We should be thankful that Natalia Lafourcade, the Mexican pop goddess, is a generous artistic soul. First, she delighted millions with “Musas” (“Muses”) her virtuosic 2017 collaboration with the legendary guitar duo Los Macorinos. The hook of the album was that it was made up (mostly) of covers of traditional folk tunes from several Latin American countries, remolded around Lafourcade’s incredibly versatile voice, accompanied by acoustic guitar and little more. It ended up nominated for a pile of Latin Grammys, winning Best Folk Album of the Year and yielded at least one indisputable classic, “Tú Sí Sabes Quererme” (“You Do Know How to Love Me”).
But that wasn’t enough. Earlier this year Lafourcade released the sequel, “Musas Vol. 2,” a compilation of tracks she recorded with Los Macorinos but didn’t make it to the first album. Yes, the songs in Vol. 2 were left behind, but not because they are any less lovely than those on the first album. Listening to the new collection you get the sense that possibly they were deemed not commercial enough, not peppy enough, too heavy perhaps, too real. There’s a melancholy that runs through Vol. 2 that, while inherent in the well-traveled guitar strums of Los Marinos, was more effectively eluded in Vol. 1.
You won’t find a commercial sure thing like “Tú Sí Sabes Quererme” in “Musas Vol. 2.” You won’t, for that matter, find many traditional love songs at all. The new album has broader, deeper concerns. “Derecho de Nacimiento” (“The Right to Be Born”) has an expressly political message, dealing with immigration and human rights. More subtly, but no less powerfully, “Duerme Negrito” (“Go to Sleep, Little Black Boy”) touches on issues of poverty and racism, this disguised as a sweet lullaby. The indelible “La Llorona” (“The Crying Woman”) has more traditionally romantic lyrics but speaks volumes with its undercurrent of sadness.
For my money, though, the standout is “Alma Mía” (“Soul of Mine”), a paean to loneliness and the hope for human connection that is so lovely, so heartbreaking, that it will surely stand the test of time and become one of those Latin songs that feel like they’ve always existed. “Alma Mía” is a song about love, but not romantic love, certainly not physical love, and thus outside the scope of vision of most commercial Latin Music today. To drive the point home, the video was recorded in an assisted living facility for the elderly. There, Lafourcade, dressed down, makeup-free, sings in front of the residents, for whom a song about loneliness is a song about everything.
The lyrics, simple and unshowy, are light years ahead of the moronic platitudes that pass for poetry in current mega-hits by Wisin or Ozuna or any of their clones: “If I found a soul like mine/ how many things I would tell it/ a soul that, as it saw me, saying nothing/ said everything with its gaze.” These words, by the celebrated Mexican composer María Grever (who died in 1955), show a delicacy of feeling, an understanding of the beauty of the Spanish language, that they put the work of most current songwriters to shame.
And that may be the greatest contribution of Lafourcade’s “Musas” project in the end: reviving interest in the range and variety and sophistication of Latin American music and lyrics of the past. Gifting a new generation of willing fans something finer than what they’re exposed to day to day. We should be thankful for that gift, and for Natalia Lafourcade’s generous artistic soul.