In the United States, we tend to assume that we have the best of the best, or if not, that the best of the best come here. And it’s often a good assumption; we’re also a wealthy country, so there’s money to be made here for people with talent.
Other times, however, we miss out on great things by not looking beyond our borders. And one of those is Mon Laferte.
Let’s start with a brief summary of Laferte’s life and career so far: Norma Monserrat Bustamante Laferte’s first album, La Chica de Rojo, came out in her native Chile in 2003 after she appeared as Monserrat Bustamante on Rojo Fama Contrafama, a reality talent show along the lines of American Idol, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, and half of all other network shows in the 21st century.
“I was young and I was terrified,” she said in a call from Mexico City, through a translator. “But you enjoy everything. I was nervous, but I learned; you learn from everything in life.”
After several years performing with other past show contestants, she moved to Mexico City, playing bars and clubs in an effort to make her own name, until 2009 when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and dropped out of public life.
She recovered and reemerged in 2011 under the name Mon Laferte with the album Desechable, Spanish for “disposable,” a not-so-subtle hint at her mindset at the time. The album’s success led to her becoming a judge on the Chilean version of The X-Factor, as well as garnering a role in the Peruvian comedy “Japy Ending.” Her follow-up albums in 2013, 2015 and 2017 went on to be nominated for a combined seven Latin Grammys.
As for her sound, that depends on the album. They’re all Latin-inspired—as you would expect from someone from Latin America—but other than that, it’s changed quite a bit. Like most albums commissioned by TV shows, her first was decidedly pop. By the time she was Mon Laferte, she became decidedly rock-oriented and, after experimenting with a variety of genres, settled on a more alternative sound.
But that’s only her solo work. She also spent several years as singer for Mystica Girls, a Mexico City all-woman heavy metal band. She’s currently working on new material, some of which may be ready to perform on her upcoming U.S. tour. But she didn’t want to mention her new musical direction.
“I love music so much that it would be boring to not make new things,” Mon Laferte said. “I don’t want to kill the surprise. I don’t know how fans will react, but I do know that they’ll react. I’m making a step forward out of my comfort zone.”
Then there are her live shows, which are another matter entirely.
“I try to make my shows more theatrical,” she said. “When I was younger, in my teens, it was me and a guitar on stage. Now that I have a band, I like to dance and perform. My music has traces of cabaret and folk, so I like to tell a story rather than just repeating notes.”
Though Laferte only had her first U.S. tour in 2016, she’s been through the Bay Area twice and, as we mentioned in our 2017 Outside Lands coverage, she made quite the impression. Her art-deco tinged, punk, cabaret-inspired set was one of the sleeper hits of the festival.
“I hold the Outside Lands show very dearly,” she said. “It was incredible. When I heard about the cold and the weather and the early time slot I wondered how it would go, but it was great.”
It’s a show you’ll have the opportunity to see on May 18 when she comes back to the Bay Area for a show at City National Civic in San Jose. If you like horn sections in matching suits, a guitar player who absolutely shreds (“Of all the members of the band I feel most connected to Santi. He’s amazing”), and a singer who came from reality show beginnings to become a rising rock powerhouse, it’s the place to be.
“What I would like new fans coming to my shows to know is that my music is an open invitation to life. An open invitation to dance, to cry. It’s provocative. I want my music to be a bridge to that,” she said.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.