AUSTIN, Texas — In 2007, Spanish artist El Guincho released his second album, “Alegranza,” mixing sounds of dub, Afrobeat, Tropicalia and vintage rock ‘n’ roll, all backed by a distinctly Spanish rhythm.
Around that time in Spain, one of the biggest songs was “Baila El Chiki-Chiki,” a cringy novelty reggaeton parody that was the country’s entry to the Eurovision song contest.
Spain, a country with a rich musical heritage traced through the gitano melody from Rajasthan to the Iberian Peninsula and flamenco, was producing forgettable pop songs. Popular bands were singing in accented English, imitating U.S. and U.K. rock acts. Iconic Spanish band Hombres G were still around but past their prime. Flamenco was something reserved for tourists in Sevilla looking to get a taste of culture with a sip of wine.
Fast forward a decade and El Guincho is working with Rosalía, a talented young singer from Barcelona trained in classic flamenco and raised on pop and reggaeton. His production has matured and, while he is still channeling rhythms from all corners of the world, he is also looking inward at the flamenco tradition of Spain.
The result is Rosalía’s brilliant 2018 album, “El Mal Querer,” which uses traditional flamenco clapping as the base rhythm that guides the flow of the album from pop and urbano to ambient, deconstructed and manipulated Spanish-Romani sounds.
Rosalía’s set on Sunday – the final day of the Austin City Limits Music Festival 2019 – in many ways recreated that seamless flow of “El Mal Querer,” with every song bleeding into the next.
The flamenco claps that make up the backbone of so many of her song’s rhythms were not part of the recorded backing track, but rather recreated live with the help of two performers and occasionally Rosalía and her dancers and – of course – the audience.
The singer opened with single “Pienso en tu mirá” and had the full popstar set-up: an extra platform with fans blowing her hair, backup dancers dressed in all white and a carefully choreographed performance.
She told the audience there was nothing she loved more than flamenco except, maybe, cookies.
The most powerful moments came when Rosalía took a break to sing flamenco from the heart, minus any backing track besides accompanying claps. She danced traditional Sevillanas.
At one point, the stage screens cut to a woman in the audience with a single tear running down her cheek.
The crowd-pleaser came with song “Con Altura,” and Rosalía took an interlude as an opportunity to throw an old-fashioned accordion fan into the crowd, autographed with her name and a heart.
The singer did a rare festival encore, coming back out after chants of “otra, otra” to play her single, “Malamente.”
Rosalía can only go up from here and it’s refreshing to see a Spanish artist making relevant music in 2019, taking the Spanish rhythm into its next natural progression.
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