Buenos Aires is often called Latin America’s most European city; thanks to a heavily Italian heritage, most people here could easily pass for Roman or Milanese. So it was perhaps a surprise that, when the national census introduced an “Afro-descendant” category in 2010, some 150,000 Argentines self-identified as such. While that’s still less than 1 percent of the population, a newfound cultural awareness has helped spawn a lively, unexpected Afrobeat scene in the city that’s best known for the tango.
Within the past three years, Buenos Aires has welcomed new nightclubs, such as Black in Barrio Chino (pictured above) and Afrika Club in upscale Recoleta, that draw on Africana for their design inspirations and musical offerings. What’s more, revelers can also dance to styles such as Afro-house, Congolese ndombolo, and Ivorian coupé-décalé at regular jams including Afro Mama nights at Makena Cantina Club in Palermo Hollywood and Les Pioles at Villa Ortúzar’s Otra Historia Club Cultural.
One of the main forces getting porteños moving is DJ Jonathan Yelin, who founded the annual FELA: Festival Latinoamericano Afrobeat (pictured, left) as an ode to Nigerian musical pioneer Fela Anikulapo Kuti. “Tango requires classes to learn the basic skills,” Yelin says. “Afrobeat doesn’t require knowledge of African dance. The music moves you, and nobody judges your moves. People from all walks of life come together here.” Leticia Sánchez Garris, an Afro-descendant blogger, agrees, noting that Afrobeat events are increasingly popular among young porteños, who often view tango as “more of a tourist attraction.”
Yelin conceived of his festival—which returns for its eighth year in February and draws such performers as Kuti’s son, Seun, and his original backing orchestra, Egypt 80—as a bridge between audiences. “The dance floor is on fire,” he says, “but it’s more than just dancing your problems away. It’s important for us to spread the same message Fela did, using this music as a weapon for awareness, togetherness, and enjoyment.”