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Drawing on folk traditions, Spanish musician Guitarricadelafuente bridges generations

For Guitarricadelafuente, looking back on the traditions of his grandparents' tiny village in Aragon is a way of reconstructing a home and identity that he can actually make sense of.
David Gomez-Maestre
For Guitarricadelafuente, looking back on the traditions of his grandparents' tiny village in Aragon is a way of reconstructing a home and identity that he can actually make sense of.

Álvaro Lafuente is part of a generation that grew up with access to a lot of information.

The 24-year-old musician from Benicàssim, Spain, says the internet's never-ending references and influences makes it hard to solidly latch on to anything.

So for Lafuente — who performs as Guitarricadelafuente— looking back on the traditions of his grandparents' tiny village in Aragon, Spain is a way of reconstructing a home and identity that he can actually make sense of. His family's sonic legacy of folklore and bandurria builds the backbone for Lafuente's debut, La Cantera, released earlier this year. But the album also stretches Lafuente's voice and melodies across a variety of Autotune, '80s Spanish rock references and a Spanish Civil War song.

NPR's Isabella Gomez Sarmiento sat down with Guitarricadelafuente to discuss his familial roots, the elasticity in his sound and the song that earned him a Latin Grammy nomination for best short form music video.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Isabella Gomez Sarmiento, Weekend Edition: Where does your artistic name come from?

Álvaro Lafuente: My artistic name came from a really natural place. The music that I was raised with was [from] my family's village in Aragon. This region in Spain is really linked to a folk musical style called jota. There is a naming there in Aragon that puts "ico" or "ica" at the ends of words. So it was influenced by my family and the music that I listened to in my childhood: Guitarricadelafuente — because that's my last name — as an homage to my origins.

Can you tell me about some of that music you grew up with and how it influenced the music that you're making now?

I consider that there's two ways of discovering music. There's nature and nurture, when you are born in a place and naturally listen to what happens around you. Growing up at home or with my friends in my village, I used to listen a lot of things, like Spanish rock music from the '80s or the '90s, to a lot of flamenco — but also a lot of jota because of my grandparents. My [great]-grandad used to be [a] jota teacher and guitar and bandurria teacher in my village. My mom was a really big fan of Violeta Parra and musica como indicativa. And my dad liked disco music — it was a big melange of everything. This was the music that made me feel genuine, that I understood as something that came from a really beautiful place.

When did you start writing songs?

I started writing songs when I was 14. I even started writing songs in English. It wasn't until I was maybe 20 that I really put all my energy into music. Starting [to write] in Spanish was a really big revelation because I started feeling myself more or the sense of what I was saying. I think that when you sing in your mother language, you can express [yourself] much better and in a really much more honest way.

Your album, La Cantera, sounds very much like an ode to family and tradition and your roots. But then it also feels very focused on youth and modernity in a way.

La Cantera has two big meanings. The first meaning came from a childhood memory. It was when we used to go back to our village, in my hometown — Las Cuevas [de Cañart] — it's a village with 70 people living there, and most of the people are over their 80s. The younger generations, the descendants of all these people, left the village to go to the big city. [There] was a really beautiful moment when everybody got together again and the streets came [back] with life and with youth, you know? And the older guys were like, "Here comes la cantera!"

When I've seen people making references to tradition or folk or something that comes from an old place, it's always treated in a decadent way — in the aesthetics and the sound of it. I think my generation sees traditional music in a different way than our parents or our grandparents. For example, I think in Spain there's a rich musical world, and it's also endemic in every area in Spain. In every province, you have a different type of folk. For a lot of time, it's been placed aside. [But] something has happened in the last 10 years — you see more young people get interested in not just [folk] music, but the search for their origins or for something that makes sense for them. Being raised in a society with so much information around us, [in] the end having so much aggressive information, you don't get anything specific. Everything gets lost.

Are you saying you feel like younger generations that have grown up with so much access to information and so many influences — that looking back and focusing on memory gives you something to hold on to, a sense of belonging and identity?

Definitely. It's something to hold on to and something that makes you feel home and safe, you know? Not just the music, but the food. Going back home with your grandma, going to a specific bar in Barcelona where they serve like traditional bravas or the traditional tortilla. It's really beautiful. It's in the album. And for me, it's a generational relay not just in music, but as a way of living.

The song that to me really encapsulates what you're saying [is] "A carta cabal." Can you tell me about that song? What was your process of bringing it to life?

This song was essentially the first song I wrote on the piano. During the process of [making] the album, I have learned how to start from new places and experiment with many different starting points. For me, [this song] was representative of the spirit of the album and this sense of youth. A carta cabal — this expression — is really powerful because a carta cabal is the full essence of something. You are honest a carta cabal, you are humble a carta cabal, you are happy a carta cabal. It's like the fullest expression of something. It relates to youth because it's the time where you're most passionate about something and you're most excited.

What do you think is the relationship between pop music and folklore? What does it look like for you in your own music?

In this album, talking about this generational relay, La Cantera represented that our youth is getting all the references for what our ancestors taught us. And we're living our present to live the folk of today and transform it into the folk of tomorrow. Pop music, nowadays, you don't know if that's going to be the folk of tomorrow. In folk music — or at least Latin American folk music — when someone was talking about "Nos vemos en la fuente y nos besamos debajo del árbol" this could be translated today to like, "We meet in the metro and we go to get a pizza by the park." This is our actual pop, and who knows if in 70 years time when people rediscover these songs that will be the new folk. I'm convinced.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.