergo ( Don’t know if you’ll know this song “Me miras pero no me ves”, dedicated to her mother and grandmother, and to all the women whose work is invisible still:


  2. Splendid stuff. You thoughts and the videos sent me looking for a little history of the artists Rosalia referenced in the performance near Guernica. It’s thought-provoking the way that encounters with the Spanish Civil War and that monumental work by Picasso make their way to the present via arts of poetry and music. It was a rich Sunday evening.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I came across ‘Blood of Spain’ when I lived in San Francisco in the 80s. It’s stayed with me since. Everyone has a reason and a story. That’s what I heard in it.

        By the way – you’ve probably seen Silvia Pérez Cruz singing the Lorca poem ‘Pequeño Vals Vienés’ to the music of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Take this Waltz’. Usually, when people translate a poem into English and then put it to music, the original doesn’t fit the new notes – thinking of David Bowie’s version of Jacque Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’ Bowie streamlined the song to fit his needs and Brel wouldn’t have found room for his own words within the tune.

        Which is what is so lovely about Cohen’s music. Silvia Pérez Cruz can follow his notes and find ample room for all the original Spanish of Lorca’s poem and even some extra to give space to the flamenco improvisations that the poem inspires:


      2. Cohen (in my humble opinion) left plenty of space in the lyrics of his songs, perhaps to allow for a crack to let the light shine in. At any rate, his lyrics allow the listener to savor.
        Cruz is superb in her rendition. Her voice is so fluid and flexible.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. She’s superb, isn’t she? And Pájaro, the guitarist, is masterful.

        You’re right about Cohen leaving spaces for the light to shine through. I suppose his gift, in translating Lorca’s poem “Pequeño Vals Vienés” into “Take this Waltz”, was to respect and to leave room for the original Spanish in his music. I remember reading somewhere that he worked on the translation for years.

        80 years anniversary of the assassination of Lorca the other day. Spain lost a great soul there. There’s an English translation of Lorca’s lecture “Theory and Play of the Duende” (Juego y teoría del duende) given in Buenos Aires in 1933: I think you might enjoy it.


      4. Duende as the “ultimate secret, the subtle link that joins the five senses to what is core to the living flesh, the living cloud, the living ocean of love liberated from time.”
        Lorca had a connection with the truth that art is bigger than we humans. some humans brave the revelations that Lorca deemed duende, a joy that outstrips the meaning of the word and the bodies that try to limit the should and lifts us beyond our flesh.
        I had not read this before. It’s ferociously true. Thanks for the link.

        Liked by 1 person

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