The Tender Pain in La Muchacha’s ‘Canciones Crudas’

By Fabián Páez López (Translated by Amanda Chartier Chamorro) | 21 July, 2020

Exposed to nightmares such as land dispossession, water privatisation and low-paying jobs, it is natural to feel jaded. But there are probably few representations of that feeling as generous and sensible as La Muchacha Isabel‘s most recent album, Canciones Crudas. In English, it literally means “Raw Songs”, a compendium of deeply felt songs dedicated to rivers, friends and territories.

Released in early 2020, a month before the start of global confinement due to COVID-19, Canciones Crudas exposes in eight shocking cuts the pain of urban life. The album, which was originally a live session for the Colombian label In-Correcto, was recorded in one single take and finalized by producer Santiago Navas. A perfect record that, in terms of format and lyrics, is indeed raw: marked by a mischievous, pure and reflective language, it is made purely with guitar and emotion. It includes both sincere expressions about the rage caused by living in an environment where even to die is expensive, but also about gratitude for family and friends. They are songs, as Isabel calls them, full of “tender pain”.

Although Isabel Ocampo was born and raised in Manizales, she recognizes herself as an observer and legatee of the rural music and protest song. “I have learned from words, listening to lots of music from people like Edson Velandia or Violeta Parra”, she says. In fact, she is heir to a well-traced migrant matriarchy that began with her grandmother, Nelly Ballesteros. Alone with her daughters, she rode a mule from Salamina to Abejorral — two villages in the department of Antioquia — and later, to Manizales.

Isabel was studying Visual Arts at the University of Caldas but she sacrificed her degree for a career that, by virtue of patience and self-management, quickly took off. Now she lives between Bogotá and Manizales and is undoubtedly one of the most visible faces of the new wave of local singer-songwriters.

“There’s a scene a bit more open for us singer-songwriters. Before, we were linked to specific political movements or parties, but now we have opened up to talk about other subjects from our everyday, about simpler and easier things. To be a singer-songwriter means to create a more intimate context, in which it can be felt that there is a lot to say. It’s very different from making music with a band. It’s a scene that has certain things to offer, but I’m just at the beginning of the path. I have a lot on my plate”.

La Muchacha

During the confinement period, La Muchacha distributed her Canciones Crudas by a virtual package including a prologue written by her, with a songbook and illustrations for each song, made by the artist Alejandra Rojas from Bogotá. Now she is working on new material marked by a darker and angrier vision, in which she includes rap beats she grew up listening to because of her brother’s influence.

Listen to Canciones Crudas:

Canciones Crudas – Track By Track

“Que me devuelvan la tierra”

I never composed a melody on the guitar to this song. It’s a percussive song. I made it thinking about the forced displacements of people. I guess it’s a bit crazy to talk about this from my position, knowing that I have a house and that I’ve never experienced the displacement myself, but for me it is very difficult to be oblivious to other people’s situations. The song is an outline of what I feel when people are taken out of their territory, from where they were born. That’s when I started to play with this idea. It is written a bit in the form of copla. Every time I finish a verse, I try to connect the next one with it’s previous, as trying to play with the structure of the song.

“El favorcito”

I’ve never written officially about what I do, about my profession. But I had a couple of experiences in Manizales that were just too much. I said to myself, “I have to compose something so that people understand that this is a job, so that they know about all the messy situations we go through when they pay belatedly or ask for lots of paperwork, in spite of knowing that we are independent artists.” It is dedicated to all the people who want us to work in precarious conditions, as if they don’t care about us. This song came out very quickly because I already had all these experiences to hand.

“Agüela”

It’s a very special song for me because I wrote it thinking about my mother’s mother, about Grandma Nelly’s story. I asked my mom about her childhood, about Grandma, where she came from? She was born in Abejorral, a small village in the department of Antioquia, where she lived only with her sisters and my grandmother. My grandmother wasn’t named by her father’s last name. She grew up alone with my great-grandmother and went to Salamina, in the department of Caldas, by mule. They stayed in that small town for two or three years and finally migrated to Manizales. I wrote this song thinking about that stretch, about that path. I composed it on the cuatro, not on the guitar. I first showed it to my mom and I felt like honouring the memory of the women in my family, as it speaks about our generational journey.

“La cara”

I made “La cara thinking about when I die. It’s kind of a testament. A while ago, I attended a friend’s funeral and, in writing this song, I had to think about it a lot. When I walked into the funeral home, the first thing I saw was the payment office. I mean, you get there with all your grief and the first thing you find is where to pay, where they charge you… I have to imagine the discussions in the family about the cemetery and how expensive it is. I think it’s ridiculous to spend so much money on that. So, I made the song thinking that dying shouldn’t be so expensive. “Es cara la vida, cara la muerte” (It’s expensive to live, expensive to die).

“Los ríos (The rivers)”

This song was born when I heard about the crisis caused by the construction of the hydroelectric plant Hidroituango, on the Cauca River in Antioquia. The song is made with a lot of rage and desperation of not being able to do anything. It is also a warning or an appeal to the social leaders in the communities of Ituango, in the municipality of Caucasia… This song has been very special because through it, I met at the Festival de la Tigra the activist of the Rios Vivos Movement Isabel Zuleta. After showing her the song, she took me to Caucasia to share it with the people. This creative process told me about the circumstances that demand responsibility and commitment from the community to what is happening.

“Coplita de la lluvia”

It’s a song I did on a rainy afternoon, while I was in my room. After listening a lot to Violeta Parra, the song came up with the desire to create a short coplita. It’s a song about seclusion and about thinking a little about one’s pains.

“Chicles”

In Manizales, there was a period when public space administration became aggressive against street vendors in the Carrera 23, a main street of the city where everyone goes to shop, eat ice cream, etc. The song is inspired by all those experiences, where we see police networks commit incredible abuses. In addition, the mayor pronounced a phrase about how “unsightly” it was to have vendors on the street. And I just couldn’t stand that. As I’m very chatty and good at communicating with people, I began to talk to the street vendors, who sometimes take care of us, and who always render a good service working on the streets. This song is dedicated to those people. That’s why I reproduced the “street songs” in the refrain: “Chicle, chicle, cigarillo, Bom bom bum” (Chewing gums, cigarettes, lollipops). Something very nice happened to me when I sang at the municipality of Santuario. I had been invited to play in the main square, a space where all kinds of people meet. When I began to sing the song, there was a woman with her candy cart in front of the stage and she was very happy, she really identified with the song. It was a magic moment.

“Ranchera mariguanera”

I’ve been thinking for a while about making a theme for my friends. There were some of them who helped me collecting money because I was going to Mexico. We only collected about 300,000 pesos so I couldn’t travel. I thought about how to thank them and give something back. But not only to them, also to all the friends with whom I have had the chance to share a joint, who have been present during my process as in my life. I thought about a ranchera song to kind of honour the idea that they come over for a little chat. It’s an ode to the leisure and to the weed that has brought us together.

Translated by Amanda Chartier Chamorro from the original article by Fabián Páez López, published in Shock.

Shock is a Colombian media outlet specializing in music and pop culture. For 25 years they have followed local music in Colombia, from the most alternative sounds to the b-side of the mainstream. Visit them at Shock.co.


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