The best place to explore Latin culture this summer is… London

By 26 June, 2010

This summer sees London going crazy for Latin American culture. A steady stream of festivals, events, exhibitions and screenings sees London add a bit of colour to its bones, meaning that even if the rain starts to cloud the fun the rhythm really should get you!

It all starts rather modestly on 25th June with Cinema of Brazil: Music and Rhythm at The Barbican. This 9-day festival features a number of Brazilian films that rarely get a showing round these parts. Particular highlights are Loki on 30th June, a documentary following Arnaldo Baptista, the outsider genius behind Os Mutantes, and Coração Vagabundo, a frank portrait of Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso, which is on 3rd July. In fact, most of these films are related to music in one way or another, and will surely get you in the mood for some live events, for which you won’t need to wait long. After appearing on screen in the afternoon Caetano Veloso will be taking the stage himself at The Barbican that same evening. Anyone with even the slightest interest in Brazilian music should know this man, he was behing the 60s movement Tropicalia which pretty much started Brazilian pop music as it is known today. He hasn’t stopped innovating since and this should be a great show.

The biggest Brazilian event of the summer however has to be Festival Brazil at the Southbank Centre. This event began on 19th June with an Ernesto Neto (contemporary artist) exhibition but doesn’t really get going until the start of July. Comic book artists Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá will be speaking on 5th July as well as creating a mural on Queen Elizabeth Hall, which will pretty much take them all summer (it lasts 4th July until 30th August). The Youth Orchestra of Brazil, playing on 7th July, will be mixing Bahian music with styles from all over the Americas. The production is a collaboration between the Venezuelan Government and the state of Bahia in Brazil, and will be a good opportunity to enjoy traditional Latin roots music.

Although the aim of Festival Brazil is to introduce emerging Brazilian artists to the outside world they have also done a fine job of getting some of Brazil’s finest performers to come over. On the bill are Gilberto Gil (21st July), Maria Bethania (17th July) and Os Mutantes and Tom Zé (18th July). All of these artists were involved, along with Veloso, in the Tropicalia movement of the late 60s and represent the elite of Brazilian performers. Into this bracket I would also put Arnaldo Antunes, he is far less well-known but has had a huge influence on Brazilian music, especially in the 80s, as a songwriter for Marisa Monte. He will be performing on 15 July.

Perhaps the most talked about exhibit of the festival will be Project Morrinho, a social and cultural project borne from one of Rio’s favelas. What started as a kid playing around in his backyard, trying to create a small-scale favela, has erupted into a worldwide project where a group of artists build a favela from scratch, adding their own flavour in the sun-drenched colours. Crucially they will be working with some of London’s disadvantaged to do exactly this to create a favela on the Southbank (17 July to 30 August).

Another major festival showcasing South American talent is Blaze Festival at The Barbican. They have a wider scope than Festival Brazil, instead just trying to come up with a programme that will get everyone in London hyper over the summer. On paper, it certainly looks like it can do just that. 24th July sees Quantic and his Combo Barbaro perform their Cuban-influenced Colombian rhythms at The Barbican itself. July 15 is time for Ceú and Bomba Estereó, combining one of Brazil’s top female singers with one of the most talked about Latin artists for a long time. Bomba Estereó have been wowing crowds in American for the past few weeks, last playing at Bonnaroo Festival, and are set to do just the same for London audiences. Also performing will be Willie Colon (16 July), legendary Nuyorican trombonist, singer and composer, and Toto La Momposina (25 July), the essence of traditional Colombian music.

The Shoreditch Festival, which will be occurring on the weekend of 17th and 18th July is the perfect chance to see Choc Quib Town, a new Colombian band currently causing a stir thanks to their mix of traditional and hip-hop and another chance to see Bomba Estereó. Best of all it is free! Other free events include Grupo Lokito (a mixture of African and Latin Salsa) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on July 9th and Anselmo Netto, playing his Brazilian choro music on July 16.

More information about all of these activities as well as all the ones I didn’t have room to mention can be found at City of London Festival website, Southbank Centre website, The Barbican, as well as the Brazilian Embassy’s Events page. Here’s to an exciting summer ahead!

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