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June 05th, 2016

Top 5 Latin American music festivals

A keen musician, Former JLA member of staff David shares his favourite music festivals in Latin America.

Jazz Al Parque (Bogota)

Set inside one of Bogota's central parks, "Parque 127", late September sees the two-day gathering of Colombia’s finest Latin Jazz ensembles (including La 33, known for their quintessentially Latin revamp of the “Pink Panther” soundtrack) accompanied by a sprinkling of international sparkle (recent visitors to the festival have included, among others, singer, bassist and cellist Esperanza Spalding, who was recently invited with her avant-garde neo-jazz band to perform at the White House, and Maceo Parker, formerly saxophonist for a certain James Brown, and later, Prince). With two adjacent stages set under a marquee that can welcome a thousand or so listeners, this festival feels rather homely, with the crowd initially spending much of the afternoon sat basking in the bands’ delightful, jazzy tones. A definite “must”, if you happen to be passing through Colombia at this time of year – this event (along with its ‘Hip-Hop’, ‘Rock’ and ‘Salsa’ sister events) offers the foreign visitor an authentic experience of the Bogotano lifestyle and community.

Rock In Rio (Rio de Janeiro)
Though Europe unquestionably offers an almost endless list of superlative music festivals, each tailored to music lovers of different tastes, ages, budgets and comfort-needs, this iconic Brazilian festival – originally made famous by Freddie Mercury and Queen’s exquisite performance to 100,000s of adoring fans in 1985 – has one USP that eclipses virtually all of its European competitors. Whilst Europe dazzles with its sheer variety, South America condenses its international invitations to one single, week-long event (hence more than a million tickets sold per festival). The visitors list of the last two festivals alone include the zenith of musical royalty: Beyonce, Metallica (twice), Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Queen, Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen, to mention but a few headlining guests. This is the Olympics of the music world, so if Rio 2016 isn’t quite your thing, swing by in late September 2017 for one of the biggest biennial shows in the world.

Personal Fest (Buenos Aires)
When I attended this two-day weekend festival in central Buenos Aires in early November 2011, little did I know that I was going to experience the best “crowd” experience of my life. As my beloved The Strokes struck up, I felt a euphoric twenty thousand-strong audience sway and sing more powerfully than I could ever have imagined. The energy was electric, the enthusiasm gushed forth from every music-loving porteño and, though many of my friends’ English was rather rusty, they somehow managed to sing their way through the entire set of the New York indie-rockers! With a joyous atmosphere found throughout, the irrepressible Calle 13 as honorary guests and the best street-food you might ever taste (F.Y.I: the fresh and succulent cuts of meat you savoured the night before at restaurants such as Las Cabras will delight your taste-buds again here, only served in a bun and on a paper plate, for a fraction of the price), this festival is a wonderful blend of European and Latin American ...and just glorious fun!

El Carnaval de Bahidorá (Mexico City)
Listed in Time Out’s list of top worldwide music festivals as one of only two must-visits within Latin America, this festival will surely speak to the secret (or not-so-secret) hippy in everyone. Held in a serene natural park on the banks of the Yautepec River and situated a two-hour drive south of Mexico City, this kaleidoscopically-coloured two-day music retreat might be the best way to escape Britain’s grey February skies for some warmth, nature and eclectic music. With a line-up of both European and Latin American musicians of various electronic persuasions, Bahidorá also offers its community a more hands-on, interactive experience. In addition to the performing artists, there is a collection of nature and spirituality-oriented activities, including body art and nature-clothing design; group massage treatments; meditation sessions; permaculture lessons; and astronomy (courtesy of its own observatory).

Manana (Santiago de Cuba)
Currently the youngest music festival in the world (and certainly the most significant, politically-speaking), the very first edition of Manana has just taken place this May 2016 in Santiago de Cuba, a city on the eastern tip of the Caribbean’s largest and arguably most fascinating island. As the host city, Santiago has been compared by the festival’s organisers to other industrial yet uber-creative and politically-charged epicentres such as “Berlin, Detroit and Manchester in [their] heydays.” In short, a fertile hub of fresh ideas and cultural revolution. What is truly exciting about this festival, therefore, is that it is not simply an exhibition of old-guard Cuban salsa, as made famous by the wonderful Buena Vista Social Club. Whilst Cuba’s traditional music has, for many a decade, flourished on the world scene, this festival opts to promote the island’s youngest generation. The brainchild of a Cuban and British musician seeking to intertwine elements of contemporary Cuban rumba and hip-hop with European electronic genres, Manana facilitates a space inside Cuba designated for inter-cultural conversations and collaborations between young Cubans, Americans and Europeans. Through this blending together of diverse artistic genres and political perspectives, Manana hopes, on a broad scale, to nurture an increasingly outward-looking Cuba and build evermore liberated and strengthened ties between itself and the global arts community. And with that great vision in mind, let’s just hope that they are already planning Manana number two!

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