The Chilean singer-songwriter Mon Laferte has a voice for every passion. He is capable of tackling the personal and the political, lulling a romantic ballad, or leading a hard rock attack. Her voice manages to provoke, bite, whisper, hum, grind, or rise like the scream of a banshee. It can go straight to the heart and it does.
In Latin America, Laferte, 38, has built a career that began in 2003 with covers of pop songs, moved to hard rock and since then has spanned rockabilly, salsa, bolero, ranchera, and psychedelia just to start. Often performs in stylish formal dresses vintage with a flower in her hair while her bare shoulders reveal her tattoos.
“Each person is a universe,” Laferte said in a video call through an interpreter. “I love doing all these different voices because it represents all my personalities: when I am fragile, when I am stronger, when I am funny, when I am upset. And that’s what I want to do. That is what art is. I want to convey all those feelings and for people to feel them as much as I do. And I want their skin to crawl when they listen to my songs. “
Laferte – full name: Norma Monserrat Laferte Busdamente – remained productive throughout the pandemic. This year he has released two very different albums and is now touring North America. On Thursday she will perform at the Latin Grammy Awards, where she has been nominated in four categories, including Song of the Year and Best Singer-Songwriter Album.
Recorded Six in 2020 when the quarantine began in Mexico. The album, released in April, scrutinizes classic Mexican regional styles —norteño, banda, mariachi— to a large extent accompanied by acoustic instruments. And on October 29 Laferte launched the very particular 1940 Carmen, named after the Los Angeles Airbnb where he recorded it. The new album embraces Southern California folk-pop and includes their first songs in English.
Metallica invited Laferte to contribute to The Metallica Blacklist, a charity album with remakes of the metal band’s songs for the 30th anniversary of Metallica, widely known as the Black Album. His Spanish version of “Nothing else matters”, The first song he learned on the guitar that he was given when he was 9 years old, turns the song into a waltz with an Andean flavor with traditional Chilean instruments.
In 2020, Laferte, who has lived in Mexico for more than a decade, had moved to Tepoztlán, a town near the capital where Chavela Vargas, one of the country’s most beloved ranchera singers, spent her final years. During quarantine, a documentary about Vargas took over Laferte’s imagination, so he set up a studio in his home, then added orchestral and wind band arrangements through remote sessions. Guitarist Sebastián Aracena, who is a member of Laferte’s touring band, co-produced Six and also touch on 1940 Carmen, which Laferte produced.
“With Six It was in March and April of last year, ”Aracena said in a video call. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. There was no vaccine, nothing. Mon told me. ‘Can you come over to the house for a week and stay and see what we can do’? And I stayed four months. It was all very natural. It is very easy because he knows what he wants ”.
On SixLaferte harks back to the volatile drama of Vargas’ performances with songs of his own about the power, desire, pain, and perseverance of women, both in relationships and in larger struggles. “Se va la vida” is about women prisoners in Chile, and in “La Democracia”, Laferte growls: “Where did he go? Who stole it?
Aracena said: “Her social conscience makes her special. He’s smart looking at society and understanding sociocultural emotion, and his lyrics really teach you to feel the emotion of people. “
Laferte has been outspoken for a long time. At the 2019 Latin Grammys, when he won the best alternative album award for his release of Rule —A masterful album that covers various Latin expressions but was recorded live in the studio in a single day—, Laferte protested the human rights violations in Chile by stripping his chest on the red carpet to reveal the legend: “In Chile, they torture, rape and kill”.
Six includes “The woman”, A duet with Mexican pop star Gloria Trevi that is nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best Pop Song; both will present it on Thursday during the program. Laferte wrote and interpreted it years ago when I was going through “a very depressing stage of my life.” But in the end he decided that the cloying, dejected handwriting was “toxic.” The version she rewrote with Trevi disdains the “poor coward” who tried to control her; it’s about “ending a relationship and survival instinct,” he said. “It was a healing process. A better song came out ”.
The themes of 1940 Carmen they reflect a different, more relaxed atmosphere. Much of the music is reminiscent of upbeat Southern California folk-pop and 1950s R&B guitar reverb. “Hollywood pleasure” the trilingual song that opens the album, Laferte happily lengthens the word “you” until it reaches a 38-note melisma. On her tour, she has been playing with the public to see if they can accompany her. The first single from the album, “Something is better “, radiates optimism and “Girl” is an affectionate lullaby for an unborn baby: “I’ve waited so long for you / And I’ll take care of you.” (After years of trying, she became pregnant and hopes to give birth in March.) But other songs on the album exorcise deep traumas.
The main reason Laferte went to Los Angeles was to receive hormone therapy to get pregnant; radiation treatment for thyroid cancer in 2009 had also damaged her ovaries. But the hormonal treatments caused massive mood swings. “One day I was very happy, with positive emotions, and another day I was angry and depressed,” she said. “I connected with a part of myself that I didn’t know at the time.”
For Laferte, writing lyrics in English was not a crossover but a way to protect herself. On 1940 Carmen, one of the three songs in English is “A Crying Diamond,” about a poor teenager who wants to be a singer and is sexually exploited by a 40-year-old man. “I’ll be your savior and make you a superstar,” he tells her. Years later, when she lost her dreams, she kept the secret, Laferte sings, because “No one was going to believe a girl from the province / Who went out at night with her shiny dress and broken shoes.”
He had tried to compose a song on the subject in Spanish, he said, but couldn’t. “I was going to say something that makes me vulnerable,” he said. “There were many things I wanted to say but I was embarrassed in my own language. I felt brave doing it in another language. I can have a simple conversation in English, order a coffee, but I can’t go any deeper. So I can say a lot of things in the song, but I don’t have to feel them because it’s not in my own language ”.
Beyond the language, Laferte’s intensity and commitment are unmistakable. “Each album is a diary of life,” he said. “I write about what I’m going through.”
Jon Pareles has been the Times’ lead critic of pop music since 1988. He is a musician, having played in rock bands, jazz groups, and classical ensembles. He studied music at Yale University. @JonPareles
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Mon Laferte wants your skin to crawl