After a strong earthquake struck her home state of Veracruz, Mexico in 2017, Natalia Lafourcade was determined to help rebuild the community through music. She began a two–volume project to revive the Centro de Documentación del Son Jarocho, a public square celebrating the musical genre son jarocho that was partially destroyed. The first volume of the series, Lafourcade’s ninth studio album Un Canto por México, Vol. 1, was released last year to critical acclaim, winning the Latin Grammy for Album of the Year. On Un Canto por México, Vol. 2, Lafourcade continues an exploration of Mexico’s rich history through both collective and personal tales.
The album begins with “La Llorona,” a song based on an old Mexican legend. Like most of the tracks on this volume, “La Llorona” is not written by Lafourcade but is instead a reimagined cover of popular Mexican folk songs. The bulk of Lafourcade’s creative input comes from her haunting acoustic interpretation: Only a faint strumming guitar accompanies Lafourcade’s melancholic voice for the first few minutes before being joined by a lone trumpet.
“La Llorona” actually appears twice on the album, once where Lafourcade sings by herself and another where Lafourcade sings with two collaborators, Silvana Estrada and Ely Guerra. Part of this distinction can be attributed to Lafourcade’s past experiences performing the track since the song has gained recognition internationally. Lafourcade usually plays the acoustic version of “La Llorona” during her tours outside of Mexico due to the sheer number of requests she receives for the track. In an interview with the Recording Academy, she claimed that “La Llorona” gave the audience a chance to “connect with Mexico and with their longing,” and it serves as an accessible introduction to Lafourcade’s unique style and Mexico’s musical roots.
The second “La Llorona” is much more extravagant in its instrumentation. The track immediately begins with a euphonic melody of violins, cellos, and a harpsichord, which precede Estrada, Guerra, and Lafourcade’s stunning vocals and emotions. What’s striking about the trio’s cover is that each artist provides her own rendition rather than sticking with a specific emotion. Frustration, despair, and exhaustion create a cacophony of feelings, representative of the chaotic aftermath of a lost relationship. As the legend goes, La Llorona or “the weeping woman” drowns her children after her husband leaves her. The song is written from the perspective of the husband who still strongly loves his wife but feels he is unable to meet her high expectations, and he wishes for the stability they once had. As he wonders “what more do you want, you want more” he “can’t stop loving” her “even if life costs me.” The group’s cover emphasizes the pain both of them face, one that not only plagues the husband but also the wife whose discontent with the relationship is further compounded by her partner's abandonment. The “spirit …strength … mystique” the trio wishes to convey is found in their expressive yet embittered voices.
On “Cien Años,” the tone shifts and becomes much more upbeat. Strings, guitars, and trumpets characterize the soothing mood. Lafourcade is joined by Pepe Aguilar, a popular Mexican–American singer, and their smooth and warm voices elevate the song’s joyful connotations. Although they sing about someone who passes them “with great indifference,” they still live in a daydream where they are united with this other person and promise to think of them for “one hundred years.” “Cien Anos” reaches a climax three minutes into the song as Lafourcade and Aguilar go back and forth in a round, hurt by the lack of attention but determined to turn things around, before they close the song in harmony.
Lafourcade also includes songs that discuss are pertinent to modern Mexican society, even if they were written decades ago. “Nada es Verdad” talks about a failed society where people are “running in the streets” and shedding “tears of pain.” Given that the collaborator on this track, Los Cojolites, also hails from Veracruz, the song acts like a poignant call to action, pushing for change in Mexico. Lafourcade references this song as part of the overall “community project” of the Un Canto por México series, and her and Los Cojolites’ impassioned voices highlight the urgency of the community’s revitalization.
Un Canto por México, Vol. 2 is a touching homage to the wide–ranging influence that Mexico’s music has had on the world. Though Lafourcade is the main voice behind the songs, the album is more than just hers: It’s also the collection of the stories of Veracruz and Mexico, both past and present. The loss of one of Veracruz’s cultural centers is devastating, but Lafourcade has achieved her goal in capturing the liveliness and complexity of Mexico’s past. As the title of the project implies, Un Canto por México, Vol. 2 is full of songs for Mexico, its future, and its constant transformations.