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The Many Faces Of "La Llorona"

Lila Downs

Photo:  Doug Gifford/Getty Images

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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. 

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.

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."

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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

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

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"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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Listen: Tame Impala Release New Track "Patience"

Kevin Parker of Tame Impala

Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage

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Listen: Tame Impala Release New Track "Patience"

It's been four years since we've heard new music from Tame Impala, but their new release has come just in time for festival season

GRAMMYs/Mar 23, 2019 - 12:08 am

Tame Impala have released a new single appropriately called "Patience." The GRAMMY-nominated music project by Australian singer and musician Kevin Parker had not released any new tracks since 2015's Currents.

The long-awaited latest release embodies the exact feeling of having to wait for something: "Has it really been that long? / Did I count the days wrong? ... I've been waiting here / Waiting for the day to come," Parker's soft voice sings on the track featuring an equally soft piano. 

Parker, who has come to fame for the psychedelic, dreamy pop sound he shares as Tame Impala, teased the single on Instagram last night. "New track. 1 hour. Speakers/headphones people," the post said. 

He and his touring band will be headlining Coachella and Lollapalooza this year and starting a U.S. tour after the Indio, Calif. dates. He said that he would like to release a new album by mid-2019. 

"I'd be really disappointed if we didn't have something out by then." Parker told Matt Wilkinson on Beats 1. "I love playing the songs live, I love playing Currents songs I love playing Lonerism songs and everything but I think I'm ready to play some other songs live."

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Lila Downs Announces New Album Paying Tribute To The Chile Pepper, Releases Tour Info

Lila Downs 

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Lila Downs Announces New Album Paying Tribute To The Chile Pepper, Releases Tour Info

The announcement was made with the release of the first single, a cover of the Peruvian cumbia classic "Cariñito"

GRAMMYs/Apr 11, 2019 - 04:42 am

GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter Lila Downs, known for her eclectic mixture sounds from Mexico and beyond, has announced that her latest album, Al Chile, will pay tribute to the chile pepper and will drop May 3. The news came with the release of the first single, "Cariñito."

Al Chile, produced by the GRAMMY-nominated DJ and producer Camilo Lara (Mexican Institute of Sound) and mixed by Mario Caldato Jr., who has worked with the Beastie Boys and Jack Johnson, is not a joke; it sincerely shows love for the fruit. 

"Yes, the music is a tribute to the fruit that causes us so much craving and suffering, but that we really love!" Downs said in a statement. "We fry the chile, add beats from the city, then saxophones, trumpets and drums from the Mexican coast to keep the dance going. The village and the city are united by the same beat. With a mezcal in hand, we dream of a place with a palm tree where one falls in love and reflects."

The first single is Down's take on a Peruvian cumbia classic. The singer also released dates for the album's supporting tour that will take her to Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall, New York City, Seattle and other cities across the U.S.

For more information on the tour, visit Downs' website

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