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The Death and Rebirth of Natalia Lafourcade

Natalia Lafourcade received a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall before she uttered a single note. 

The singer-songwriter filled the venue with her unmistakable voice during a dazzling performance on Oct. 27, appearing onstage in a shiny black dress with a long train, her loose hair a complement to the flow of the fabric. Shortly after the show began, David Byrne, dressed in a dapper black suit, joined her and recited an English translation of “Muerte,” a key track from De Todas Las Flores — Lafourcade’s first album of original music in seven years.

There were more guests later in the night, including Cuban son icon Omara Portuondo, a founding member of Buena Vista Social Club, who worked on Lafourcade’s 2017 album Musas, and longtime collaborator Jorge Drexler. Partway through, Lafourcade revealed that it was her first time on a major stage in four years. She seized the moment at Carnegie Hall and debuted De Todas Las Flores during the first half of her performance, sharing a tender collection of vulnerable tracks that contemplate life’s deeper mysteries in lyric and sound. The songs are built on sonic contrasts, with deceptively simple acoustic guitars backed by blooming orchestral arrangements. It’s extremely moving to hear: a juxtaposition as sharp as death and life, which lies at the heart of the album.

“The record is a sequence of moments: it begins with a broken heart — ‘Vine Solita,’ which starts the record, is me making a pact with my own life,” Lafourcade tells IndieLand a few days before her Carnegie Hall debut and the album’s release. “I came alone, and that’s how I’ll leave. Nothing can alter this reality. When ‘Muerte’ arrives, it’s a moment of ‘here we are.’ The music deconstructs, it unravels. Everything vanishes and is transmuted into joy.”

It wasn’t a quick path to this ambitious new album. Seven years and a global pandemic passed since her breakthrough effort Hasta La Raíz, when Lafourcade realized she needed to dig deeper. She spent lockdown in her isolated home in the countryside of Veracruz, tending to her garden and working on gorgeous tributes to Mexico and other Latin American folk traditions, releasing projects such as Un Canto Por México, Vol. 1, which won her a Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Album. But soon, she began to dust off old journals, pick up her guitar, and sit with her emotions in a tangible way. 

Cuban icon Omara Portuondo joins Natalia Lafourcade at Carnegie Hall

Lawrence Sumulong*

“It has been a wonderful trip, and I have a lot of love for this album,” she says. “This time, the process has been a years-long voyage. It’s an extremely personal musical diary, and it took me a while to realize how much I needed to be back in the studio, how much I needed to give myself space to make something that came out of me.”

Despite the grandiose conceit and experimental esotericism of the tracks, the songs on De Todas Las Flores feel at times as intimate as a bouquet: they bloom and often vanish just as quickly. It comes as no surprise that production was helmed by Franco-Mexican art rock musician Adán Jodorowsky, better known as Adanowsky. The album was recorded entirely on analog tape and mastered in Paris, where Lafourcade played a few songs to an anonymous crowd at a small bar. 

“Adán and I had promised each other that we would work together many years ago. I love and admire him very much, and I wanted to bring his world into mine because his world is magical,” Lafourcade explains. “I also knew that working with Adán would push me in another direction and would shift me toward reinvention. I wanted to break the inertia to have another experience, to live and create another way.”

The orchestral flourish that starts “Vine Solita” leads into the whisper of acoustic guitar and Lafourcade’s stunning soprano. “Llévame Viento” is a gentle gust, built off hushed, quickly plucked guitar and Lafourcade’s voice keeping pace with it. Some of these songs vanish in a burst of flame. On “Mi Manera de Querer,” a loose bossanova-esque track that Lafourcade calls “the synthesis of the record,” she reassures a lover that they are beings of light and that we all love uniquely no matter our gender or way of loving. “María La Curandera,” a cumbia created loosely off the mythos of Mazatec psilocybin curandera María Sabina — and her famous nature poem “Cúrate Mijita.” The song is a loud celebration of the elemental magic she conjures in the album, with Lafourcade stepping into the role of the famed Indigenous psychedelic shaman. 

“Cumbia is music of the earth, of the plains, of the fields…this one wanted to come as a cumbia,” she says about the mystical track. On De Todas Las Flores, Lafourcade finds herself profoundly inspired by Mother Earth. The album shows it’s roots in ecopoetry throughout, from songs of the wind and sea to “Pajarito Colibrí,” a quiet track where she contemplates human experience as the life of a small hummingbird, our purpose being only to be, and be happy. It’s telling of where Lafourcade is creatively that she was moved by the life of a traditional healer and her surroundings enough to invoke her directly on this album. 

Artist David Byrne dances onstage with Natalia Lafourcade at Carnegie Hall

Edwin Erazo*

“One of my most profound inspirations was Mother Earth and her energy. I had never explored something like that in my music: the cadence of water, of wind, of a storm, of a wave, of fire, of the playfulness that exists in all the elements in balance. It’s something mystical that must be read between the lines.”

At Carnegie Hall, Lafourcade ended the first half of her concert by performing the slow-burning “Muerte” in full for the first time. Byrne joined her onstage once more, dancing as the track ended on a cacophonous storm of trumpets and piano and bass, an unraveling wall of sound. He played the psychopomp, guiding Lafourcade by the hand as she exited stage right through an ominous open door. It was clear that the evening for Lafourcade was a ritual of death — and, more importantly, rebirth.

“Death is uncomfortable but it’s a part of life,” she says. “There’s a void and a pain and a shame. There’s mourning, but we humans will experience not one but several deaths in our lifetime. I crossed one, and this album was my salvation, my relief, the hug, the rebirth, the replanting of seeds. I find myself sitting in it now, in this garden I revisited, to see what it is inside. It’s from there that the beautiful metaphor of flowers bursts forth.”

That energy coursed through the second half of the show, when Lafourcade reemerged in a light green, flowing dress with white boots, the colors of new blooms in springtime. Though she started the night with death, she closed with a jubilant rendition of “Lo Que Construimos,” one of her signature songs about a stable foundation crumbling and the pieces one must pick up. Few, if any, people remained in their seats, instead choosing to dance in a defiant celebration of life.

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