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Diverse line-up of Arkansas-based talent at Format Festival

Yuni Wa and Pura Coco
Courtesy of Yuni Wa and Pura Coco
Yuni Wa and Pura Coco

Format Festival, coined ‘the art world’s Woodstock,’ is coming back to Bentonville, Arkansas for its second year. The festival will feature a variety of talent in both the visual and musical sense.

Format Festival put out an open call for Arkansas-based creators to submit their ideas for the opportunity to participate in the line-up. Two of those selected musicians are Princeton Coleman and Nicole ‘Coco’ Vasquez.

Coleman, known as Yuni Wa, describes himself as “a music producer, D.J. and a music connoisseur in all capacities.”

From a young age, about 11 or 12, Yuni Wa says began to experiment with creating his own music.

He faced several health challenges and eventually was placed in an alternative school. With three rejections of returning back to Little Rock Central High, Yuni Wa officially dropped out and committed his full-time to music.

He describes his sound as digital experimentation that is also steeped in tradition, referring to traditional Black music of older R&B and jazz songs. Yuni Wa says he’s re-envisioning a lot of these Black traditional genres into his own.

Growing up in Little Rock gave Yuni Wa a unique perspective as a Black musician in a state popularized with rock, country and punk.

“I definitely had a hard time, especially because really (in) the electronic sphere I feel like Black folks aren’t as deep when it comes to the artistry of electronic beats,” he said. “I don’t feel like we appear as deep and as far as regionally it's not really a place for the type of music I make.”

Having to find a community that enjoys his genre changed as time went on, he said.

“In the genre of music that I create, diversity could be better. There could be more broader diverse representation,” Yuni Wa said. “I feel like it takes time, but I do believe that it's been changing, but it's been a very slow change.”

The opportunity to perform with Format Festival is helping make that change in diverse representation.

“It’s huge for me (to play Format Festival)…a big part of my music is where I’m from so it's like when people think of Little Rock I want them to think of my sound,” Wa said. “It allows me to really show people that we really do have a sound you know with electronic music and I can represent that to the fullest so I absolutely love that and I take great passion in it.”

Like Yuni Wa, Vasquez, known as musician Pura Coco, takes aspects of where she’s from and combines them into her sound, uniquely blending alternative R&B with her Latin heritage. Being from New York was the start of her journey in music.

“Whenever you walk down the street there's music everywhere, absolutely everywhere. You're hearing cumbia, bachata, salsa all throughout the streets and that's how I initially started loving music,” Vaquez said.

Moving to Arkansas introduced her to R&B, hip-hop, dubstep and techno, expanding her music taste and influencing her music today.

Writing her first song at around 14 or 15, she took a break while she was dual enrolled to earn her associate’s degree from Northwest Arkansas Community College while at Rogers New Technology High School. Through that experience, she was introduced to theater and script writing.

“I kind of just fell in love with the process and started to realize why it was so important to tell stories,” Vasquez said.

There she learned about the LatinX Theatre Project with TheaterSquared and joined just to try something new which influenced her to write music more.

“It was my first time writing with a group. First time writing really all over again,” she said. “It was a really emotional process because a lot of what we talked about was how it was to be a Latino in northwest Arkansas and it was really emotional so once I kind of stepped out of that I started writing more for myself to process emotions, but also trying to enjoy life through music.”

Pura Coco says she uses the opportunity to connect with her audience and her identity during her performances.

“For like my mom and my tia and my tio, they love actually participating or dancing and singing along and I love to see that. That's their favorite part of going to one of my shows or to any show really,” she said.

Throughout her performances, she interacts with the audience, splitting the crowd or teaching dance moves, as a way to continue showing her background in her art.

Pura Coco expresses pride in the opportunity to share her music this upcoming weekend.

“Honestly, it feels really exciting (to perform at Format Festival),” she said. “Because there is such a big population of Latinos here in northwest Arkansas I’m really glad we can be a part of it.”

Arkansans Pura Coco and Yuni Wa are only two of the diverse representation of musicians and artists showcasing both their culture and their talent this upcoming weekend at Format Festival, representing the true art of the state.

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Victoria Hernandez is a news intern for KUAF and currently a senior dual majoring in English/Journalism with History and Gender Studies minors at the University of Arkansas.
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