Latin

Mon Laferte Deftly Marries Music and Politics at Festival During Chilean Unrest

Agencia Uno

Mon Laferte performs on the second night of the Viña del Mar 2020 Festival held at the Quinta Vergara on Feb. 24, 2020.

It's tricky to marry music and politics, commercial success with social purpose, integrity with success. Particularly so when your country is in the throes of instability.

Monday (Feb. 24) night, on Day 2 of Chile's Viña del Mar Music festival, Chilean superstar Mon Laferte managed to conjugate all that, in genuine and artful fashion.

As the headliner of the Women’s Night at Viña (as the fest is affectionately referred), a deeply traditional event that has brought out the best Latin voices for over 60 years, Laferte dug deep to present a dazzling show, convey powerful messages, disarm an audience itching for a fight and most important of all, move them (and me) to tears.

Many saw Laferte’s performance as too political; in the end, she said she would donate her two awards, the gold and silver gaviotas (seagulls), to charity. But for her to even get there, she accomplished a musical triumph. Beginning with jazz, blues and cabaret steeped torch songs and going all the way into cumbias and alt folk, Laferte delivered a tour de force amplified with major emotional notes.

Agencia Uno
Mon Laferte performs on the second night of the Viña del Mar 2020 Festival held at the Quinta Vergara on Feb. 24, 2020.

While many artists anguish over what to say or jump on the bandwagon when convenient or when a fire crops up (not to say it’s hard to find such opportunities in our fraught Latin American climate), Laferte has limited herself to speaking up about the many ailments that besiege her country, Chile. But her comments, which are very critical of the government and the local police or carabineros, have made her a polarizing figure in her homeland.

That much was clear inside the fabled Quinta Vergara, packed to the gills, and still reeling from protests the day before which ended with artists' vans being stoned and cars burned in front of the historic Hotel O’Higgins, which shuttered down by day’s end.

For weeks, protesters had called for the festival not to take place given the state of social inequality in the country.

And yet, the festival is strong, steady and a shining example of everything that can be done right in music: Six days of big name acts performing alongside major artists on the verge (this year they include Pedro Capó, Francisca Valenzuela and Luciano Pereyra), many of whom may eventually end up performing as headliners. In addition, there’s the song competition, where up and coming artists and writers compete in pop and folk categories, performing live not just in front of the 15,000 at Quinta Vergara but for a televised audience of 250 million continent-wide.

Still, for Laferte to take the stage, when she has been critical of her country’s institutions, was tricky, a fact she acknowledged on stage before her acoustic set, in a lengthy speech delivered as she tuned her guitar.

“I was born here in Viña Del Mar, in these mountaintops. My father was a construction worker. I know what it feels to go hungry,” she said. “My grandmother would take care of me and she told me: you have to become famous. It’s the only way we will get out of poverty, and I tried to make right by her,” she said, before performing her hit “La trenza” (The Braid).

Agencia Uno
Mon Laferte performs with other national singers on the second night of the Viña del Mar 2020 Festival held at the Quinta Vergara on Feb. 24, 2020.

While impactful, that segment was the tip of the iceberg. At one point in the show, Laferte brought a group of some 100 female singers and songwriters, many of them traditional and folk, to sing with her. With placards and signs in hand, it was a show of female power and political discontent.

In the end, however, the real triumph was Laferte as a performer and as a musician. And, oddly enough, this very vocal evening also shone a light on the importance of the Viña del Mar festival as a whole, where musicians are freely allowed to bring their messages to the stage (and to millions) even if they leave their awards behind.