Inspired by the Fania All-Stars, the Cosa Nuestra Collective Wants to Be the Face of a New Latino Creative Vanguard

If you’re a young person creating today, chances are you’re part of a creative collective. From high profile names like DONDA, A$AP Mob, and OFWGKTA, to more under-the-radar groups like N.A.A.F.I and LA CIVDVD, today’s creative landscape is filled with multi-disciplinary squads that bring together likeminded musicians, producers, designers, visual artists, culinary figures, and more. It’s a spirit of collaboration that has been made easier thanks to the internet, and perhaps because even as technology has made a DIY approach to creation easier, it has also chipped away at the traditional paths to success. If you want people to notice you, there’s strength in numbers.

But as contemporary as this crew mentality feels, Mofon·GO’s Manolo López says the inspiration behind his new collective Cosa Nuestra is actually rooted in the past. The Puerto Rican pop-up restaurateur started Cosa Nuestra – a new group and platform for a contemporary vanguard of Latino multi-disciplinary talent – with the iconic Fania All-Stars in mind. “Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Maelo Rivera, and Celia Cruz were amazing individual artists, but it was only when they formed Fania All-Stars that they had the chance to travel the world as a collective and share their music in places that were unheard of. Along with [other] distinguished musicians, they came together and created this [salsa] movement that embodied our culture and shared it with the world,” López told me. “They were the first to represent Latin culture at a global scale. With Cosa Nuestra we aim to do the same, highlighting the best Latino talent in food, art, music and culture to represent our roots.”

López, who recently celebrated the three year anniversary of his Boricua comfort food pop-up Mofon·GO, has teamed up with a group of Puerto Rican chefs and mixologists to curate Cosa Nuestra’s kick off in NYC on April 23rd – an event that will celebrate the island’s culinary and mixology talents with interpretations of Puerto Rican street food like bacalaítos, lechón asado, tripletas and mofongo, as well as cocktails, live music, DJs, and an exhibition of 11 visual artists from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic (curated by Dip-sters’ Daniel Baez.)

In addition to López, the core of Cosa Nuestra is currently made up of Leslie Cofresí, who helms the excellent San Juan bar La Factoría, and Chef Xavier Pacheco from La Jaquita Baya (a chef who has been important in growing Puerto Rico’s locavore movement.)

While Manolo emphasizes that the plan is to integrate more Latino (and Latina!) creatives and curators from many nationalities as the platform evolves, for this kick-off López is focusing on home – a deliberate choice that is partly fueled by the difficult economic situation the island finds itself in. “As a native Puerto Rican, I want to shed light on all the amazing things happening on the island. Mainstream media only talks about the national debt and how bad things are – who’s talking about all the amazing chefs, mixologists, artists, musicians, and businesses who are weathering the storm and finding new ways to not only survive, but thrive?” Manolo asks. “I go back home often, I listen to the people. They’re not only eager to build in their own lives, but to help Puerto Rico move past this recession, and show the world there is much more to [the island] than meets the eye.”

In fact, much the way the Fania All-Stars made a social and political impact beyond their music, López hopes Cosa Nuestra will do the same in today’s charged, anti-immigrant, anti-Latino political climate. “The [presidential] race in the U.S. has thrown major shade and dirt on Latinos, and we’re not going to stand around letting outsiders say who we are. We are going to show the world who we really are as people, as professionals” he explains.

Even the design and artwork concept of Cosa Nuestra is inspired by old school Fania album covers and posters – an aesthetic that was brought to life by Puerto Rican design firm Alonso + De la Cruz.

The end goal is to pay homage to his Latin Caribbean roots while also putting forward a contemporary approach to Latinidad – one that will come to life not only through events, but also through merch and perhaps content. “We want to honor our past, mix it with our present, and make sure this will last the test of time in the future,” says Manolo. “This has been my favorite project to date.”

Cosa Nuestra takes place April 23rd at Zen House. The gastronomic talent will include Xavier Pacheco, of Jaquita Baya; Leslie Cofresí and Robert Berdecía of La Factoría; Raúl Correa, of Zest Restaurant; René Marichal of Avocado, Fernando “El Lechonero” Narvaez, and Gabriel Antúnez.

Visual artists, curated by Daniel Baez, will include: Pedro Adorno, Héctor Madera, Héctor Arce Espasas, Jonathan Torres, Fernando Pintado, Heryk Tomassini, Ricardo Cabret, Sebastian Vallejo, Christopher Rivera, Joiri Minaya, and Dulcina Abreu.

Live music will be courtesy of Flaco Navaja and the Razor Blades, complemented by DJ sets from Raquel Berríos (Buscabulla) and Riobamba.