After Dark

Buenos Aires: Latin America’s Answer to Berlin

We find out about the Argentinian capital city's evolving nightlife scene, where traditional music and dance meets trap and twerking.
April 5, 2017, 4:26am
Photography: Sol Schiller

This article is supported by Air New Zealand, who offer flights from Sydney to Buenos Aires via Auckland. We sent Sydney-based, Argentinian chef Elvis Abrahanowicz back to his hometown to explore the city's underground dance scene and immerse himself in Argentina's digital cumbia craze. You can watch the video below and read our interview with Estefi Spark, one of the city's new generation cumbia aficionados.

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Estefi Spark is the founder of Argentina's Flow Altas Wachas, a dance collective that mixes eclectic styles from twerking and voguing, to afro and dancehall. But the style that taught her to move, and which is at the heart of the Flow Altas Wachas philosophy, is cumbia.

Originating in the villas (or slums), cumbia is a music and dance genre that is popular throughout Latin America. You don't just sit and listen to cumbia; you move to it through the night and into the day.

In Buenos Aires, the clubbing and underground scene is experimenting with cumbia by layering it with electronic, grime, and trap beats to create new incarnations like digital cumbia and super pop cumbia.

We spoke to Estefi about cumbia's changing form, dancing like a local, and the best places to party in Buenos Aires.

VICE: Why is Buenos Aires called 'the Berlin of South America'?
Estefi Spark: Buenos Aires is one of the most poly-cultural cities in South America. We have many Europeans, Latin Americans, Africans, and other cultures from around the world. We're also a city that likes to make movements and parties from the cultures that come here. There are so many things to do in the city, too: museums, movies, night activities. I actually don't think we have a strong national culture, which is why we like to take a little bit from everywhere, but cumbia is our biggest thing.

How would you describe cumbia?
It's music and dance. It's the music of poor people in Latin America, but there are many poor people in Latin America so it's the music of everyone. It's a very basic sound, with percussion and melodies. You listen and it makes you want to move. Argentineans, Peruvians, Columbians: everyone has their own cumbia.

Where did the style originate?
Peru is like the mother of cumbia. They have a band that inspired many people called Los Mirlos. It's a very psychedelic sound, very deep cumbia. In the '90s, Pablo Lescano had a band that transformed Peruvian cumbia into an Argentinean version, and cumbia villera was born. We listened to this in the 1990s and 2000s.

How does cumbia keep evolving to stay relevant and exciting?
Now there are more modern styles, like electronic cumbia, which is all made on the computer. And then, around 2010, a new generation of younger people and teenagers began making cumbia super pop for the clubs, and that's the cumbia turra. The band that made it popular was Wachiturros. There are a lot of new artists doing that style. It's like the newest thing and the youngest thing. When we do twerking in cumbia we call it "turros" because of those guys.

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You teach cumbia to hundreds of people every week at Flow Altas Wachas. How did that start?
It was 2011 and there was no plan. I danced with a friend one time, then we put a name to the group, then we started doing performances, and then we were teaching classes. Everything was so natural. We didn't think much about what to do, we just did things and now we teach five classes a day, every day except Sunday.

Flow Altas Wachas in action

Tell us about the philosophy behind Flow Altas Wachas.
We mix all different styles: cumbia, dancehall, afro, vogueing and, of course, twerking. The main philosophy is to be yourself. We think that dancing makes you free in the soul and we found our freedom dancing. People make friends with each other and come here to respect each other and to find respect for themselves. We make a big family with everyone who comes to the school.

Where should we go to dance in Buenos Aires?
There's a place that's very legendary called Niceto in Palermo. When people visit they always go there, but many people from Buenos Aires go there too. It's not just for foreigners. They have the biggest underground parties. There is also a place in Plaza Italia called Groove. They have very big cumbia parties. It used to be a club for only cumbia, but it became too messy so they had to change and now they have all kinds of parties.

Estefi Spark

Any other tips for making the most of a night out in Buenos Aires?
We go out really late. People usually meet at 11pm and they do something called previa: meet up to drink alcohol. It began in the '90s, because things like drinking in the club turned expensive in Argentina. Meeting up with friends beforehand and drinking at someone's house became part of our night culture. People go to the club at 2am or 3am here, and the party usually ends at 6.30am or 7am. In Buenos Aires there are also many places you can go after. It always continues.

You can also watch the After Dark episode where Elvis Abrahanowicz explores the hidden restaurants of Buenos Aires here.

This article is supported by Air New Zealand. You can find out more about their flights from Australia to South America here