This week Malena Zavala released her second album, La Yarará, a beautiful exploration of personal geography on a quest for a sense of belonging. As an Argentinian raised in London, Zavala blends elements of diverse Latin American musical traditions with British guitar pop, accompanied by compelling lyrics moving seamlessly between Spanish and English throughout the record.
A yarará is a venomous snake native to Northern Argentina, Paraguay and Southern Brazil. “La Yarará is also a term that’s used on assertive women and is something that my parents called me growing up when I was being sassy,” Zavala writes in the zine accompanying the album, Estado de Pertenecer (State of Belonging). In the zine, Zavala also details how this album came about as a result of an intentional trip to Argentina in an attempt to reconnect with the aspects of home she found in the country, and a deeper exploration of regional musical traditions. Returning to London, Zavala took her new songs to Urchin Studios in London Fields. This wood paneled studio gives the record a warmth, particularly in the recording of strings. As Zavala put it, “I wanted it to feel like Buena Vista Social Club. I wanted to play the room, to feel the walls and wooden floors.” As the producer of her own album, Zavala ties together an impressively atmospheric record.
The rhythms of this album wander, embracing Colombian Cumbia, Reggaeton, and Argentine Indigenous folk. Some songs were hard to grasp the essence of (‘Memories Gone’), and I imagined I would miss them in passing at a hip fast fashion store like Urban Outfitters. Other tracks fully made up for this. The title track of the album combines a contagious Reggaeton beat with a fun synth part and really incredible horns. The songs “Paraná” and “Compay” both comment on the significance of memory and intuitive knowledge in an interesting way, while “Identity” does so in a trite fashion supplemented by beautiful music.
While her debut album was beautiful and has many similarities with La Yarará, this is an undoubted moment of growth. This album sets out an incredibly ambitious project, and Zavala pulls it off. Navigating such nuanced and beautiful changes in culture, language, instrumentation–this is an enormous feat for one voice, which makes Malena Zavala’s work all the more impressive.