Caramba! Hong Kong's been rumbling to Latin rhythms

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 November, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 November, 2005, 12:00am

It's been a celebration of all things Latin American, with Latino dancers and musicians, and the rhythms and sounds of the region, stretching from Mexico to Argentina.

For the past month, two festivals have been running simultaneously in the city: Latin America 2005 and the Latin Passion Festival.

Next Thursday, the fiesta comes to a close with a party at the Edge in Central, featuring Colombian group Palo Santo.

'They're serious musicians,' says Mireya Garcia, a Mexican based in Hong Kong who's helped organise both events. 'Their music comes from the heart.'

She says the festivals have been a big success, and that Latin Americans and Chinese have much in common. 'Family values are strong to both,' she says. 'And food is most important.'

During a rehearsal at the Cultural Centre for next week's performance, Palo Santo traversed the traditional rhythms of South America, starting in Argentina, then moving to Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. The mood swings from the gentle flutes of Peruvian folk song El Condor Pasa to the pounding rhythms of Colombia's The Drums of Pacande.

The group have been together for nearly 20 years and their main flautist, Omar Flores, says they've researched and explored music styles from across the region.

'I was living for a long time in an archaeological site of Colombia,' he says. 'I spent about nine years learning from the flautists there, and then travelled from Peru to Bolivia and Ecuador.

'We made our flutes along the way - and we drank a lot of chichi,' he says, referring to the fiery Andean alcoholic drink.

Flores says the region's music was originally based on pentatonic (or five note) scale, but this changed when Europeans arrived with new instruments, and again with the influx of slaves from Africa.

The region's music is also influenced by geography, from the peaceful mountains of Colombia to the Caribbean coast, where it's all about dancing, he says.

During their warm-up, Palo Santo play zambas (music from the Argentine countryside), valses (Mexican waltzes), marineras (the Peruvian national dance), huaynos (Andean folk music), pasillos (folk dances of Ecuador) and cumbias (the national music of Colombia).

And the group clearly have a knack for getting people to dance, as is evident when Colombia's consul-general, Olga Forero De Silva, jumps to her feet.

'If this were America, people wouldn't be able to stop themselves,' says Garcia.

It takes a couple of songs to get the local audience in the mood, but when the band are suddenly cut short, it's as if a bucket of cold water has been thrown on the crowd. When it's announced that Palo Santo will play on, the crowd erupts with cheers. It bodes well for next week's party at the Edge.

Viva Latin America, Nov 17, 8pm, the Edge, 60 Wyndham St, Central, $280 (includes two drinks and snacks). Inquiries: 2203 0408