There are some rare moments when a small crack opens up in the system and through it, a light is introduced, capable of making its way through the weeds and reaching people’s hearts. One such light is called Of all the flowers, the tenth album by musician Natalia Lafourcade. In a musical market governed by immediacy and lightness, this work has turned its back on commercialism.
The songs in the album have been growing in popularity little by little since its release in October of 2022. Last week, at the Latin Grammys in Seville, Spain, Lafourcade took home three awards. Shakira, Karol G and Bizarrap also won three awards, some of them shared with other artists. However, Lafourcade was the sole winner in her categories, for an album that was composed slowly over the course of three years.
A subtle, moving work, Of all the flowers doesn’t top the lists on the streaming platforms. The songs are long — half of them last more than six minutes — and there’s a deep pain within them. It’s the pain felt by the singer, who, strangely, spreads happiness to everyone who listens to her.
On the day of her interview with EL PAÍS, Lafourcade, 39, is in Monterrey, Mexico. She’s in town for a concert — she’s been touring with the songs from this very special album. She sits in a bright spot in her hotel room and speaks with this newspaper over video call.
“Yes, it’s a work that doesn’t fit in [with today’s norm]. Jorge [Drexler] and Adan [Jodorowsky, the producer of the album] told me at the Grammys gala that the victory had been a kind of miracle.” It certainly was. Of all the flowers, which lasts a total of one hour and six minutes, never letting up, begins with a 90-second-long violin introduction, followed by some guitar chords. It’s not until minute two that Lafourcade begins to sing: “I came into this world alone, I’m going to die alone.”
The story of this magical album is born from deep pain. The songs speak about death in such a natural way that the listener ends up dancing alone. “It’s not easy to hear, I know. It’s a painful, personal, intimate and delicate inner dive. The lyrics are strong, hard, but also beautiful, generous. They talk about life, with all its pain, but also [about] the part with light. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to be heard, but now the album has told me: ‘Here I am, making my place.’ There’s a point where [the work] is out of my control. And that’s wonderful.”
In 2020, when the world stopped due to the pandemic, the Mexican artist realized that she had gone seven years without releasing an entire album of new songs. She had released four albums since 2013, but they were filled with tributes and different versions of her old works. During the lockdowns, she decided to search her phone to see if she could piece together something original.
“I have hundreds of audio notes. In fact, I lost a cellphone in a forest in Chile. It was a big drama: two years worth of compositions down the drain. With my new phone, I continued composing while touring. And, during the pandemic, I started traveling through all those audios and I started finding songs. It was like a beautiful gift that music gave me.”
This wasn’t an easy job. Some recordings dating back to 2018 dealt with a particularly bitter breakup. She talks about some of the themes that came out of this, which appear in her latest songs: “I Came Alone is about when love falls apart, when that person is no longer in your life… you feel pain in your chest, your legs. It’s even difficult to walk. It’s a physical pain. These moments are deaths in life: they lead me to reflect [on the fact that] love has to be self-love. I came into this world alone and I’ll leave alone. It’s a pact with myself.”
The song that shares the name of the album, Of all the flowers, also originates during that difficult time. “It talks about a garden of colors, but then it suddenly looks withered. [It’s about] the agony that can be experienced in a relationship and all the time we spend in that atmosphere of anguish, until we decide to leave.”
Lafourcade went down a dark path, with no return. It was an emotional shock. She rummaged through old wounds, taking broken things out of the closet that she knew could never be fixed, but that would take her to a place filled with light. “It was a painful inner journey, but necessary to find healing,” she says. Some of the 12 songs on the album address that breakup, but also new love: the bolero, Walking Happily, is dedicated to her current partner. It’s a tribute to the everyday life of the couple, where she sings: “How nice it is to know that, if I go far away, when I return, a hug will be waiting in silence until I wake up.”
Her passion for nature is also present in many parts of the album. She highlights her walks through the province of Cusco, Peru. There’s also joy and humor.
The album closes with I hope things go well for you, Nicolás, dedicated to her nephew, who lost his life in 2021 due to a fall in the mountains. He was 38. It was the last song she composed. She wrote it during the days when they couldn’t find Nicolás’ body. She interprets the piece as a message to her loved ones: as if her relatives were singing that song, while her nephew’s soul was lifted up.
Death opens and closes the album. “Death is part of life, even if we don’t want to see it. I think it’s important to develop the ability to talk about it. I live in the countryside (in the Mexican state of Veracruz) and the cycles of nature are very clear about this. If you have that awareness that you’re going to die, or a close person is going to die, or something is going to end… that will allow you to value what you’re experiencing.” In the recording process, she worked in reverse and opted for old school techniques, recording everything on tapes. The musicians worked together in a room without sound effects. At the controls were distinguished instrumentalists, such as Marc Ribot, Emiliano Dorantes or Sebastian Steinberg, who create varied musical backgrounds: bossa nova, Mexican folklore, jazz, Caribbean flavors, Hawaiian beats...
As she continues to present the album live, Lafourcade dreads the moment of facing another collection of new songs after this brilliant work. “I’m terrified,” she laughs, emphasizing the syllables. “The good thing is that I already know that terror, that vertigo. And it’s necessary. Because thinking [about what I’m going to do next] puts me in a place of absolute humility. I have the faithful belief that music enjoys the humility of people. When you’re humble, music will look for you. I have faith that we’ll meet again.”
She ends the interview with a confession: “One of the things I most like to do to de-stress is to watch videos of animals. It’s my hobby. Images of owls giving each other love. There’s tremendous generosity and tenderness.” These are the necessary conditions to make an album such as Of all the flowers.
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