Washington Heights has a storied history of culture and entrepreneurship. Long before the musical and recent movie adaptation of “In the Heights” brought the vibrant spectacle of the neighborhood to audiences across the world, Manhattan’s Washington Heights was already an important ethnic enclave for Latines living in NYC. This is particularly the case for the Dominican community. So, when Diana Dotel, co-founder of MTW agency, was conceiving an event that would spotlight Dominican women that are changing the sound of género urbano, she knew exactly where it needed to be: the United Palace on 177th and Broadway in the heart of the heights.
“It was important to do it there,” Dotel tells POPSUGAR, speaking both about the neighborhood and concert venue which has seen the likes of Aventura, CNCO, Jhayco, and more. As a promoter, Dotel is well acquainted with the Palace, having been behind those shows. But for Mujeres Del Movimiento—the all-women dembow event that took place on Saturday, July 24, the stakes were much higher and harder.
“I started asking girls as they were leaving these shows, ‘Would you support an all-woman show?’ And their response was no. That was frustrating for me,” Dotel recalls.
It’s a frustration born of surprise. According to Dotel, 60 to 80 percent of ticket holders for género urbano shows are women. And yet, these were young women saying that they wouldn’t attend an urbano event without some male headliner. It wasn’t that they didn’t listen to the likes of Karol G or Villano Antillano. They did. It just didn’t translate into support.
Instances like these fuel the idea around the industry that, except for the Shakiras and Beyonces of the industry, women don’t sell. But Dotel was determined to prove that piece of conventional wisdom wrong. Her goal was to also shed light on the Dominican contribution to la música urbana and the growing genre of dembow.
For those unfamiliar, Dembow is a sub-genre of reggaeton that was created and popularized in the Dominican Republic. It features a juiced-up BPM of 130 and has garnered a reputation for explicit lyrics, which differentiates the style from more mainstream reggaeton. But even as dembow takes off worldwide (many major Latin music artists now have dembow inspired tracks or features), this success doesn’t always translate to the artists that pioneered the sound on the island —especially the women. Dotel wanted to change that with Mujeres del Movimiento.
Hosted by culture expert, columnist, and all-around creative wondercon Jennifer Mota, the stacked lineup included a who’s who of up-and-coming as well as established úrbano artists. Yailin, La Insuperable, La Perversa, MelyMel, Lismar, GeezLy, Queen Parker, La Gabi, Chelsy, and Leli Hernandez all took the stage to showcase exactly what the women of urbano are capable of. And they didn’t disappoint. La Insuperable and La Perversa gave sets that featured dedicated teams of backup dancers and no backing tracks, showing that they not only can spit but that they are consummate performers who know how to rock a stage at the highest levels. And while she didn’t have a team of professional dancers accompanying her, newcomer Chelsy was a one-woman show, bounding from stage left to stage right in a sequined one-piece, straddling the barrier of the orchestra pit to interact with the audience, and doing it all while tearing through each and every lyric in her catalog.
And then there’s Lismar. The youngest of the women to perform, she made her first time in New York a memorable one. Coming out in a ski mask and a skirt, microphone in hand, she provided a break from the largely dembow-centric event to deliver unadulterated, hardcore hip-hop.
“For us women, this is a really big step. Not only does it highlight the union between us, but this is something that will probably open a lot of doors for us because this is such a big event at such a legendary place,” the 18-year-old rapper tells POPSUGAR. “This is the big leagues and we’re here.”.
The importance of the event for Dominican women and Dominican music, in general, was a sentiment shared by many of the other artists. Chelsy, for one, relished the opportunity to bring her fresh, empowered vibe and a “frescura Dominicana” to the Washington Heights community.
“This is a historic event for women and a before-and-after moment for our movement,” the “Carlito” singer tells POPSUGAR. “I feel honored to be working with my colleagues in this plaza that is so important for Dominicans and the entire diaspora.”
For another up-and-comer, Queen Parker, the event was a culmination of the work Dominican artists have been doing for decades.
“I feel we’ve had a lot of influence in genres like reggaeton. Not only Dembow, but other genres too. I feel like this is the moment when Dominicans start to get a little more recognition, and an event like this is super important because it has to start somewhere. We as women, not just Dominican women, are contributing so much to grow the [úrbano genre], the trap-and-drill singer tells POPSUGAR.
What Parker touches on is a point of contention for many Dominican artists and fans alike. For years, members of the diaspora such as AZ, Cardi B, and Fabolous have helped steer the hip-hop genre in fresh directions. Across the Atlantic, pioneers like OG Black, Nicky Jam, and the producers Luny Tunes, all helped mold reggaeton into what it is today. Yet, despite that fact and the popularity of other Dominican genres like mambo and bachata, the fruits of that labor have often been enjoyed by non-Dominican artists.
“Not a lot of artists in the Dominican Republic have that opportunity to grow or even monetize,” says Dotel. And the situation is harder for Dominican women. Dotel’s pedigree as a promoter runs deep. Her father worked with Fania and other Latin acts throughout the 70s and from an early age, she followed in his footsteps, only with a discerning eye and lover for the burgeoning urbano landscape. And yet, as she tells it, when it comes to Latin music festivals in the U.S., there has never been a woman headliner. In that context, the Mujeres Del Movimiento concert was indeed historic. And a sure sign that the climate and attitude around women in urbano is changing.
“Ivy Queen opened the doors for us. MelyMel opened the doors for us in DR. Now we’ve got Karol G, Rosalia, Becky G, and Natti Natasha that are keeping it open for those of us starting now. Now there’s more space to go around, there’s more cake for everyone,” La Gabi tells POPSUGAR. A rising reggaeton star from La Romana, she made a surprise appearance during MelyMel’s set.
“Even though the genre is dominated by men, we’re killing it too. And we’re going to keep killing it,” she continued.
And by the time the last act is set to go on Saturday, it is clear that these women have done just that. All the weeks of rehearsal, last-minute choreography tweaks, and sound check run-throughs have paid off. The crowd of proud Dominicans along with other Latines that had started out comfortably in their seats, is spilling into the aisles. Ushers try to keep control as chants of “Yailin, Yailin” reverberate off the Palace’s faux-gilded filigree walls.
After all the controversy and hardship she’s been through this past year, Yailin takes the stage to the loudest applause of the night. She runs through verses from her featured hits “La Maquina” and “De Kilo” before bringing out La Mami Del Swagger and Dembow legend La Insuperable for their joint hit “Soy Mama Remix.” It’s an act that reinforces the union felt by all the performers. They are not each other’s competition, as is so often thought in a society that continually pits women against each other. They are colleagues breaking barriers and helping one another get their due. To a sold-out crowd in Washington Heights they proved that, yes, women do sell, and that with a fraction of the support their male counterparts receive, they can absolutely rock a mic and a stage.
And now, with the door open and having broken up the urbano boys club, they’re coming for it all.