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Spanish singer Maria Jose Llergo releases debut album 'Ultrabelleza'


A new generation is discovering flamenco through artists like Rosalia. Now there's a new musician entering the game. Maria Jose Llergo spoke with NPR's Lilly Quiroz about her debut album, "Ultrabellezza."


MARIA JOSE LLERGO: (Singing in Spanish).

LILLY QUIROZ, BYLINE: Maria Jose Llergo tells us a lot about her life story in one particular song - and I'll translate the title here - "Super Powerful."

LLERGO: When I wrote "Superpoder," I was thinking about my family, thinking about the separation of our family, always fighting against everything.

QUIROZ: She started gaining this strength since birth. She had to go from hospital to hospital until the age of 16.

LLERGO: When I was a child, I was always ill. I couldn't grow up. My hormones were, like, crazy, and I needed to be in the hospital once, twice a month. And it was so hard for me and my parents.


LLERGO: (Singing in Spanish).

QUIROZ: Llergo is probably from Pozoblanco, Spain, a small town in Andalusia. There, her grandfather was the first person to teach her about singing.

LLERGO: He's my favorite philosopher, my maestro.

QUIROZ: Growing up in the countryside under his watch, she also learned to appreciate nature. She alludes to this throughout her album.

LLERGO: While he was taking care of the garden, I was there listening to him when he was singing. For me, it's very beautiful to have been with the music in my first years of being a child, a baby, because I was always playing with my voice.


LLERGO: (Singing in Spanish).

QUIROZ: Though nature is her biggest inspiration, the other is...

LLERGO: Society. Where I live is my big inspiration, too, because flamenco is classic music of Andalusia, the south of Spain. The value of flamenco is bigger than the Torre Eiffel (laughter). For me, we can learn about our past, learning about the lyrics.


LLERGO: (Singing in Spanish).

QUIROZ: Felix Contreras is co-host of the NPR podcast Alt.Latino. He says Llergo's experimentation of flamenco music won't be embraced by a lot of purists. After all, she's challenging a rich, deep history.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: I equate it to what's going on with the blues here in the United States - right? - because it kind of comes from the same place of pain and marginalization. And yet it's been developed into this internationally recognized sound that to mess with it, you're crossing the line sometimes with people. And I love the fact that she's completely ignoring genres and rules and boundaries and creating her own thing. That's what's exciting to me.


LLERGO: (Singing in Spanish).

QUIROZ: Though flamenco is a big part of Spanish identity today, it hasn't always been that way. Flamenco is thought to have largely originated with the Romani people, a group that was ostracized and even persecuted throughout history. Llergo doesn't have any Romani heritage, but she says she's honored to carry on the culture.

LLERGO: I am only an admirer of flamenco. And I really appreciate this music, so I learn flamenco. I listen to the old people.

QUIROZ: What do you feel about flamenco going into mainstream music?

LLERGO: It's fine to spread the wings of flamenco music. It's my favorite music. I want to listen it around the world. My flamenco has roots but wings, too.

QUIROZ: And on the topic of following in the footsteps of Rosalia, Llergo says...

LLERGO: I am myself. I am not the next Rosalia. I am the first Maria Jose Llergo.

QUIROZ: Lilly Quiroz, NPR News.


LLERGO: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lilly Quiroz (she/her/ella) is a production assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. She pitches and produces interviews for Morning Edition, and occasionally goes to the dark side to produce the podcast Up First on the overnights.