*“God comes first. Fuc*king you, a close second.”
I went to Rosalía’s promotional concert for the Motomami album in Boston a month ago. I knew some songs from her 2018 album El Mal Querer (Bad Love), a musical masterpiece. That album made Rosalía a visible star in the constellation of musicians and composers in Hispano-American mainstream music. The album has a particular story that Wikipedia explains very well:
The album was written by Rosalía and co-produced with El Guincho on an initial low budget as an independent artist. Presented as experimental and conceptual, revolving around a toxic relationship, the album was inspired by the anonymous 13th-century Occitan novel Flamenca. Therefore, every song on the album is conceived as a chapter of the book. It served as the singer’s baccalaureate project, graduating from Catalonia College of Music with honors. [Read more here]
In El Mal Querer, Rosalía mixed electronics, contemporary dances and rhythms, and traditional flamenco sounds and movements in a beautiful musical and visual collage. Some musically conservative audiences characterized the album as the “profanation” of traditional flamenco music, but there’s no doubt that Rosalía brought the genre back to life and made it mainstream again.
But beyond the implications of that album for Hispanic music, something that caught my attention was that Rosalía was denouncing domestic violence portrayed as love in ancient love stories, showing her strong feminist views. Her message was something like, “Violence happened back then in the same way it happens today.” And the second crucial element for me was the number of mentions of God, most of them related to the Catholic tradition, which has been, to this day, the main religion in Spain. Rosalía uses several times Catholic images and references to communicate the deep emotions that each character experiences. For instance, in Bagdag, Rosalía uses the image of La Inmaculada Concepción, “La Colosal”, a classic Spanish painting of Mary, to show how the woman in the song and video finds freedom and peace only once she dies.
God’s centrality in Rosalía’s work and worldview was clear from El Mal Querer. However, it was not surprising since one might expect that the Catholic God shows up here and there to provide salvation and comfort amid a classical love/betrayal Spanish story. But in Motomami, a reggaeton album, Rosalia’s portrayal of God caught me by surprise.
I started exploring Motomami in detail because I enjoy singing songs in concerts. I cannot only sit down and watch the artist. So, I listened to the album day and night for three weeks. I examined the album with such commitment that I watched several interviews where Rosalía shared about her creative process, inspiration, influences, musical arrangements, composition, and how the pandemic impacted the project. As always happens with the works of great geniuses, once the album was released in 2022, divided opinions emerged among the Latino audience and went from “this is terrible, we hate it” to “this is a masterpiece.” I belong to the latter. After careful study and research, I concluded that Motomami simply is a masterpiece.
Rosalía’s explorations of love, family, sensuality, body, and freedom are interwoven with reggaeton rhythms, flamenco, trap, electronics, jazz, samba, and merengue. Amid the ocean of autotune, an excessive number of instruments and arrangements, and very loaded compositions in this century’s Latin and Anglo music, Motomami is simple, with few instruments, with zero autotune, and Rosalía’s voice and stories are the main protagonists. It is delightful and refreshing. Core symbols and topics are also tangled throughout the album: butterflies representing autonomy, transformation, and evolution (the three “M” in the album’s name are butterflies). Fame, which is deeply desired but toxic and lethal. Physical injuries represent several types of pain, grief, and frustration. And nudity as the symbol of honesty, sensuality, and freedom. All these elements do not quarrel on the record; on the contrary, they complement each other beautifully.
But, as mentioned above, the most striking thing amid this sea of wonders was the references to God in every song. Motomami is predominantly a reggaeton album, a music genre widely criticized for portraying women in an openly sexually-objectifying way, so it is surprising to find feminist, liberative, and spiritual lyrics and art expressions in this album. I thought: What is this? God and reggaeton? Wasn’t this the devil’s music? On top of that, Rosalía managed to put raw sexual pleasure and God—the Christian decent God—in the same song. What’s going on? Heresy! Terrible! Exciting! Amazing! Masterpiece!
Please join me in Part 2 to examine Rosalía’s theology in detail and its intersection with liberation theologies, Marcella Althaus-Reid’s work, and my personal story.
Laura Montoya is from Bogotá, Colombia. She is a Psychologist devoted to working alongside communities affected by the 60 years of war in her country. She graduated from the Masters of Divinity program at Boston University School of Theology. Her academic interests are in Liberation Theologies, Feminist Studies, Sociology of Religion, and Pentecostalism. Currently, she lives in Watertown, Massachusetts. She is happy when playing the piano, guitar, and ukulele.