meta-scriptThe Many Faces Of "La Llorona" |

Lila Downs

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The Many Faces Of "La Llorona"

The Latin folk tale has taken root in Spanish-language songs and, most recently, Hollywood, in the horror movie 'The Curse Of La Llorona." But who is behind the "weeping woman," and why do we keep telling her story?

GRAMMYs/Apr 26, 2019 - 12:55 am

The tale of La Llorona—or, the "weeping woman"—is one of betrayal. She can be heard at night, wandering the streets wailing, “¡Ay, mis hijos, mis hijos!” or "Oh, my children, my children!"

La Llorona has killed her children and is condemned to cry forever looking for them.

Or, at least that's what Ana R. Alonso-Minutti, associate professor of music and affiliate of the Latin American and Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico, grew up hearing in Puebla, Mexico. Truth is, no one really knows La Llorona's exact story. Instead, there are many versions, many of which have worked their way into popular culture. 

"There are many variants of La Llorona's story, so in fact, there are many Lloronas," Alonso-Minutti tells the Recording Academy. The academic has done extensive research on La Llorona, including analysis and lectures on the late singer Chavela Vargas' sung version of the tale that appears on the soundtrack to 2002's drama about Frida Kahlo, Frida

According to Alonso-Minutti, La Llorona goes back to the pre-Columbian era and is linked to an Aztec goddess, Cihuacóatl, who would appear at night and cry out for her own dead children. "While there are many variants of the myth, all stories share the existence of a female figure, the Weeping Woman, who has been betrayed by her (assumed male) lover," she says.

In some versions of the story, her paramour is from a higher social class, while others note that he is from Spain. Many versions say that she became angered with him after he'd been unfaithful and thus kills their children. Depending on who is telling the story, she is either wearing all black or all white.

In Mexico, her tale was used to scare people from being where they shouldn't, mostly children from wandering outside of their houses at night. But her story has also come to frighten people in the U.S. and even Hollywood has taken her story to the big screen, most recently with The Curse Of La Llorona.

Alonso-Minutti says La Llorona's story has had a presence in areas near the U.S-Mexico border where Mexican communities have lived. Accounts of her song date back to the 19th century, and in Alonso-Minutti's home state of New Mexico, the song has had a significant presence. "Many Nuevomexicanos have their own personal stories of hearing La Llorona’s wails while walking alongside the Rio Grande, and some report having seen her," she says. 

Dr. Jacqueline Avila, Associate Professor in Musicology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who has studied and written about La Llorona in films like Disney's Coco, says the tale of La Llorona has only become more popular in the U.S. thanks to the rise in interest of the Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead festivities that happen in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

"La Llorona has been synthesized with the Día de Muertos because it does have those themes of death attached to it," she says. 

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La Llorona's Song

Musically, La Llorona's story has taken life, and, just like the oral tale, it has different versions. "La Llorona" is a song that derives from the Isthmus region of Tehuantepec, Mexico Dr. Alonso-Minutti notes. Songs from the region "are performed in social gatherings and religious festivities by a small group of musicians playing guitar, requinto, and bajoquinto, and singing in both Spanish and Zapoteco, the local indigenous language," she says. "Singers are free to choose among hundreds of documented verses, or to create or improvise their own lines on the spot." 

Several versions are sung as rancheras. Why? Dr. Avila's guess is that these musical styles and La Llorona's story are a natural pair. " The canción ranchera in particular, it is about kind of this love lost in a way and they are melancholic and they do feature songs of love and songs of pain," she says. "I think, a love ranchera would transfer quite easily with these types of lyrics."

While lyrics vary, they roughly keep the themes of romance and heartbreak, which are at the center of La Llorona's story. Musical versions by iconic Mexican rock band Caifanes, as well as Beirut's polka-inspired take, show how different genres have brought the song to life.

The sonic version of La Llorona's story show a side to the character that some horror films do not, notes Alonso-Minutti. "The figure to whom the song, 'La Llorona' is addressed is a strong, independent, beautiful woman that resembles the Virgin [Mary]," she says.

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Angela Aguilar, Aida Cuevas and Natalia Lafourcade, each of whom sing a version of "La Llorona," came together to sing about the weeping woman at the 61st GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony earlier this year.

Alonso-Minutti notes that in the performance, Aguilar sings a verse that highlights how La Llorona was mistaken for the Virgin Mary, a very strong female figure in the culture, because of the huipil, a garment she was wearing typically worn by indigenous women.

"You were coming out of the temple one day, Llorona/ When in passing, I saw you/ You were wearing such a beautiful huipil, Llorona/ That I thought you were the Virgin," Aguilar sings.

The overall performance had the three singing together at one point, making it a captivating moment for Avila. "They have different voice types and they represented three different interpretations of the song ... it was a very compelling synthesis," she says. 

Alonso-Minutti also adds that in other common verses, La Llorona is portrayed as warm, motherly figure. "Oh woe is me! Llorona/ Llorona, take me to the river/ Cover me with your shawl, Llorona/ Because I’m dying of cold," the verse says.

Lila Downs, who released a version of the song in her 1999 album La Sanduna, says performing the song is a "spiritual experience."

"For me, it’s a very important expression of the human voice," she tells the Recording Academy about singing La Llorona's tale outside of Mexico. "I think both sublime and earthy, angry and sweet. It captures the duality of indigenous vision, and musically carries our heritage of flamenco roots."

RELATED: Lila Downs Announces New Album Paying Tribute To The Chile Pepper, 'Al Chile'

Downs, whose mother identifies La Llorona as having "turkey-webbed feet," will once again honor the weeping woman through her version of the song in her latest album, Al Chile, which is slated for release on May 3.

"I began singing it because people started asking for it," she says of why she decided to cover the song. "At first, I thought it wouldn’t be so attractive a piece, but it turned into something I didn’t recognize in myself. It’s as if some spiritual and mysterious force was behind it, and chose me to sing it."  

A version of La Llorona's song also made it to Disney's 2017 Coco film, which is about a fictional land of the dead. That version, which features a more upbeat sound (the go-to style tends to be a melancholic waltz), has only helped make La Llorona a more noticable figure outside of the Latin community. 

"Coco made it much more recognizable, especially to audiences who are not familiar with Mexican culture or Día de Muertos," Alonso-Minutt says. "It serves as a learning tool so then they were able to hear and see what La Llorona actually is. And so you have people who now have that reference."

The Changing Symbolism Behind La Llorona

Though she used to incite fear, both Alonso-Minutti and Avila agree that La Llorona is now more than just a symbol of terror. 

For Chicana feminists, Alonso-Minutti states, La Llorona is a dominant female figure who symbolizes a voice of resistance against patriarchy, heteronormative expectations and gender roles, such as motherhood. "La Llorona, by contrast, reacts against these expectations and carries out an act of utmost defiance [against her lover]," she says. "Killing his children becomes an act of resistance and liberation. She becomes motherless; a solitary defiant figure whose weeps and yells are to resound for eternity." 

"She was used for fear, but at the same time she was also a woman who was scorned, she was abandoned and so she was in pain and she was heartbroken and her actions have left her motherless and then in the end," Avila adds. "Maybe she's regretting her decision and that's why she's crying out for her children," she says. "But she's also seen as a resistance character and she's acting in a role of defiance as well. So there's different interpretations that you can have towards her."

Angela Aguilar, Aida Cuevas & Natalia Lafourcade Sang A Powerful Rendition Of "La Llorona" At The 2019 GRAMMY Premiere Ceremony

Female musicia mexicana nominee 2024 GRAMMYs
(From left) Flor De Toloache, Lupita Infante, Ana Bárbara, Lila Downs

Photos: Courtesy of the artist, HECTOR MOLINA; courtesy of Sony Music


The Women of Música Mexicana: GRAMMY Nominees Talk Inspiration, Genre Representation & Making History

Women lead the nominations for Best Música Mexicana Album (Including Tejano) Category. spoke with Lupita Infante, Lila Downs, Ana Bárbara and Flor de Toloache about their nominations, women that inspired them, and representation in the genre.

GRAMMYs/Jan 29, 2024 - 02:15 pm

For decades, women have been the muse behind some of the most iconic songs in música Mexicana. The genre's greatest singers have sung about them, and women have often been the protagonists of stories that go from heartbreak to revenge. 

Despite being an inspiration, the música Mexicana genre has historically benefited male singers and bands, awarding them with media attention, placing them at the top of the charts, and centering them in headlining slots at festivals and concerts.

Even though representation is yet to be equal, female artists have fought hard to conquer these same spaces, breaking barriers and paving the way for future generations. Singers such as Selena Quintanilla, Jenni Rivera, Rocío Dúrcal, Paquita la del Barrio, Chavela Vargas, and Graciela Beltrán are mavericks and trailblazers in música Mexicana.

Mexican music underwent a renaissance in 2023, leading the charts and expanding its sound to a global stage. And even though female artists are still absent from the top lists, a new generation of singers is leading the way in the música Mexicana genre, and their achievements are inspiring. 

Angela Aguilar is one of the seven women to lead Billboard's Regional Mexican Airplay Chart; Yahritza Martínez, the frontwoman of Yahritza y Su Esencia, received the first Breakthrough Songwriter Of The Year at the 2023 SESAC Latina Music Awards. The Sierreño girl band Conexión Divina received its first Latin GRAMMY nomination for Best New Artist in 2023.

Women have had a healthy representation in Mexican music categories at the GRAMMYs over the years, with Sheena Easton, Vikki Carr, Linda Ronstadt, and Selena taking home golden gramophones in various Mexican music category variations. In 2024, four out of five works nominated in the Best Música Mexicana Album (Including Tejano) are from female artists. Peso Pluma is the only male act who received a nod for his album GÉNESIS. spoke with Lupita Infante, Lila Downs, Ana Bárbara, and Flor de Toloache about their nominations, the women in música Mexicana that have inspired them, and the representation in the música Mexicana industry. 

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Which woman in the música Mexicana has inspired you in your career?

Lupita Infante: [During] my formative years, I listened a lot to Lola Beltrán, Linda Ronstadt, all the classic women of the time, and Amalia Mendoza, who are more traditional. Selena, too, was like the ultimate. I think we have all had Selena's karaoke albums; we learned a lot and practiced a lot. Also, Jenni Rivera, I remember going to her concert, and maybe I didn't realize that she was breaking barriers as a woman. And I remember that concert opened by Sheila Dúrcal, a woman I admire greatly.

Ana Barbara: María de Lourdes, Lucha Villa, Lola Beltrán, and Amalia Mendoza "La Tariácuri" are some of the singers that I have listened to since I was a child, and in some way, they opened up this panorama of Mexican music — ranchera music performed by women — to me. I loved them, and I still like them. Later on, a singer of Mexican music and Juan Gabriel's music was Rocío Dúrcal, who also greatly impacted me with her way of interpreting Mexican music.

Lila Downs: Lucha Reyes was definitely the first. 

Mireya Ramos (Flor de Toloache): Aida Cuevas, Lila Downs, and Toña La Negra are some of the women who have inspired and influenced me in my musical career.

Shae Fiol (Flor de Toloache): Mireya Ramos. Although she wasn't widely known when we started the band, she was already a professional singer with roots in mariachi. She was making a living singing the songs she grew up listening to her father sing in his mariachi and at their family's restaurant. It's easy to focus on legends, but the people around us often impact us and our careers and influence us the most. 

After Mireya is Linda Ronstadt, whose album Canciones de mi Padre I remembered consuming as a young child without realizing the genre she was singing was mariachi, but I remembered the album cover. Lola Beltrán, in particular, her rendition of "La Chancla," I clung to that song for its empowering sentiment and her incredible vocal expression. 

What is a go-to album or song by a female artist in your favorite genre that brings inspiration or comfort?

Infante: It's been a lot of Lila Downs lately. I also like the song "Todo Todo" by Camila Fernández. There are many songs and songwriters I have seen who are recording them and coming out with beautiful songs as well.

Bárbara: There are several albums. There is one by Lola Beltrán (Joyas) where she sings "El Crucifijo de Piedra." I really liked that Linda Ronstadt recorded an incredible mariachi album [Canciones de mi Padre]. I also loved the Lucha Villa album that Juan Gabriel made.

Downs: I always have to listen to Mercedes Sosa again in her first recordings. 

Ramos: It really depends on the mood and the moment, but it can be from Ella Fitzgerald, Patsy Cline, Jill Scott to Natalia La Fourcade, Mon Laferte, and Rosa Passos. They are women who master their instruments, whether with the voice or another instrument; the compositions and performances are memorable.

Fiol: If I want comfort, artists I may listen to are Erykah Badu, Sade, Amel Larrieux, Feist, Janelle Monáe, Sheryl Crow, Patsy Cline. For inspiration, I'll listen to any of those artists, plus Jazmine Sullivan, Brandy, Concha Buika, Little Simz, and Cleo Sol.

Women dominate the Best Música Mexicana Album nominations at the 2024 GRAMMYs. How do you feel about the increasing representation of women in the Mexican music industry?

Infante: The Recording Academy is reflecting the part that women are excelling [in the genre]. At the same time, I feel that each one has something very different to offer. I still see men dominating the Billboard Charts and the concerts, but I like that even here in [Recording Academy voting] membership, the members say this woman deserves this recognition.

Bárbara: I feel great, total, and absolute pride to see so many women in this category. It has taken us a lot of work to be there, but it is worth the effort. 

Downs: It gives me great pleasure to see that women have developed in an area that has been difficult for us historically because there has been a lot of prejudice about our ability to produce and compose and, of course, to lead in music.

Ramos: It fills us with pride and excitement to know that this is the direction we are going, that our work has contributed to this and that the next generation has the space to create freely without so many challenges. I am grateful to all the women who came before us who hand-carved their path, opening the doors for the next generations to celebrate this change, recognition, and celebration. What an honor to be able to be in this category representing.

What have you learned from the artists nominated with you in this category?

Infante: Each one has a very different essence. Ana Bárbara has a super long career; she is a power of femininity. I love her outfits, how she presents herself, how she sings. Her album has a song that fascinates me a lot [like the one] she did with Vicente Fernández [La Jugada]; I feel that it is the duet of the year. Lila Downs, I loved the album La Sánchez; it has inspired me a lot in my future productions because she takes its essence, takes Mexican music, and puts her twist and flavor on it. Flor de Toloache's Motherflower,  I love that album because I feel they are pushing the boundaries. They have incredible voices; some rancheras just blew me away. 

Peso Pluma has taken everything and has revolutionized the entire industry at a global level. We also owe him a particular way: a thank you for breaking those barriers and letting the others who come after him help us all.

Bárbara: From my colleagues, I have learned or admired that they are firm in their concept, and that is very important; no matter how the trends, it is the music of Mexico, the music of mariachi, it is our music. I love to see them firm with that conviction that we have to continue in what we love, in what we like, and for me, that is admirable.

Downs: Ana Bárbara is doing some exciting and good duets. [From] Lupita Infante I have loved her way of singing; it is very soft, and she also has that legendary timbre of her grandfather, Don Pedro Infante. The Flor de Toloache has always had my great admiration because they have been independent women and applied themselves to the mariachi tradition, the traditional music of Mexico, and, of course, Peso Pluma, which has been an influence and a reference for everyone, which comes from this musical movement of Sonora. It is a joy that it inspires Mexican music for the youth.

Ramos: I remember buying Lila Downs' album La Sandunga. These are the fusions that I love, and I remember dreaming of one day being able to create my arrangements with that intention. I still can't believe that I have had the pleasure of playing and singing with her. What a gift. 

Fiol: Lila Downs is a great inspiration for us, having witnessed her career over decades; she created her lane so vibrantly and was a great example for Flor de Toloache as we started out, inspiring us to do the same in creating our unique style. 

Why is it significant that your album has received a GRAMMY nomination?

Infante: I worked with several producers on the album that deserve this recognition. One is Carlos Álvarez, my mentor and a great teacher. Also, maestro José Hernández, the founder and director of Mariachi Sol de México, is one of the best mariachis in the world. Having three songs produced by him is very important to me. And there is also Carlos Junior Cabral, who also made Ana Bárbara's album. Luciano Luna was also a big part of this album; I feel he is also a phenomenon in Mexican music. I tried to grab that talent from everywhere for this album. 

I co-authored several of the songs. I worked with great songwriters, and they deserve that recognition. I learned a lot through this album, both in the songwriting, the productions, and the recordings. We made a whole visual art concept; I wanted to be inspired by my grandfather, Pedro Infante's era. I wanted [to have] something that moved us that recognized him. 

Bárbara: [Bordado a Mano] is an album in which all the songs are part of me, my life, my experiences, my shortcomings, and everything I have felt. It channels my emotions. It makes me very happy to have thought about the production of this album, to carry it out, to look for each of my arrangers, of my colleagues who did me the favor of capturing his talent in songs, and because it was born from the bottom of my heart. Seeing that it has come so far, having planned so many duets that it is not easy, each duet made was very complicated. So, seeing it nominated for a GRAMMY is an indescribable satisfaction, and I am very grateful.

Downs: La Sánchez is an album we made with the band that has been with me for a long time, my colleagues, and my musician brothers. We did a workshop here in Oaxaca, so it was conceived in the south [of Mexico]. This path began together with my husband, whom we lost last year. Being nominated for a GRAMMY after so much heartache and having cried a lot this year is a great honor. I am deeply grateful to my fellow musicians and professionals of the Recording Academy and this path of music.

Ramos: [Motherflower] is the most progressive and mariachi fusion album we have made, and all the songs are based on actual experiences. As an independent band and among many incredible artists who have chosen this album, it fills our hearts with pride. The nomination was a pleasant surprise, even more so that we are with so many beautiful queens and the great Peso Pluma, breaking it in his genre. 

We proudly use mariachi instruments in ways no other mariachi has dared to experiment with for fear of breaking from tradition. To have the creativity and vision of Flor de Toloache recognized is a beautiful accomplishment. It fills us with hope that space is opening up for expression, especially for women within the mariachi genre. We had to create something for ourselves since that platform or the support of the mariachi community did not exist. 

Additionally, this album's songs are written from a woman's perspective for women, something not very common in mariachi. Celebrating our "quinceañera" with this nomination is the best gift we could have received.

Fiol: Motherflower is the first album we have released in our 15 years as a band of all original music, composed primarily between Mireya and myself with beautiful contributions from Manu Jalil Soto, Victor Bodilla, Claudia Brandt, Julie Acosta, and Andres Ramos. Our vision was to share our stories with our fans and the world at large, painting a picture of us coming up as an all-women, mariachi-inspired indie band in New York City. These four elements are pillars of our creative expression, and for this album to be recognized by our peers in the academy is a huge honor because it is the most vulnerable we have been in our careers. It's a fusion of genres with mariachi at its core.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Franc Moody
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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billy idol living legend
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring


Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

**Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?**

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

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