Isn’t it funny how music can inspire you and transport you back to places that you have fond memories of; or take you to somewhere you’ve never even been, just letting your imagination run wild. When I started to write this particular post, I wanted to put together a bucket list of all the hottest destinations and top travel trends in South America right now. However, when I asked Spotify for an accompanying soundtrack of latin beats to provide a bit of inspiration, it suddenly struck me that one of the most evocative and timeless qualities about South America is its music.
What do you think of when you hear salsa? For me, I’m immediately in Old Havana, sipping a cool mojito and watching the locals dance much better than me! I’m always reminded of that scene in Miami Vice when Colin Farrell whisks his lady across from Miami in a speed boat under cover of darkness to salsa the night away in Cuba before being back in Miami by the morning. Salsa is romantic, cool and sexy and who doesn’t love that combination. If you were to take salsa classes in New York or London, you’d think salsa had to be danced with the discipline of a sergeant-major calling out the time and that you had to follow set moves. Nothing prepares you for the reality of a salsa club in Bogota or Havana. Here, it’s a natural instinct that moves the dancers, their legs, hips and feet moving in perfect harmony, no sign of concentration on the faces, just a wild abandonment as the band sweeps them along. Young and old, age is unimportant, what’s important is the connection with your dancing partner that you feel through the rhythm. I can’t tell you the jealousy I feel as my two English left feet fail to keep up.
Brazil has samba and boy does it know how to throw a party with a pumping samba soundtrack. Rio has its set shows and its floats and is obviously the iconic face of carnival. But for the truly adventurous, you need to experience carnival in Salvador. This melting pot of a city, capital of a region called Bahia further north up the coast from Rio, is where the afro-Caribbean influence is felt the most in Brazil. Here carnival is experienced through the baseline of a thousand beating drums, each drumming school competing to make the most noise. The party has a religious connotation as lots of the schools practise a religion called candomblé, literally a dance in honour of the gods. You can see the euphoria etched on the faces of the drummers, with their strong, lithe limbs pounding out the beat and it’s impossible not to jump in behind one of these processions and join the throng, carried away with the spirit in more ways than one, as the caipirinhas are like rocket fuel.
For those not looking for such a party, it’s hard not be mesmerised by an impromptu street tango show in Buenos Aires. A milonga, as they are known, can occur anywhere that a couple of porteños start that famous, mournful, graceful dance. But the best ones are to be found in the bohemian neighbourhood of San Telmo, edgy and artsy and crammed with atmosphere. Sitting in any of the bars around Plaza Dorrego with their oldy-worldy wooden fixtures and antiques, watching a milonga unfold in front of your eyes, is one of the ultimate romantic experiences you can have. Whether you’re on your honeymoon or your first date, it’s impossible for love not to be in the air. If you think you’ve got what it takes and get carried away with the moment, you can sweep your partner off his/her feet and join in. However, I suggest you have a few lessons at La Catedral first!
Music really does define South America. It’s no exaggeration when we state on our website that in Colombia you hear music absolutely everywhere you go. Whatever other street noise there might be around, you can be assured that above it all you can hear some vallenato, salsa, musica para planchar (literally music to do the ironing to!) or a Colombian folk song coming from a nearby house, restaurant or bar and doing its best to drown out all other noise. You can imagine my excitement when I heard the news that in my own backyard, a bright young restaurateur has decided to open a lounge/lunch club in Cartagena. El Pescador de Colores is due to open in October and is set to be the hottest opening of the year, in the city that is firmly on everyone’s travel radar. We’ve been told to expect a St Tropez/Ibiza/Miami inspired day restaurant/club that will provide a place to eat good food, drink decent rosé and listen to a chilled mix of latin and European house. Now doesn’t that just sound fabulous!
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