Exploring England’s Latin North

¡VAMOS! festival is a celebration of Latin and Lusophone culture that has taken place in NewcastleGateshead every summer since 2006. This year’s event started on 4th June and will continue until July 11th. JungleDrums popped up to the north-east for a weekend to find out what the festival’s about.

The most important thing for any festival is to establish it’s own identity. With Latin activity in the north-east generally quite rare VAMOS has definitely found it’s niche, allowing it to offer a singular experience. With a small population in the region there is also no need to stick with traditions and this has meant for an increasingly-varied line-up.

I arrived on Friday 17th June ready for what looked like a packed weekend. Previous weeks had included events such as the Tyne Carnival, Pena Flamenca (a celebration of flamenco) and film screenings of Chico y Rita, Gigante and Birdwatchers. First on the menu for me was Bumbumbox at Grey’s monument where Matiás Aguayo (of Chile) and Capracara (of the north-east) would be showcasing their latest collaboration. Over the past year they had been writing songs over the Internet with the goal of playing them at this festival. For the purpose of this afternoon they would also be using Aguayo’s alternative party method, christened Bumbumbox, which involves putting a cassette into a stereo, start dancing and then wait for everyone to join in.

Unfortunately, due to the weather, due to the early hour and due to the people of the north-east not being used to having a dance on a Friday lunchtime the party fizzled but never really get going, but it did highlight an interesting project that Aguayo and Capracara would talk about further the following day. Bumbumbox began as an alternative way of throwing an underground party in Buenos Aires after a fire in a dance club led to new, stricter legislation and forced many smaller clubs to shut down. So came the idea of Bumbumbox where they could party wherever they wanted. The only problem was finding the right music, music that would sound good on the stereo and that would force people’s limbs to start moving. This led to the start of a label Coméme which released music made especially for Bumbumbox.

I asked Matías how this new environment for music had changed his process in making it. He said it was trial and error, but that generally he found he needed to use snatches of different music, bits of funk, cumbia, electrobrega, and so on, in order to engage the audience. He also said that music made for clubs didn’t translate itself well to the Bumbumbox whereas songs made for Bumbumbox always worked well in clubs.

In The Tyne, a small pub situated under a bridge in the Ousemouth region of Newcastle, he couldn’t have been more right. This is Saturday night and the Noname party if you’re still following, and Matías and Capracara played a set under the arches which had every single person dancing. True to form, they used snatches of different Latin rhythms, as well as funk and pop, while also adding extra vocals, to a dance sound that really did sound a little bit special. [By the way, you may have seen

target=”_blank”>Matías singing with Battles at Glastonbury last weekend]

The weekend was not just about Bumbumbox though. On Friday night was Cafe Ipanema featuring bossa nova interpretations by an English singer, Spanish guitarist and cajon player (I can’t remember where he was from!). While not the most inspiring set of bossa nova you will ever hear it was great to hear the style with the added bombast of the cajon and also in the Barkollo bar, which is well worth a visit if you’re ever in the area.

Saturday also featured the Eat-A-Long Movie (which was actually part of the EAT festival), a new concept I have only just discovered but really should be more widespread. The concept is simple, while watching a movie you are served with the same food that the people who are in the movie are eating. Obviously it wouldn’t work with every movie but Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) is food-obsessed enough to make it a success. We begin with margheritas which makes me wonder why people aren’t always given cocktails before the start of a movie (it really would have improved Hangover Part 2!) before such dishes as chicken and rose petals, turkey mole and ice cream to finish with.

And that’s it as far as Latin activities are concerned. There was a Culture Connect event teaching people salsa and sumba as well as a performance by Bacalao Men at Nancy’s Bordello, but there are only so many hours in the day.

NewcastleGateshead however deserves more of a mention. First off, you might be wondering why I’m writing NewcastleGateshead and not Newcastle and/or Gateshead. Well, because they are seperated only by a number of bridges over the River Tyne, which take mere minutes to cross, they are trying to promote the cities as one destination rather than two, in a similar way to Budapest (which is made up of Buda and Pest which are seperated by the River Danube) and so I figured I would continue the idea. It definitely turned out to be a great way to spend the weekend, with the fabled northeastern hospitality being as legendary as promised. I really did feel like I made friends with every person I met!

And in terms of things to do I only really scratched the surface. There is still Sage Gateshead, where Lucha Future will be taking place and which supposedly has some of the best acoustics around, the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, and plenty of other places I simply didn’t have time to investigate. ¡Viva NewcastleGateshead!

Words by Russ Slater

Photos by Simon Williams except photo of Eat-A-Long Movie by Karolina Tamasauskaite

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You can find out more about VAMOS festival at vamosfestival.com.

Recommendations
If you’re visiting NewcastleGateshead anytime soon you should really check out:

BALTIC – centre for contemporary arts (in Gateshead)
Barkollo – great bar close to the city with lively atmosphere
Cumberland Arms – good venue for small bands and home to Roots Rhythms at VAMOS
MusicaMundo – promoters of Latin events in the northeast
Nancy’s Bordello – Newcastle’s only World Music bar!
Sage Gateshead – the place for big concerts or events. Worth visiting even if there’s no performances on. It’s also one of the big talking points for locals; is it hideous or beautiful? You decide!
Star and Shadow Cinema – independent cinema showing a wide variety of films as well as housing exhibits and special events
The Tyne – slightly out-of-the-way in Ouseburn but with real character and a great outside section under the arches. You’re guaranteed a good party at this place!
Tyneside Cinema – historical cinema in Newcastle city centre

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