Spanish sensation Rosalia exports flamenco… with a twist

At 25 and with just two albums, Rosalia has converted her groundbreaking fusion of flamenco with urban and electronic music into a sensation in Spain.

Spanish sensation Rosalia exports flamenco... with a twist
Rosalia performing during the GRAMMY awards in Las Vegas. Photo: AFP

Next up, the world.   

“This is a dream,” said the singer as she won two Latin Grammy awards in Las Vegas on Thursday, including Best Alternative Song for her hit “Malamente” which she performed in a white bodysuit with female backup dancers in a slick choreography.

Still relatively unknown abroad, the brunette is already a superstar in Spain where she earned acclaim for her diligent study of flamenco, a genre she fell in love with as a teen as she heard it blasted from friends' cars.

Meteoric rise

From a non-gypsy background in the northeastern region of Catalonia — far from the cradle of flamenco in southern Andalucia — her first, minimalist 2017 album nevertheless drew praise, attracting millenials to a genre that isn't mainstream.

Then early this year, she announced she was going to perform at Sonar in Barcelona.

Flamenco at an electronic music festival? Something was up.   

Then she posted a photo on Instagram of her and Pharrell Williams, with whom she said she was working.    

Rosalia and the global pop superstar? Something was definitely up.   

At Sonar in June, she unleashed “Malamente”, a blend of flamenco with trap, a style of hip hop, and other tracks on her yet-to-be released second album.  

“Sonar really shook things up because the next day, the media… praised her as a new star, and an exportable one at that,” says Yeray Iborra, a journalist at Spain's Mondo Sonoro music magazine.   

Winner of Best Alternative Song for 'Malamente' and Best Urban/Fusion Performance for 'Malemente', Rosalia poses during the 19th annual Latin GRAMMY Awards. Photo: AFP

This month, she finally released the album “El Mal Querer” (“Bad Loving”) — a bombshell of flamenco fused with trap, electro, pop and R&B that has critics hugely excited.

Some in the gypsy community, though, have cried foul, accusing her of appropriating a genre that emerged as a cry of pain of their long-suffering people.

No matter. In just one day, the album's 11 songs that tell the story of a toxic relationship accumulated more than 2.3 million hits on Spotify.   

The video clip of “Malamente”, which involves flamenco “palmas” handclapping and a motorbike-wielding Rosalia charging at a young man — bullfighting-style — has drawn close to 33 million hits on YouTube.

With Sony backing her, Rosalia has performed at the MTV Europe Music Awards, given a free concert in Madrid to launch her album and promoted it on New York's Times Square.

Rolling Stone magazine gave the album four out of five stars, saying the singer has “even attracted attention from the English-language press, which rarely engages with Spanish-language music.”

'Stood out by far'

Rosalia decided to study flamenco in Barcelona aged just 17, says Jose Miguel Vizcaya, her teacher at Catalonia's Higher School of Music.   

He recalls that she stood out from the start with her passion and thirst for knowledge.

A novice, it took her seven years to master flamenco.   

“Of all my students, she's the one who has most stood out by far,” Vizcaya  told AFP.

“There have been a few others that were better in terms of pure flamenco, but in terms… of making flamenco hers and innovating, she's the best.”


But her peculiar blend of flamenco is not without controversy in a traditional sector that bristles at innovation.

For some in the gypsy community, what Rosalia is doing is “cultural appropriation” — or the adoption of elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture.   

“I can't bear that you have more opportunities than gypsies who have been singing about their roots since they were kids,” said activist Noelia Cortes in a much-commented Twitter thread in December 2017.

“I studied flamenco for years, I respect it more than anything and know its origins,” Rosalia retorted in a July interview with daily El Mundo.   

“Flamenco isn't owned by gypsies. In fact, it's not owned by anyone.”   

Another criticism has been Rosalia's conversion into a flamenco/pop princess with clear designs on the foreign market.   

But Vizcaya says her fusion work started while still at school where she concocted both albums, well before fame and Sony.   

“Yes, she has a major (record label) backing her,” adds Iborra.   

“Yes she has a strategy… and it's worked for her.”

By AFP's Marianne Barriaux and Daniel Bosque


Meet the Spanish rapper bringing flamenco and bossa nova into hip-hop

Spanish rapper C. Tangana was taking a big risk when he started mixing old-fashioned influences like flamenco and bossa nova into his hip-hop -- but it's this eclectic sound that has turned him into a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic.

Meet the Spanish rapper bringing flamenco and bossa nova into hip-hop
Spanish rapper Anton Alvarez known as 'C. Tangana' poses in Madrid on April 29, 2021. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

The 30-year-old has emerged as one of the world’s biggest Spanish-language stars since his third album “El Madrileno” — the Madrilenian — came out in February. That ranks him alongside his superstar ex-girlfriend Rosalia, the Grammy-winning Catalan singer with whom he has co-written several hits.

C. Tangana, whose real name is Anton Alvarez Alfaro, has come a long way since a decade ago when he became known as a voice of disillusioned Spanish youth in the wake of the financial crisis.These days his rap is infused with everything from reggaeton and rumba to deeply traditional styles from Spain and Latin America, with a voice often digitised by autotune.

“It’s incredible that just when my music is at its most popular is exactly when I’m doing something a bit more complex, more experimental and less
trendy,” he told AFP in an interview.

And he is unashamed to be appealing to a wider audience than previously: his dream is now to make music “that a young person can enjoy in a club or someone older can enjoy at home while cooking”.

‘People are tired’

The rapper, who sports a severe semi-shaved haircut and a pencil moustache, has worked with Spanish flamenco greats including Nino De Elche, Antonio Carmona, Kiko Veneno, La Hungara and the Gipsy Kings.

In April he brought some of them together for a performance on NPR’s popular “Tiny Desk Concert” series, which has already drawn nearly six million
views on YouTube.

Shifting away from trap, one of rap’s most popular sub-genres, and venturing into a more traditional repertoire was a dangerous move — especially for someone with a young fanbase to whom rumba, bossa nova and bolero sound old-fashioned.

“I think people are tired. They’ve had enough of the predominant aesthetic values that have previously defined pop and urban music,” he said.

Parts of his latest album were recorded in Latin America with Cuban guitarist Eliades Ochoa of Buena Vista Social Club, Uruguayan
singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler, Mexican folk artist Ed Maverick and Brazil’s Toquinho, one of the bossa nova greats.

“What struck me most everywhere I went was the sense of tradition and the way people experienced the most popular music, and I don’t mean pop,” he said.

A new direction

C. Tangana started out in 2006 rapping under the name Crema. When the global economic crisis swept Spain a few years later, hard-hitting trap was
the perfect way to voice the angst of his generation. But after more than a decade of rapping, things changed.

“When I was heading for my 30s, I hit this crisis, I was a bit fed up with what I was doing… and decided to give voice to all these influences that I
never dared express as a rapper,” he said.

The shift began in 2018 with “Un veneno” (“A poison”) which came out a year after his big hit “Mala mujer” (“Bad woman”).

And there was a return to the sounds of his childhood when he used to listen to Spanish folk songs at home, raised by a mother who worked in
education and a journalist father who liked to play the guitar. The Latin American influences came later.

“It started when I was a teenager with reggaeton and with bachata which were played in the first clubs I went to, which were mostly Latin,” he said.

Studying philosophy at the time, he wrote his first raps between stints working in call centres or fast-food restaurants.

As to what comes next, he doesn’t know. But one thing he hopes to do is collaborate with Natalia Lafourcade, a Mexican singer who dabbles in folk, rock and pop — another jack of all musical trades.