Mon Laferte: From Here and There

El Sonido: Cancioneros
Albina Cabrera

El Sonido: Cancioneros is the first season of KEXP’s newest podcast series, El Sonido, and the first produced fully in Spanish. 

What keeps us rooted in a world where everything is changing? Music. We each have songs that connect us to our origins, and through those, we can draw the sound map of our lives. The first season of the El Sonido podcast offers a musical tour through the personal songbooks of key artists in modern alternative, popular and independent Latin music to explore what it means to be from a place and what Latin music is today. Host Albina Cabrera guides us through each artist's story across eight episodes, from the song that decided the destiny of Mon Laferte to the visual and political approach of Lido Pimienta, from the revolution of Villano Antillano to the childhood of Trueno and the comeback of Buscabulla. As we journey through the songs that shaped each artist, we get a portrait of the present and future of their music scenes.

Listen to the podcast with English subtitles on the KEXP Podcasts YouTube channel, or read an English transcription of our latest episode below. A Spanish transcription and audio is available here.

Mon Laferte: And I told her, what if you made something up?

And that same day she wrote a song and at night she sent it to me in a voice note and I lost it — I mean, I couldn’t believe it. And we sang the song together and it was an incredible moment.  

Albina Cabrera: The woman saying that she’s nervous is the singer and composer Mon Laferte and I’m Albina. This moment wasn’t that long ago. Mexico City, March 2020. Days before a global pandemic was declared, and we, of course, knew nothing.

We’re in the Zócalo during one of the actions for International Women’s Day. Mon is singing and I’m in the audience with some friends. 

Albina Cabrera: Just days before they would close the international borders, just when I had planned to move out of the country. I was in Mexico working. I came from Argentina and I was moving to Seattle.

Being here, the amazingly wild city that is Buenos Aires, ceased to be my every day. Now there were forests, lakes, gray skies, and an entirely different language. Imagine that: the daily soundtrack that accompanies you from one moment to the next changes. The color palette that you’re accustomed to, the smells, people’s faces… everything.

That is part of what it means to migrate. When I thought about that, I connected to Mon’s story. She's from Chile, and she’s also from Mexico. 

Mon Laferte: When I began my music project here in Mexico, they attributed me to a scene in Chile that I didn’t feel I ever belonged to. But they saw me as being a part of a particular Chilean scene that was popular at that moment. 

Albina Cabrera: The soundtracks that accompany you through your life are the ones that define you, they are who you are, what you talk about, what excites you, melodies with faces and memories. When you are a musician, those are the songs that also form you as an artist.

This is what we’re going to talk about on this podcast, El Sonido, and because of that our first season is called Cancioneros (Songbooks)

Albina Cabrera:  What is music in Spanish, English, and Portuguese today? What is a “scene” and what does it mean to be from a place?

Mon Laferte:  In Latin America, we’re all so different but simultaneously so similar. 

Albina Cabrera: That is what I’m going to explore with you on El Sonido, the first Spanish-language podcast from KEXP. I’m Albina Cabrera, and together we’ll go on eight journeys. Eight “songbooks” from artists of the present and the future who will share the environments and the songs that made them the people they are.

In this first episode, Mon Laferte. We’ll set off on a journey through the soundtrack of her life…

Mon Laferte: I think Argentinian music influenced me a lot. For example, I remember that my first cassette was Mercedes Sosa.

Mon Laferte: Mercedes has an entire songbook of South American folk

Albina Cabrera: A parenthesis — you’ll hear Mercedes Sosa be brought up in moments throughout the season by singer-songwriters across new folk, rock, and Latin Pop. Mercedes was an Argentine folk singer, born in 1935 in Tucumán. She’s a pillar of Latin American popular music and was the only woman recognized in the ‘Nueva Canción’ movement, which began in 1963, 60 years ago.

Mon Laferte: The Mercedes cassette was in the house. I didn’t know whose it was, but it was a recording of a live concert. A cassette! And so I took it and listened to it all day long. I went crazy listening to Mercedes.

Albina Cabrera: We all remember those albums we find at home. A similar thing must happen when you learn to play your first song on an instrument. In Mon’s case, that first song was by another Latin American legend, Cuban, and founder of Nueva Trova.

Mon Laferte: I remember the first complete song I played on the guitar was a song by Silvio Rodríguez, because in my house we had one of those old paper songbooks that people used to have around. They laid out how to play, where to put your hands on the guitar. And that’s how I played my first song by Silvio Rodríguez.

Albina Cabrera: In speaking to Mon, I realized that her soundtrack is kaleidoscopic. We can identify three strong trends: folklore, the romantic stylings of Juan Gabriel, Ana Gabriel, José José, and more, 90s Rock en Español by the likes of Café Tacvba and Aterciopelados and especially two of the most important figures in South American Rock.

Mon Laferte: Fito and Charly were extremely present when I was younger. I’m a huge fan of Fito to this day.

Albina Cabrera: We can’t forget that Mon is a product of the '90s. 

Mon Laferte: I was also very influenced by that era in Rock en español that was dominated by Aterciopelados, Los Tres, Café Tacvba. All of that was popular when I was growing up, and it was very present in my life.

Albina Cabrera: That era of Rock en español, generally speaking, was the first time that particular style sung in Spanish became massive, sold widely, and defined both contemporary and future generations. Aterciopleados disrupted the Colombian rock scene with one of the most revolutionary front women in the region, Andrea Echeverri. She and her unmistakable voice proved fundamental to the history of music.

Among all of the powerful icons, there was a dark-haired South American woman with an electric guitar slung over her shoulder, and a mastery of the acoustic as well. Another distinctive voice that profoundly affected Mon — and many of us. A Colombian girl who became the first CD of many young people at the time. 

Mon Laferte: Shakira made a big mark on me.

Albina Cabrera: I could say that it surprised me to hear that Shakira was one of her first major inspirations, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Shakira revolutionized the music and pop culture of those times.

Mon Laferte: One of my first inspirations as a little girl was Shakira, because of the way she told her stories, of what her songs were about at that time, and in Spanish no less. There was no one else like her, with that voice and those lyrics. I began to want to tell my own stories the way that she did. 

Albina Cabrera: In 2021, the Argentinean and Chilean podcast Las Músicas de tu Corazón: Ten Latin American Artists Who Changed Your Life, created by LatFem and Ruidosa, interviewed 50 music journalists, producers, managers and musicians from Latin American and the Caribbean, and I had the honor of participating. I was trying to shed light on the most significant albums that were produced by women, lesbians, trans and nonbinary people. Shakira topped the list with the 1998 album Dónde están los ladrones. Long before “Waka Waka” and “Las Mujeres Facturan”.

Mon Laferte’s songbook is not exclusively artists who sing in Spanish, of course. Among her influences are some classics.

Mon Laferte: When I was 18, I became a huge Beatles fan. They have songs that have slightly psychedelic endings. So much of my influence comes from them, The Beatles. Radiohead was also a huge influence.

Albina Cabrera: We can also see a strong presence of female composers. Women who changed music history and paved the way for future generations. 

Mon Laferte: Björk is someone who inspires me a lot. People always tell me that I sing like Björk and I would say that it’s possible that I just like her so much that I end up copying her voice without realizing it.

Mon Laferte: Those are some of the first that come to my head, but there’s a ton of music, for example I’m a huge fan of Regina Spektor, of Alanis Morissette. All of those girls, like PJ Harvey. All of those women are amazing, I love them.

Albina Cabrera: Mon grew up in Rocío de la Esperanza, in Gómez Carreño sector of Viña del Mar in the Valparaíso region of Chile. A port city. Her childhood in the neighborhood, with her neighbors, writing songs; growing up working and helping her mother and her grandmother, Meche, made it possible for Mon to be the blend that she has become in pursuit of her dream, the dream of a popular singer, because Mon was raised amongst community. 

What was happening in Chile in that moment and why did Mon decide to leave and integrate herself into the Mexican scene?

Mon Laferte: But it was kind of like “I’m not from the Chilean scene, but from the Mexican, where am I from?”

Albina Cabrera: To better understand it, I called Camila Moreno, an independent artist from Chile, who would tell me how the indie Chilean scene of the 2000s came to be. 

Camila Moreno: 13 years ago the industry was very different because there was a phenomenon- like a break in the Matrix, where all of the most important labels were from here. 

Albina Cabrera: The new millennium arrives after over a decade of Neoliberalism in Latin America. This meant crisis, poverty, and much narrower possibilities. 

Camila Moreno: Independent labels started popping up and from there the Indie Chilean scene was born. Thanks to the break in the system, my generation, my career and those of many others exist. 

Albina Cabrera:  Javiera Tapia, culture and music writer and journalist from Chile, explains it similarly. 

Javiera Tapia: It was custom at that time to constantly listen to new and strange things. That overriding drive of “I’m going to pursue a certain model because it’ll get me to a certain place” didn’t exist yet.

Albina Cabrera: Javiera wrote, among other things, Amigas de lo ajeno: lo que me cantaron las músicas Chilenas (“Friends from afar: what female Chilean musicians sang and told to me”). The first chapter is dedicated to Mon Laferte.

Javiera Tapia: So much of what we were listening to was weird and so great. That musical landscape was growing when Mon left. And Mon left because it was basically impossible for her to have the career she wanted in Chile.

Albina Cabrera: That was the Chile Mon decided to leave. It was the Chile that taught her her first songs and it’s that same Chile that, through crisis, exposed her to possible futures for her music career that she didn’t know existed before. In 2007, she packed her bags and moved to Mexico City. She integrated herself into a scene that she identifies as Latin American. 

Mon Laferte: There’s a Latin American scene, as you say. It’s composed of people who began making music independently, which contributed to a sort of boom of independent music at large, I think. It started many years ago, but there was a peak. But I think it’s specifically a Latin American scene. 

Albina Cabrera: The borders started to blur for Mon and many other artists. As an example, Spotify launched in 2008. In 2013 it was already available in 32 countries and had 24,000,000 active monthly users. The industry changed. That boom of alternative music in Latin America had specific characteristics depending on the country it came from. In Chile, artists like Gepe, Camila Moreno, and Fakuta became emblematic of the sounds. Meanwhile in Mexico, Mon made it her own and released the album Tornasol in 2013, on which she collaborated with Fakuta. This would be her last completely independent production before releasing Mon Laferte (Vol. 1), which changed the career of the Valparaíso-born artist forever. 

Fakuta: I think that’s when a new age in Chilean music began. She completely broke all of the rules and expectations that we had for independent pop music and became a superstar. She had it all. 

Albina Cabrera: Fakuta is an electronic pop composer from Chile and has been making music for over a decade in the independent scene. 

Fakuta: I think it completely changed the way people from outside of Chile understood and appreciated Chilean music. 

Mon Laferte: As an independent artist, I garnered a lot of followers, and then it exploded, and my entire world shifted, like who I was playing and sharing space with at festivals.

Albina Cabrera: Mon Laferte has received more awards and nominations than any Chilean artist in history. When Fakuta mentioned “she has it all,” she meant that she knows her audience well. Mon grew up alongside her neighbors, dogs, the woman hanging her clothes to dry, the kids on the corner, and a songbook that leans heavily on Boleros. It’s a musical genre that was very dear to her grandmother Meche, and fundamental to her city Valparaíso, and spoke to common struggle and class prejudice in Chilean society. 

The Chilean Journalist Javiera Tapia analyzes Mon’s music and the connection it has to the society she comes from, as well as the social reaction it generates.

Javiera Tapia: When Mon popularized that phenomenon, that of ‘common music,’ there was a popular term here in Chile that was used to refer to it — “música cebolla” (onion music), which is at its core a pejorative term, meaning the music that working-class people listened to, like boleros, ballads.

Javiera Tapia: Valparaíso, the Bolero, there’s a very important history there and an endless mix of sounds. 

Albina Cabrera: Mon Laferte both owns and overcomes her history. We can safely say that in 2017 is when that happens. She releases La Trenza. The Colombian singer hears it and they release a version of one of its hits together — “Amárrame”. 

Albina Cabrera: At that time, Mon was opening new pathways in the U.S. market, singing in Spanish. And it opens further with her sixth album NORMA

Isabela Raygoza: She was on tour in the United States with Juanes and what was really wild to me about that moment, was that the Latin music that was resonating with the general mainstream, as we know, was Urbano. Latin trap was beginning to take off as a viral phenomenon at the time, and reggaeton was king. 

Albina Cabrera: Isabela Raygoza wrote about this in 2018 for Rolling Stone U.S.

Isabela Raygoza: In that moment, you weren’t seeing Latin artists really getting to that level, unless they had been around for a long time. And so seeing as she had a long history as an alternative artist in Chile, playing in bars, she had a bit of a cult following. And they were all ready to see her blow up in the mainstream. 

Albina Cabrera: “Amárrame” comes around the same time as the global hit “despacito.” The interesting part is that it was that very song that ranked second on the charts in México and Chile — Mon’s two homes. I think that connecting your two worlds with what you do ranks high on the list of most immigrants. Mon reaps the benefits… 

Albina Cabrera:  Despite all of the awards, she never forgot where she came from. On the red carpet of the Latin Grammys, she publicly denounced the human rights violations that were taking place in her native Chile at the end of 2019 while people were protesting there in a series of protests called Chile Despertó.

Isabela Raygoza: Mon Laferte had a combination that was quite striking. She caught the attention of many people — not just Latinos, but the general population as well.

Albina Cabrera:  The power to question both audiences has everything to do with the possibility of connection with others. These connections can be found in the lyrics of Mon Laferte’s songbook. 

Mon Laferte: I think the greatest songs have that power of synthesis. They can tell you so much in two or three words, they explain everything, you understand everything, they tell you the entire story. I like that a lot.

Mon Laferte: For example, the way Lana del Rey writes is beautiful to me. It takes me a while to understand everything because I'm not 100% fluent in English. When I don't understand something I have to put it through a translator, or sometimes ask, because of the word games and everything. To me, the way she writes is wonderful. 

Lately I’m really into Kendrick Lamar. He blows my mind, I love him. I’m a huge fan of the way he writes. 

Mon Laferte: I’m also a huge fan of how Juan Gabriel writes, for example. I think he’s a master of telling you a wild story and making you feel everything in 30 seconds. Juan Gabriel didn’t use metaphors, but to me he’s still quite poetic. José Alfredo also had that kind of magic. 

Mon Laferte: Telling you an entire story in one minute. I also love the tradition of Mexican Corridos that have that power of synthesizing stories. The best songs are the ones that tell you a lot in two or three words, they tell you everything. 

Albina Cabrera:  Having seen her denounce injustices on a red carpet or asking for legal, safe and free abortions on every microphone she comes into contact with gives her a social consciousness that I believe can only come from the places and songs that raised you. The Chilean artist, Francisca Valenzuela, who also considers Mexico a second home, underlines Mon’s vision of Latin America as being an essential part of her artistic and musical activism. 

Francisca Valenzuela: Mon has been, in the case of Chile in the world, one of the few who have come out of the country and made a career outside of it that has a regional and parallel impact. As an author, a creator, and having an identity that encompasses a bigger vision of Latin America, not just Chile, and not just Mexico. 

Albina Cabrera: All of the roads for Mon lead to Mexico. In fact, this episode begins with our memory of that night in March 2020. 

TV host del Festival de Viña: This is what this night and these amazing women artists and musicians are giving us. The song we’re going to sing today is dedicated to all of the women in our country and in Latin America.

Albina Cabrera: In just a few days a pandemic would paralyze the world. But that still wasn’t on anyone’s radar. The only thing those of us in Mexico were thinking about, was to go out into the street on March 8 for International Women’s Day. There was a massive march in the center of the city. Mexico was in the eye of the storm and that’s where we found each other. Mon participated in the official celebration, March 7 2020, in the Zocalo in Mexico City. 

Albina Cabrera: The songbook of your life not only contains heroes from the past, legends or hits — it also includes new voices, new talent that refresh and renew the songbooks held for generations. When I asked Mon to recommend a new artist that the world needs to know, she chose the Mexican singer-songwriter from Coahila, Vivir Quintana. And of course… that night in the Zocalo, Mon invited the artist of the brilliant hymn, Canción Sin Miedo (Fearless Song). Vivir and the El Palomar choir got on stage and subsequently immortalized a song that was written in just one day. 

Mon Laferte: The whole world knows “Canción sin miedo,” but Vivir has an incredible repertoire. She has so many beautiful songs and to me she’s the star of Latin America. There’s no one like her, no one that has the power or the quality of her words. The way she says things, how the messages resonate, her stage presence, her guitar playing. She’s magic. I think everyone should really listen to her, in depth. 

And so I said “Ok, I’m going to invite a bunch of girls to play and take advantage of this moment,” because we’re learning this from sisterhood.

And I told her: “What if you make something up, see what comes out?” And she tells me, “Ok, sure. I’ll see what I can do.” And I told her, “But it has to be today.” And she says: “no problem, I’ll write something." And that very day she wrote a song and sent it to me at night in a voice note on the phone and I lost my mind. I really couldn’t believe it. And we sang that song and it was a really incredible moment.  

Albina Cabrera: Mon Laferte’s songbook is as diverse as her personal journey, with Mercedes Sosa, Lana del Rey, Björk, Kendrick Lamar, and José José playing at the same time.

Albina Cabrera: Mon Laferte performed this version of the hit “La Nave del Olvido” during the tribute to “El Principe” (The Prince) months after his death at the Mexican festival Vive Latino in 2020.

José José is one of her favorite artists and main inspirations. “La Nave del Olvido” is also that song that Mon plays at the end of many of her own concerts, and it is how we’ll close her songbook.

Albina Cabrera: Songs have the ability to become the heroes that guide us into the spaces we love most in this lifetime. They are reminders of how you grew up, places you’ve visited, people you’ll never forget, and the homes you accumulate throughout your life. That is the soundtrack of your life, and today you got a peek into Mon Laferte’s. 

Mon Laferte: Long live El Príncipe. Thank You México.

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