The song “Una Rosa” has been with Xenia Rubinos all her life. As a little girl, it would emanate from a wind-up music lamp in her abuelita’s room, its fiber optic lights lulling her into a trance with swirling colors. Years later, it would resurface on a bootleg CD of classical music from Puerto Rico, sending her rushing to her high school’s band room to try to teach it to herself on the piano. And yet again, in 2019, deep into a creative rut, staring out her apartment window at 4am and waiting for the sun to rise, the melody haunted her. It was at these distinct moments of her life—seemingly when she needed it most—that the song would come to her. Before she made the connection between this melody that had followed her all her life and Abuelita’s wind-up lamp, she started writing from memory, subconsciously seeking spiritual sustenance from her ancestors in a song that was always hers, even before she knew it.
That song—and the lamp that first played it back to her—is the centerpiece of Rubinos’ latest LP, also titled Una Rosa. “The image of that lamp carries so much meaning for me,” she says. “It’s dreamy, futuristic, nostalgic, melancholy, over the top. It’s the perfect image for the music I’m making right now.” That music is somewhat of a departure from her earlier work, in that it’s very much “in the box”; rather than striving for pitch-perfect vocal takes and tight live instrumentation, she cut most of her vocals in a single take, writing and recording everything right on the spot and refining them after the fact. It’s the most electronic music she’s ever made, yet also the most spontaneous, the product of her “first mind,” the thoughts on the tip of her tongue.
It was also the most difficult record for her to make.
There’s certainly more Spanish on Una Rosa than any of her previous records, though it’s less something new than a continuation of her musical language. Songs like “Working All The Time” explore and expound on things that she’s previously touched on, like the crushing yolk of capitalism. “Did My Best” dwells in the aftermath of sudden loss, longing to see someone you never got to say goodbye to. “I remember the moment when I felt I was done singing, it’s like when you cry so hard you forget why you were crying in the first place,” Rubinos recalls. “As we listened back, the hairs on my arms and legs stood straight up, I felt my face getting hot. I suddenly felt that old familiar feeling. At that moment, in the basement during an eerie quarantine night of fireworks and ambulance sirens, I suddenly remembered why I sing.”
While it was born of intense trauma and its lingering effects, Una Rosa is ultimately imbued with more triumph than tragedy. A reminder that death is not always the end. It’s the story of an artist taking the long route to find themselves, reaching backwards in time to reclaim a song that had always been theirs. Are you listening?
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