Natalia Lafourcade Is The 21st Century's Guardian Of Cultural Memory In many ways, Lafourcade has left her mark on the 21st century by looking back. Her work has freed music that for many younger listeners had been trapped in amber, and imbued it with new life.
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Natalia Lafourcade Is The 21st Century's Guardian Of Cultural Memory

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Natalia Lafourcade Is The 21st Century's Guardian Of Cultural Memory

Natalia Lafourcade Is The 21st Century's Guardian Of Cultural Memory

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For decades, young Latin artists have moved away from traditional music towards genres like reggaeton, electro and trap Espanol. That trajectory has loosened ties to the long rich history of Latin American folk. Mexican singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade has stepped in to bridge that divide.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TU SI SABES QUERERME")

NATALIA LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

SHAPIRO: With imaginative covers of folk songs and original music steeped in the past, she has emerged as a guardian of cultural memory in the 21st century. That's what music writer Julyssa Lopez argues for NPR Music's Turning The Tables Project exploring how women and nonbinary artists are shaping the music of our moment. She says, Natalia Lafourcade wasn't the most obvious candidate to claim this mantle.

JULYSSA LOPEZ, BYLINE: Natalia got her start really early on and she was about 14. She was in this all-girl band called Twist.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TWIST: (Singing in Spanish).

LOPEZ: The band didn't last that long. But eventually, Natalia came back onto the scene and was doing this alternative, indie rock music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EN EL 2000")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

LOPEZ: In 2011, something really interesting happened. And it was a bit out of nowhere especially for fans who were used to her alternative sound, Natalia got really into this Mexican bolero artist called Agustin Lara who is really known for taking the bolero tradition from Cuba and bringing it to a lot of other places in Latin America. And Natalia kind of went through his repertoire and decided to make this album called "Mujer Divina" which was a tribute album to him. And it was essentially all covers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARIA BONITA")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

LOPEZ: I think what was interesting about "Mujer Divina" is that it wasn't just oh she made a tribute album and here was this artist that she really liked, what happened later was that you could see that it really influenced a lot of her work moving forward. So after "Mujer Divina," she released an album called "Hasta la "Raiz."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HASTA LA RAIZ")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

LOPEZ: It was a lot simpler. And the songwriting was all about heartbreak and longing and very similar to the way that a lot of Agustin Lara's songs had been composed. You could really see how those artists were informing each other even though they're making music like 60, 70 years apart.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HASTA LA RAIZ")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

LOPEZ: Natalia really has evolved into this artist who's tying, you know, the past and present together. And part of the reason that it works so well is because of her voice. She has a really sweet and piercing tone that has a quality that I think of as really timeless.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALMA MIA")

LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

LOPEZ: I think of Natalia as a guardian of cultural memory. And I think that's so important because so much of music of Latin America is based on tradition. It's important to have things evolve and keep coming up with new sounds and genres that are forward-thinking and innovative. But I think it's also a really important exercise to go back and revisit the boleros that your grandfather used to listen to or the lullabies that we heard as kids. And it's all of these traditions I think that shape our cultural memory and shape who we are in a lot of ways.

SHAPIRO: That's Julyssa Lopez celebrating Natalia Lafourcade for NPR Music's Turning The Tables Project.

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