On Friday (Feb. 8), Sony Music released a new companion album for Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-nominated movie Roma. Featuring a wide array of artists from Beck and Patti Smith to Billie Eilish and Jessie Reyez, Music Inspired by the Film Roma is a moving, bilingual compilation of songs that speaks to the heart of Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical film set in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in the 1970s.
For her contribution to the soundtrack, Reyez wrote and recorded “Con El Viento,” a pleading, Spanish-language ballad that captures the experience of the film’s main character, a live-in maid named Cleo played by Oscar-nominated actress Yalitza Aparicio in her film debut.
Below, Reyez talks to Billboard about how she connected with Cuarón for the project, her reaction to the film’s heart-rending story and how empathy — and fire — sparked her emotional new song. (Mild spoilers ahead for those who haven’t yet seen the film.)
What was your reaction upon seeing the film?
It reached into my chest really easily. I’m pretty sure I cried two-plus times. … It was dope to see people of color onscreen. Not the emotions — that was not cool — but it was dope.
How did you get involved in the project?
I know [Alfonso Cuarón] was reaching out to my team a bunch. He also reached out to me through Billie Eilish and Finneas, who’s her brother, so we finally got to work together. When we finally got to talk, it was cool. It was really freeing to have such trust from another creative to contribute more freedom, you know? He told me to just watch the film and then whatever it evokes in me, use that.
Is that freedom and trust what made you want to be part of the project?
Yeah, it was mad cool to have that. Watching the film was so dope that I felt honored to have even been asked, and also with Alfonso’s history … it was mad cool. So I’d say from the beginning and then watching the film that it was just reinforced.
“Con El Viento” is an original song inspired by Roma. How did you evoke the spirit of the film when you were writing the song?
I feel like the movie was so emotionally potent that I was able to walk away with a piece of it. And I sat there and I thought about being in her shoes and I thought about when I may have felt a parallel — an anxiety from what I was going through emotionally versus my… if I was Cleo, the moment that I felt like what I was going through emotionally kind of matched my environment. And there was obviously a few moments in the movie of course when the baby’s father runs in and she’s frozen — that’s obviously one of the moments that stuck out, but another one that really stuck out the most to me was the fire. So the beginning of “Con El Viento,” it’s really subtle, but if you listen closely, you hear fire flicker and you hear sounds of fire. … The first lyrics, translated into English, are “We fought again/ The house is on fire/ And if I stay it’s suicide.” And then that’s where I took it.
How did you approach recording such an emotional song and evoking that kind of emotion?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely been in situations where I’ve felt my heart a mess and I’ve been forced to be in public situations, and you just have to hold it together, even though you’re a fuckin’ mess inside. Even though you feel like your world’s crumbling or something’s threatening the way that you built your whole life. Something’s threatening your way of life, something’s threatening your peace and you don’t know if it’s good or bad. It’s just that inner-turmoil, but outside you need to be composed. And then all of a sudden the outside environment blows up too. … So I just thought about the times that I’ve been there and empathized.
Can you talk about the meaning behind the rest of the song, particularly for listeners who maybe don’t speak Spanish?
Sure. So like I said, the beginning is “We fight again/ The house is on fire/ And if I stay it’s suicide/ You said you wouldn’t do it again/ The promises I don’t hear/ ‘Cause you put lies in my ear.” Then “You left me with nothing/ You left me dry/ You left me empty/ And I should’ve known better.” And I guess the theme of the song is that feeling of desperation, that feeling of being left in like a desert, and barren and holding death.
We’ve heard you sing in Spanish before on 2018’s “Sola” — why is it important to you to represent that part of your identity as an artist?
Oh man, I don’t even know — it’s something that’s subconscious, it’s something that’s in my blood. It’s something I see when I look in the mirror, it’s the color of my skin, it’s the way I speak to my parents, it’s the food I eat, the music I listen to. It’s just second nature. It’s almost like asking me, “Why do you breathe?” It’s the same thing. Why am I who I am? It’s the way I was raised.
So can fans expect you to release more music in Spanish in the future?
What are you working on next for your own music?
I’m just working, building a project … and I’m excited to start putting more things out, but I’m just working.
Any idea when fans can expect more from you?
No, it’s gonna be a surprise.
Stream “Con El Viento” below. Music Inspired by the Film Roma is out now, and you can stream Roma on Netflix.