By Sigal Ratner-Arias
Camila Cabello says she found joy in her roots while working on “Familia,” her new studio album. The pop singer and songwriter, born in Havana to a Cuban mother and Mexican father, immersed herself in the music she listened to growing up and even ventured to write a few songs entirely for the first time. in Spanish.
“I was curious what the process would be, because my English process is very much like me on the mic, and I sing whatever comes to mind, including the lyrics. So I thought, “I wonder what’s coming out in Spanish,” she said in a recent interview via Zoom from Los Angeles.
The first thing that came out was “Hasta Los Dientes” (Spanish for “to the teeth”), a pop track featuring Argentinian urban singer María Becerra about feeling jealous over a boyfriend’s past. And then “Celia”, a rhythmic song which seems to refer to Celia Cruz, the queen of salsa, in the refrain: “Ha vivido toa la vida sin azúcar / Conoció a Celia sin ir pa’ Cuba” (“He lived all his life life without sugar / He met Celia without going to Cuba”).
With 12 songs in English, Spanish and Spanglish, including singles “Don’t Go Yet” and “Bam Bam” with Ed Sheeran as well as collaborations with WILLOW (“psychofreak”) and Cuban singer Yotuel (“Lola”), Cabello released his third solo album under Epic Records on Friday.
“My heritage and my roots are such a big part of who I am, and increasingly something that makes me feel really connected and joyful and something that I want to connect with as I get older,” she said. said referring to his parents and grandparents when asked about the title of the album, which in English means “family”.
But she also mentioned her close friends and collaborators, her “family by choice,” as she called them. “It’s really about community and how important relationships are to me, and I think for all of us,” she said.
Musically, the pop album features classic mariachi-like beats, blending old and new in songs like “La Buena Vida” (“The Good Life”), which Cabello sings in English accompanied by Jaime Cuellar’s Mariachi Garibaldi. , with a Spanish choir. sung by the Mexican band and the singer’s father, Alejandro Cabello. She debuted it last October at an NPR Tiny Desk (Home) concert celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, where she featured it as one of her favorites from her upcoming album.
“It was one of the songs I wrote with (producers) Ricky (Reed), Cheche Alara and Edgar Barrera. We were playing songs I used to listen to as a kid: I was playing Alejandro Fernández, we were listening to mariachi songs that my dad used to play when I was younger. We were like, ‘What can we do that’s interesting and weird?’ »
They tried to combine a rhythmic pop song with a mariachi and were thrilled with the result. “Yeah, they killed it on production,” she said.
There’s also “Lola” with Yotuel – which she co-wrote with Mike Sabath and Scott Harris – about a woman who wants “patria y vida” (homeland and life) as opposed to “homeland or death”, the motto of Fidel Castro. The line is from the 2021 Latin Grammy-winning song “Patria y Vida” by Yotuel, Descemer Bueno, El Funky, Gente de Zona, Yadam González, Beatriz Luengo and Maykel Osorbo. It became the anthem of protests in Cuba that year after some of its authors dared to voice their disagreement with the government for the first time.
“I was so excited when Yotuel said yes to write about this song (“Lola”) and collaborate with me because, for me, “Patria y Vida” changed history and gave people a lot of courage and hope that things might change in Cuba,” Cabello said.
For her, “Lola” not only represents the people of her homeland, but of any other nation under systemic oppression where “talented, intelligent people don’t have the same opportunities because of where they were born. and where they live,” said the singer, who moved to Miami when he was 6. “I was just thinking about what my life would have been like if my family hadn’t come to the United States and all the possible alternatives.”
As for “Bam Bam,” which many fans believe is a song about Cabello’s breakup with Shawn Mendes, she said that “of course it’s something personal, every song (on the album) is that how I felt that day (I wrote it down).”
But with the catchy chorus “Así es la vida, sí / Yeah, that’s just life, baby”, how did that happen?
“Well, I feel like in Latin music, there are so many songs that have these kinds of life lessons, … like the impermanence of things and the hard times and the good times. I think the impermanence of love and relationships is also a very common thing; you never know what is around the corner, you never know what is going to happen, how things will progress, change and transform,” Cabello said, adding that when she’s going through a bad or a good time, her mother always says, “así es la vida (that’s life)… things surprise you.
After writing the song with her team based on this premise, she said they sent it to Ed Sheeran, who made “incredible” changes and sent her the chord progression we hear now. .
Sigal Ratner-Arias is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sigalratner.