On Wednesday night (July 12), Central Park hosted its annual SummerStage showcase in conjunction with the Latin Alternative Music Conference. Princess Nokia and Mon Laferte, two powerful Latin women from different walks of life, had equally important messages to promote on stage.
First up was New York City’s own Princess Nokia (né Destiny Frasqueri), the 25 year-old Afro-Boricua who has cemented her presence in the city’s underground hip-hop arena. She first burst into the scene with her stellar mixtapes, Metallic Butterfly (2014) and Honeysuckle (2015). Soon after came 1992, the 10-track ode to NYC, laced with lines of social awareness and feminist scriptures.
Dressed in a long white gown with a slit in the middle, and two red roses concealing her breasts, Nokia exhibited mesmerizing charisma and swallowed the audience up with her confident stage presence. She opened her set with the infectious “Tomboy,” letting all the girls know that you can still be lusted over (and cause trouble) with what nature gave you: “With my little titties and my phat belly/I could take your man if you finna let me,” she brashly rapped as the crowd sang in unison.
Nokia also made a plea for religious freedom through the mind blowing “Bruja,” where she incorporates her belief of Santeria, a Cuban religion based on worshipping God and goddesses with Afro-Centric rituals and practices. As the song came to an end, she took off a faux ponytail and revealed her natural hair made up in a bun. Next came “Mine,” a track about having all the right as a women to wear a weave or braids, and not have to explain it to anyone — especially men. Of course, for this one, she put her hairpiece back on.
Behind her on stage was a projector-like screen with images of her in the hallways of New York City housing projects, and scenes of break dancers on the street in the '70s beneath trains inundated in graffiti. It was almost like seeing the different pictures that gave birth to the girl singing and dancing right in front of you on stage.
In between songs, the always woke Nokia took the chance to share her socially conscious words of wisdom. She spewed out lines like these: “Existence is resistance” and “There is something so special about our diaspora, story and narrative. It’s been taken from us and our history has been painted over. But I actually believe that our generation is the generation of healing. We as young millennials and as brown folk are reclaiming the ways of our old people.”
Nokia concluded her set with the touching “Young Girl,” dedicating the song to all the women in the audience: “It’s just so beautiful to know that there are so many young beautiful feminists that exist in this world,” she told the crowd.
The crowd then welcomed Mon Laferte, screaming “Viva Chile!” as she made her entrance with a long red dress, paired with red kitten heels and flowers in her hair with matching red lipstick. The woman born Monserrat Bustamante has crafted a discography since 2011’sDesechable that has made her a household name in South America for those that lament the trials and tribulations that come with the game of love. For Mon Laferte, vulnerability and pain are her muse. She opened up with the somber “Tormento,” off her Mon Laferte Vol. 1 2015 album, which garnered her a Latin Grammy nomination for best alternative music album. “Nadie más te amará / Como te pude amar / Nadie más te puede aguantar / Como yo, como yo,” she sang.
During her full-hour set, LaFerte covered most of her catalog from 2015. For the most part, each song felt like an endless love letter penned to a seemingly unrequited love interest. You can hear her agony wishing for that certain someone to come back on “Vuelve por favor.” On “Si tu me quisieras,” she gets the crowd jumping and dancing, as she sings yet again about a failed attempt at love.
Laferte’s aesthetic, tattoos, signature red lipstick and alternative girl style — and subject matter — is reminiscent of the late Amy Winehouse, but through a Latin lens. While Laferte’s content doesn’t fixate on drugs like some of Winehouse’s did, she does warn you to keep away from her herb on “No te fumes mi marihuana.” Laferte also took the time to honor the late Selena Quintanilla with a rendition of “Si una vez.”
Amid the tales of heartbreak, she also presented a family tale on “La trenza,” the title track off her new album La Trenza, where she talks about her grandmother’s influence in accomplishing her dreams. As the night began to wind down, and the moon and stars were beginning to shine, the crowd demanded another song. After all, vulnerability is still strength.
This article was originally published on Billboard