When Rosalía entered mainstream consciousness upon the November 2018 release of her second album, El Mal Querer, she was hardly a known commodity outside of Spain and the region of Catalonia that she’s originally from. Her breakthrough album was essentially made on a shoestring at co-producer El Guincho’s Barcelona apartment and was Rosalía’s effort to illuminate to the world the sounds of flamenco, wrapped in a pop music bow. She has always been audacious and what began as her final project at the Catalonia School of Music soon went on to win the Latin Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
Now in 2022, audacity still very much defines Rosalía, a breed of popstar with a uniquely global approach to her music that we’ve hardly ever seen before. Motomami sees her pushing beyond the borders of her native Spain and venturing into the prevalent Spanish language music styles of the planet — particularly reggaeton — to create a world-sweeping sound and establish her as one of today’s boldest artists.
“In these last three years, I’ve wanted to focus my energy on giving this album a sense of risk and excitement… everything on this record was made from scratch,” Rosalía told Rolling Stone en Español. Rosalía executive produced all of Motomami while working with a core production team including Michael Ozuwuru, Frank Dukes, Tainy, Noah Goldstein, El Guincho, Dylan Wiggins, and multiple looks from Pharrell Williams. But don’t get it twisted, Motomami is entirely her own vision and aesthetic. Its title is an interplay of “moto” meaning strong and the diminutive “mami,” referring to women in Latin cultures — resulting in what she calls “a self-portrait of a feminine figure building herself.”
But for a Spaniard to enact reggaeton the right way, Rosalía had to go straight to the source. She set up camp in Miami in 2020 and soon traveled to Puerto Rico for the first time. There, she got in the studio with Urbano music titans like Rauw Alejandro and Lunay, recorded a remix of Sech’s “Relaçion” with Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, and Farruko, and appeared on Bad Bunny’s smash hit “La Noche De Anoche” — which they performed together on Saturday Night Live in March of 2021. Co-signs? Check.
Rosalía begins Motomami with “Saoko,” a nod to Daddy Yankee and Wisin’s 2004 reggaeton slap, “Saoco.” As she drops a vocal sample from the original on the track, she flips it all on its head into a furiously transformed thump. With reggaeton drums ever-present, she distorts a piano and is at her most vocally forwardly aggressive singing, “Me contradigo, yo me transformo. Soy to’a’ las cosa’, yo me transformo!” (Translation: “I contradict myself, I transform. I am all of the things, I transform.”) She said in a statement that the song is about “…celebrating that you are always yourself even though you are in constant transformation or even that you are you more than ever at the very moment you are changing.” It’s a powerful thesis that she establishes from the jump and each of the next fifteen steps from there is a different kind of thrill.
“Chicken Teriyaki,” is pure braggadocio with a catchy hook forged on a play on words. “El Delirio de la Grandeza” feels like digging through a vintage record collection, only to uncover the masterful late ’60s Caribbean salsa of Justo Betancourt. “Como Un G” is a gorgeous love song about cavernous desire and emotions. Her vocals are perfectly auto-tuned on “La Combi Versace,” one of Pharrell’s two production contributions to the album and featuring Dominican rapper on the rise, Tokischa. Everything seems to look towards the future, but with a respectfully placed foot in the past at every turn.
“La Fama” is perhaps the best expression of past and present, a bachata with flamenco pop panache and South Beach sensibility. Rosalía even corrals The Weeknd on the track to sing in Spanish for the first time in a sultry duet. She said when the single was released, that it was “taking as a reference the lyrics of Ruben Blades or Patti Smith and the songs of [Dominican-American group] Aventura.”
Rosalía’s trip through Latin America continues on “CUUUUuuuuuute,” which begins with drums straight out of a Brazilian Carnaval procession, nestled alongside a single electronic bass hit. It unfurls into a piano ballad showcasing her staccato at its absolute finest before her voice morphs into the beat of the drums, but now with a wholly electronic spin. It’s a dizzying exercise, teeming with palpable excitement for the sounds of the world that will surely rub off on anyone within an earshot.
Shortly before Motomami came out, Rosalía appeared on The Tonight Show. Typically, an artist like her would be performing a song, but instead, this was a sit-down conversation with host Jimmy Fallon. She was incredibly personable, teaching Fallon how to roll the “R” on her name, explaining the concept behind “Motomami energy,” sharing a funny story about texting with Harry Styles, and then a clip of her creating the beat for “Saoko.” Her diamond smiley piercing flickered as she radiated the entire time and it was a glimpse at what the modern global pop star looks like: Insurmountably talented, culturally diverse, and with her sights set on continuing to explore the extraordinary power of all forms of Latin music from around the world.
Motomami is out now via Columbia Records. Get it here.