“Evolution of a Sonero”: A Salsa-Hip-Hop Epic Takes On Chicago
Written by Vocalo Radio on October 21, 2022
Pictured above: Flaco Navaja by Martin Cohen, courtesy Jay Kelly PR.
During this year’s Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, “Evolution of a Sonero” shines bright as an exploration of the human condition through salsa and hip-hop. Star Flaco Navaja and director Miranda González stopped by the Vocalo studios to chat with afternoons host Nudia Hernandez about the production before its closing weekend.
Put on by Humboldt Park’s UrbanTheater Company, “Evolution of a Sonero” is a “one man with a band show” taking Destinos, this year’s Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, by storm. A salsa music epic about growing up, getting inspired and staying on track, the production’s writer and star Flaco Navaja guides the audience through the story of his life with electrifying salsa sounds and a hip-hop flare, accompanied by local five-piece band The Razor Blades.
“It’s a love letter to salsa music, it’s the story of my life,” Navaja said.
Though the production is fairly autobiographical and takes place in the Bronx, Navaja notes the story is more universal about the human condition. And although he joked about people from Chicago needing to give a New York performer a chance opening night, he never feared whether the story would be well-received by the Humboldt Park community.
“People from Humboldt Park can relate to those same stories, because they’ve gone through a lot of these same things,” Navaja explained. “A lot of times, when I meet people that grew up in Chicago, specifically in Humboldt Park or areas like that, I feel like we lived a parallel existence.”
The artistic director of the UrbanTheater Company, Miranda González, directed “Evolution of a Sonero.” She notes Navaja’s story fit with the company’s tagline, “From the streets to the stage,” and the two clicked right away.
“It felt very easy,” González recalled. “It felt like there was immediate trust.”
Navaja and González broke down the production, the band, trust in the theater community, the New York-Chicago multiverse and more with Nudia on Vocalo; stream their full conversation now on Spotify or read the transcript below.
“Evolution of a Sonero” will be playing at UrbanTheater Company until October 23. For more information about the production, visit UrbanTheater Company’s website.
I’ve tried to explain to people this show, and I almost can’t. It’s almost impossible for me to explain the experience. So I’m really excited to have the director of the show and the star of the show here with me. I do have [director] Miranda González, welcome!
Miranda González: Hello.
NH: And then Flaco Navaja…
Flaco Navaja: Hello!
Nudia Hernandez: …who is the star of “Evolution of a Sonero.” This is with the Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, and I saw the show opening night. Like I said before, I’ve had trouble explaining it to people. So can you guys help explain? Because… there’s acting and there’s a band and it’s the music, and it’s so hard to put into words.
MG: Oh, man. I want… go ahead, Flaco, because I can add on to whatever you’ve got.
FN: I call it a “one man with a band” show. So it’s not a solo show, per se, in the traditional sense, where it’s just an actor doing a monologue or playing characters. It’s a love letter to salsa music, it’s the story of my life. And it’s told through the vehicle of a salsa song, as a metaphor for my life.
MG: Yeah, I think he’s being nice. I really think that there’s so much more in depth when it comes to this show. When I viewed it and I saw it for the first time, I think, for me, what spoke about it is — I always tell folks, this is where salsa meets hip-hop. There are ways that we storytell within the Latinx community. For me, Flaco really does a great job of marrying that storytelling, as well as being authentic to his journey, and being very vulnerable through song and through poetry and through actual lyric of what it means to be a part of this world and grow up in the South Bronx.
I think that’s how… I look at it. I look at it as a moment where people really get to be drawn in, in this monologue, but it doesn’t feel like a monologue. It feels like he’s singing, he is storytelling, he’s being vulnerable and he really lets you into parts of his subconscious that not everybody gets to see. So that’s how I would describe it.
FN: That’s exactly what I was going for.
NH: No, and it is! When I saw the show, I was just amazed. It’s a pretty long show for one person to carry. I mean, you have this amazing band with you, but I was like, “This takes stamina!” You, as a person, Flaco, I was like, “This is an intense production to put on by yourself,” and it does feel like it’s not really a monologue. It feels like you’re going through all these stories, and I feel like you take the crowd through all these different emotions, because you are so personal. You do share a lot about your life. So was that difficult to tap into?
FN: I think being honest was difficult to tap into, for me. Being really honest. And being vulnerable… I can fake vulnerability. I can’t fake honesty.
NH: Oh, wow. That’s deep. Yeah.
FN: I think that was the difficult task, being honest with myself and being like, “Do I want to share this reality, or… am I going to shape the narrative in a different way that’ll just be more self-serving?” Working with Miranda has been a great opportunity for me… to come back to a show that I had done already in the past, and kind of look at it with fresh eyes and reevaluate.
The show is called “Evolution of a Sonero,” so it’s going to continue to evolve as my life does. This latest version of the show, for me, has been a very cathartic experience. Because of this new transitional place that I am in my life. I just moved to Chicago… kind of restarting, in some ways. To be able to share this journey and share this story, in this way, has been very healing for me, has been very, like I said, cathartic in a lot of ways.
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