Have you ever tried a delicious gumbo that not only provided the best heat, but also fed the soul? Well, Cosa Nuestra provides just that in one fell swoop with their sancocho-like musical lineup and cuisine. Everything from promotion, to ambiance were all carefully selected to provide that perfect simmer in feeding the soul – both literally and figuratively. They’re style of programming combined a bit of the traditional with their bomba y plena performances, [for those who are not familiar, bomba y plena is a percussion driven dance native to Puerto Rico in honor of its African heritage] met with contemporary artists currently breaking barriers in the music industry. The Cosa Nuestra Collective are the geniuses behind the curtain, who envisioned this congregation of cultura – propelling its status as being one of the most sought-after and coveted NYC events up-to-date. Both its initial debut, and now its second larger-than-life extravaganza drew in thousands from far and wide – with no plans in stopping. Head organizer and chef Manolo Lopez, from the famous MofonGo company spoke to Snkrbst about Cosa Nuestra’s inception and its purpose:

Photo courtesy by Megan Mack, Melissa Quinonez and Milly Rodriguez

Q: What is the influence behind Cosa Nuestra? and why is called Cosa Nuestra?

ML: Well, first the name Cosa Nuestra comes from a Willie Colón record (from Fania Records fame) titled “Our Latin Thing.” And the main influences behind CN is the people. With all this talent coming from Puerto Rico and Latino America who are doing amazing things worldwide, I wanted to figure out a way to bring them together on a stage so more people can tap into what they’re doing [in reference to their art]. I think there’s a lot of negativity in the media right now about what’s currently happening in Latin American, and more specifically Puerto Rico and Venezuela. But there’s also good things happening as well that no one talks about. I think we should focus on the positive to bring our spirits up, hence the Cosa Nuestra event.

Q: Now that you’ve mentioned Puerto Rico and with its universities facing huge budget cuts in funding, what is your current stance with the island’s financial warfare?

ML: I stand with all the students of UPR; (Universidad de Puerto Rico) and stand firmly against politicians taking away funds from education, art and music to only benefit themselves. What I want to do is to make it my goal to start a resistance against all of that.

Q: I had the pleasure of attending last year’s Cosa Nuestra, how will this year differ from the last?

ML: Well, for one thing this year the space is three times as big. We’re going to have a lot of music this year and even an immersive theatre. That style of entertaining has always been something I’ve strived for in my career. To be apart of something that takes you on a journey kind of like the famous “Sleep No More.” Also, I have a new lineup of young and amazing progressional chefs. We have folks from La Factoria {a popular bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico synonymous with the island) here. We have an incredible production team helping us out this year. Right now, the energy is super high and everyone is on high spirits because of all the anticipation leading up to tonight’s event. This literally feel like the calm before the storm – but this is why we do it.

Q: Was this carefully selected lineup done on purpose to highlight elements of Puerto Rico to the masses?

ML: It is completely done on purpose; and we want to showcase even more people from all over Latino America.

Q: What do you wish to see from guests tonight?

ML: I just want to see smiles. I want to see people – even if I don’t know them personally – just giving that nod of approval of “you guys are onto something.”

Q: Where do you see Cosa Nuestra going? Do you want to go international?

ML: I want it to go interstellar! I want to take this to Mars. I like Mars and hear they like Latin food there. *laughs* I would really like to take this everywhere. I need more people to understand our culture. And I need for those who I enlist to educate people so they have a better understanding of who we are.

Q: Is tonight’s musical lineup just as expansive as the food and drink menu?

ML: Yes. We are going to highlight everything from bomba, to plena, to salsa. Everyone is going to be here tonight!

Q: Who else is participating in tonight’s festivities?

ML: Can’t name everybody but La Factoria from Old San Juan, top 50 bars in the world, we have chefs from Gallo Nergro, chefs from Haven, Jungle Bird and much, much more. Everyone is ready to have an amazing time tonight and I’m glad you guys are here to experience it and show it to the world.

And to be perfectly honest, the night was filled with all that was promised. Exotic dishes that highlighted the traditional, met with contemporary fixins – sending patron’s palate on a sensory overload. Of the many dishes that were flying out of the kitchen, there was this one tender prime beef cut, combined with a coffee liqueur and served on a dainty spoon that was truly to die for.Bites were super delish and  unique to the tastebuds – definitely a #MustTry!

Along with the variety of dishes, so were the headliners. Cosa Nuestra’s Emcee of the night was talented stage actor and salsero in his own right, Flaco Navaja. Flaco Navaja and the Razor Blades are renowned in New York City for their salsa performances paying homage to the Fania All-Stars catalogue – more specifically Hector Lavoe’s number one hits. And speaking of the famous Hector, Flaco just finished a theatre run at the Atlantic playing Hugo in the critically acclaimed play “Tell Hector I Miss HIm.” 

The night’s most anticipated musical performance was by the coveted group known as  IFE. With the most recent wave of popularity regarding spiritual music in paying homage to African history and roots – comes the musical stylings of ÌFÉ . Their unique style and sound emphasizes a powerful synthesis of electronic sound in afro-caribbean language. When the group initially started they only had a handful of tracks; and yet, were able to tour and take the world by storm before they even had an official record.. Now, with the release of their first album titled “IIII+IIII’ which is pronounced “Ejiogbe,” a powerful expression from the Yorùbá faith (IFA to be exact) it represents the “king of all signs; it’s the starting point and represents spiritual awakening.” – Source: NPR.org  

Up until this point, ÌFÉ has toured a bevy of countries and states – and what better way to usher in this incredible new sound than to make their initial NYC debut via the Cosa Nuestra spectacular. Snkrbst had a chance to speak to the group’s creator/singer and producer Otura Mun before ÌFÉ’s mesmerizing performance. Check out our interview down below:

Q: What does ÌFÉ mean and what does it represent?

OT: The name [ÌFÉ] in Yoruba means love but can also means expansion. I came across the name first. I knew I wanted to put together a solo project where I’d have all my ideas come to life – both musically and artistically – across the board. As a producer, I used to work with the source material but more like in the way I’d sample old music and take little bits and pieces of things, I’d create a whole new sound. But in this sense, [regarding ÌFÉ] I went to a folder of visual cues that I have for inspiration. It’s a folder of paintings and photography and I came across an image from LIFE magazine that I really liked because of its logo. It’s red and white and those colors are associated with the Orisha (a spirit that reflects one of the manifestations of the Supreme Divinity) Changó in the Yoruba religion. Changó is also the owner of music and dance, and so I asked myself “what is Changó trying to say to me?” And so I referred back to the photo’s logo for its power in design, and I realized  that if you take the letter L off you get ÌFÉ. So now we had this word ÌFÉ, we have the power of Changó, and it just felt like a great starting point to develop this project. I then thought “what would love and expansion sound like in the year 2015?” when I first starting building its sound; and the music you hear is the end result.

Q: In doing my research I came across ÌFÉ’s official Soundcloudand the vibe I get is one of mystical and spiritual influence, what inspires your songs when you’re recording?

OT: A lot of the songs [you hear} is me working through life changes due to the level I’ve initiated inside the Yoruba practice. Two years ago, I made IFA, which is a process that led to me becoming Babalawo, a sacerdote or priest of the IFA faith. That’s such a monumental change as I went through a spiritual rebirth. I went into that initiation as one person, died, (a spiritual death) and was reborn with a new name and purpose. Before that rebirth, I felt my purpose in life was to be a creative person in Puerto Rico. To bring my influences as an African American to Puerto Rico and sort of bang those influences together to come up with something artistic – because if I wasn’t doing something creative, I’d just pack up and leave. Now, going through this initiation in IFA my purpose has changed from being a creative to now servant. A servant in helping my neighbors through the practice and study of IFA. And some of the things you’re hearing [in the music] are those life changes – larger than life issues like forgiveness, liberty, the idea of sacrifice, (giving to receive) the idea that life continues after death. That we don’t lose the communication that we have with each other after death.

Q: Your sound is heavily influenced by the Caribbean like Puerto Rico and Cuba, are there other Latin American countries you’d like to visit and/or will perhaps influence the band’s sound?

OT: I would love to visit many places out of simple curiosity of their religious and musical practices. Venezuela is super high on my list. When I was in Cuba, I met a bunch of practitioners from Venezuela and its seems like [the religion] is super heavy over there. But that’s not necessarily the reason why I’d travel, simply because of the practicing Yoruba religion. I’d love to see the world and the music it entails respectively. But there’s music from Venezuela that I’m super curious about. One time I saw these guys playing these huge pieces of bamboo. Each member had two huge pieces and the sound they produced sounded so crazy – I’d love to see what that’s all about. And yeah, I loved to see Colombia and Mexico too. I’ve been to el D.F. for an extended period of time. I love that city and would love to explore its sound. We have yet to travel to Latin America with this music. We’ve only traveled to Europe and North America, but I’m ready.

Q: Since this is your initial NYC debut, what are you hoping to see or hear from tonight’s attendees?

OT: It would be a homerun if I heard folks say that [our performance] was something that they had never seen or heard before. And if they leave inspired by that or that we’ve made them feel like something new like this sound is possible, then that’s a win.

Cosa Nuestra Pa’ La Ciudad was a magical night that paid homage to the past while simultaneously celebrating the contemporary through cuisine, art, music and education. Definitely one for the books folks. Can’t wait for next year’s festivities.

Keep it locked here on Snkrbst.com for all the latest and greatest. And don’t forget to #ThinkLikeUs.

By Roz Baron
Editor-in-Chief of Snkrbst.com
Twitter: RozB33

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