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Latino festival bounces back

By Gabrielle Prusak

¡Excellente!

As promised, the Latino Cultural Festival has returned to the Queens Theatre touting this year’s theme as“Extraordinary Women, Illuminated.”

“During the time to start planning for last year’s, it looked like the whole building was going to be closed over the summer,” Queens Theatre Managing Director Taryn Sacramone said. “It wasn’t something that we weren’t going to not be doing anymore, we were just going under construction.”

But it turned out the project never took place last year and still has not happened, so the theater decided it was time to bring back the Latino Cultural Festival, which will run from July 29 through Aug. 3.

The theme was thought up by Willy Mosquera, program director for the Latino Cultural Festival, and a co-worker of his.

They put together a group called Fernando’s Kitchen led by a woman who plays a South American instrument known as a cajón.

“I know this woman who sings in a cajon band, she’s really beautiful and we looked her up on YouTube,” Mosquera said. “I loved what I was looking at and hearing.”

A cajón is a six-sided, box-shaped percussion instrument from Peru that you slap with your hands, fingers or various implements such as brushes, mallets or sticks.

After the pair had lined up the band, Mosquera’s friend died suddenly of an asthma attack three days later. Mosquera decided to continue with the theme of women.

“This yearwomen are center stage,” Sacramone said. “The performances will be incredibly diverse, created by amazing, talented, inspirational women.”

Mosquera did not want to limit the program just to foreign and well-known musicians such as Fernando’s Kitchen, who are from the United Kingdom, but to open it to local artists as well.

“Even if they’re from other countries, even if they’re not famous, why not give them a stage to expose their work?” Mosquera said.

One of the acts that will be playing at the festival, Cocomama, is a combination of diverse women formed in New York.

“We are a group of international women from different parts of the world,” said co-founder Mayra Casales.

The band consists of women not only from the United States but from Cuba, France and Israel. Casales likes to think of the band as a salsa/Cuban/world music band.

Cocomama was formed spontaneously. The 100 Woman of Hispanic Society had called Casales asking if she could get a group of women to perform at a breakfast for Michael Bloomberg when he was running for mayor. Casales was able to get a couple women, including herself, to perform at the breakfast.

“It was going to be a one-day thing of an all-woman band,” she recalled.

But after they sang at the breakfast, they were asked when the group was available to play for other gigs.

“I said, ‘Listen, you guys, I think we might have something here,’” Casales said.

So from then on, Cocomama was officially formed. Over the years, Cocomama has changed faces, but Casales said it is now a real, true band. The members are now working on their second album, to be released either at the end of July or the beginning of August. It and other merchandise is available at cocomomamamusic.com.

Cocomama feels honored to be able to play for the Latino Cultural Festival.

“This is what we are all about, spreading the word of all these cultures in our band,” Casales said. “The music brings those cultures together.”

They will be performing July 30 at 8 p.m.

There will also be a variety of acts such as Glamour Tango, an all-woman dance group; Mariachi Flor de Toloache, the only all-female mariachi band in New York; Caperucita Roja or “Little Red Riding Hood”; and a one-woman monologue.

But this year the festival is missing one thing it has always had.

“Every year we’ve [shown] films, but this year we didn’t have time,” Mosquera said. “It would have been a lot more work and we needed more time, but next year we might go back to that.”

“I want to put a little bit of everything, not just music. I like to give people a little variety of everything,” he said.

“I know it was missed last year, so we’re excited to bring it back with such a strong lineup of artists,” Sacramone said.

If You Go

Latino Cultural Festival

When: July 29 to Aug. 3

Where: Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations Ave. South, Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Cost: $14-$30/single tickets, $75/any three shows, $125/any six shows

Contact: (718) 760-0064

Website: www.queenstheatre.org

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