If you were born in a Spanish-speaking family, Ivy Queen was a part of your life. Martha Ivelisse Pesante Rodriguez was born in Puerto Rico and built a career that boomed at a time when reggaeton was making its international crossover. Unlike Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam, and other reggeatoneros of the era, Ivy Queen was a woman. Her ascent was unique and marked a before-and-after moment for an industry that now has plenty of women ranking in the charts, all solely because of her influence.
HOLA USA! attended Ivy Queen’s Tiny Desk concert. The stage, which is located in NPR’s headquarters in Washington D.C., has hosted all manner of musicians, from pop stars to indie artists. Ivy Queen comes as a crowning jewel of sorts in NPR’s Hispanic Heritage coverage, which is a month-long segment nicknamed ‘El Tiny’, lead by NPR Music’s’ Alt.Latino. “We’ve been making ‘El Tiny Desk’ for the past three years,” explains Felix Contreras, one of the co-hosts of Alt.Latino, which he runs alongside Anamaria Sayre. “The idea was that we had so many Latin artists that we couldn’t stretch them out to just a few weeks. We ended up doing the whole month.”
This year’s ‘El Tiny Desk’ has welcomed Latin artists of all backgrounds and genres, from the Venezuelan beach band Rawayana to the queer trap of Villano Antillano. “We try to do a combination of the pop world and some folklore. It’s very important for us to recognize the folkloric roots of whatever culture we’re spotlighting. And we also have alternative artists, artists that need more recognition. We have to balance those three things,” Contreras said.
Ivy Queen is a throwback to a different type of reggaeton, one that was sparser, made up of lyrics and unforgettable percussions. She lands somewhere within the pop world and folklore spectrum, with every reggaeton artist that has come out since the 2000s owing a great deal of debt to her work. Ivy attended the show alongside her band, made up of strings, and a piano. The sonic landscape gave Ivy’s songs a chance to reinvent themselves, resulting in an emotional set that showcased her vocal range and the strength of her songwriting, with lyrics that are feminist and proud, remaining as powerful as they were when they were first released. She performed a 25-minute set that featured hits like ‘Reza por Mi’, ‘La Vida Es Asi’, ‘Menor Que Yo’, and ‘En Que Fallamos’. As Quiero Bailar’s opening strings began, a current of electricity ran through the room.
“My favorite part of doing Tiny Desk is I always find a spot to sit and look at the faces of the audience. Because that’s the best part: People enjoying themselves, enjoying the artist, and the space that they’re in,” said Contreras. As Ivy sang and joked, sharing some hard-earned wisdom with the audience, it made for a surprisingly vulnerable moment, with people wiping off their tears and turning to look at each other’s reactions. All of us within steps of each other, listening to an artist at her most stripped, a force that remains just as powerful as she’s always been.