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Sydney Morning Herald
Latino Festival Down Under
From hot Latin music to chilled house grooves, the Sydney Festival's nightlife program has a mood, style and temperature to suit everyone.
By Gabriel Wilder, Matt Buchanan
December 20, 2002
Where: Harbourside, Darling Harbour
When: January 9-12 and January 15-19
How much: Free
More information: Dance classes from 7pm; www.sydneyfestival.com.au
The Latino Festival was once known as the Festival de Cuba. But there was the slight problem that Cuban bands weren't permitted to play at it, because of some, er, differences of opinion between the sponsor (Bacardi) and the head of the state of its previous home. So the name was changed.
Yet over the last three years, the festival has become less and less Latin -and more and more Anglo. There's still a Latin twang to give it a hint of spice, but the sounds of North America, rather than its southern counterpart, have definitely become a defining feature.
It began with the hiring of a San Francisco hip-hop crew called Ozomatli - an energetic bunch of lads who played Latin hip-hop; progressed last year with King Chango, a New York group purveying a similar sound; and continues this year with Yerba Buena, also from New York, who, again, use some Latin rhythms and instrumentation to back lyrics, sung and rapped in Spanish and English.
Add to that dance classes in funk, to go with the traditional salsa, and a couple of local groups who also dabble in Latin hip-hop and pop, and you have a swing away from the Latino theme to ... "something broader," says the festival's booker of the past four years, Amanda Duffy.
"We want to get everyone in Sydney down there. We want to make it accessible for all ages and backgrounds."
If the festival's figures of 70,000 attendees at last year's event are to be believed, then its strategy is obviously working - though the festival's market research that says the majority are 18- to 25-year-old males suggests it may need to work on the "all ages" aspect. Duffy speculates that it's possible the Sydney Festival could leave the Latin theme behind completely in the future.
"[The direction of the festival] is reviewed each year," she says.
Also on the bill this year are Sydney Latin hip-hop group Son Veneno - the addition of firebrand MC Maya Jupiter to their line-up has added another dimension to this already hot combo. Melbourne musician Kenny Lopez, who spends time each year in Havana, will be playing with his septet a variety of Afro-Cuban music styles including son, cha-cha-cha and the upbeat guaracha. The other international headliner, Los Pleneros de la 21, plays plena, a folk music from Puerto Rico, whose lilting rhythms lend a country and western feel to the Latin sound. There will also be dance classes in bomba, funk, salsa, shines and mambo.