Local dance teacher plans to bring Afro-Latino festival to Kent

Local dance teacher, Leon Williams, is planning to stage an Afro-Latino festival on the Kent coast this summer after noticing the popularity of Afro and Latino dance workshops in the area. 

The event will be hosted in Margate from the 17th to the 19th of July and it will have everything you would expect from your typical music festival, from live music and shows to dance workshops. But this festival will also have a unique twist in store for those attending. 

Leon explains that it’s his hope to include a little museum of cultural information around the area of the event. “I love history, I love culture, I love discovering new music and new countries I’ve never been to and I want this Afro-Latino event to not only to be just about dancing, or just about the music, but also to understand the culture.” He says,  “I also want it to be a bit of an educational journey for them, as well as the dancing.”   

Leon in Margate where he hopes to host the event. Credit: KentOnline

The aim of the festival is to link the live music to the rich and vibrant history both cultures have and educate people on the historical influence Afro music in particular had on Latino music, which is so often forgotten about. 

Leon noticed this lack of knowledge of the close link between these two genres of music and dance during his time teaching. “I’ve done a lot of research and I’ve discovered even the Argentine Tango has African roots. We tend to pigeon-hole Argentine Tango with Hispanic looking dancers but its roots are deeply entrenched with Africa too.” Adding,  “I don’t think I’ve ever come across a teacher yet to this day that mentions that Milonga is an African word. Even Tango is an African word.”     

With his own heritage leading back to Suriname, in South America, Leon explains why he chose to include Afro music in the festival, “In terms of my love of Afro [music] I think it’s deep rooted, I think it’s genetic, I absolutely love Afro music, Afro beats, anything from Africa pretty much.”   

But alongside his own love of Afro and Latino music, the reason he decided to create the festival is simply due to the high demand for it. Leon explains that many of the Afro and Latino dance workshops in Kent are consistently packed with people compared to any other genre of dance workshops put on in the area. 

And the interest in both types of music and dance is only growing he says. 20 years ago when Leon first began dancing this wouldn’t have been the case, but the landscape of mainstream dance music in the UK has undergone a rapid change since then. “I play a lot of Afro music to non-dancers in Margate and their reaction is to dance. However they want to dance, however they feel the music, however they respond, they want to move. And 15 to 20 years ago it wasn’t like that, but I think they’ve been educated now.”

Credit: KentOnline

Its growing popularity is clear to see. Latin influenced track Despacito by Justin Bieber topped the Official UK charts in 2017 for 11 weeks straight and Big Latino artists like Daddy Yankee or J Balvin who recently collaborated with Stormzy have propelled Latino music to the forefront of the UK music scene. As Afro or Latino influenced songs become more popular the distinctive rhythm you’d expect in traditional Afro-Latino songs have become more familiar to the public. 

“These artists are collaborating with each other…you don’t really need to be a dancer to understand the culture and move your feet and move your body to that nowadays.”

The continuing success of songs like these just shows how mainstream and integrated UK music has become and it shows from the positive response there has already been to the upcoming Afro-Latino event. People from all over the UK, even as far as Bristol and Norfolk have reached out that they are interested.

“We’ve had nothing but positive responses. There’s a lot of events that go on in Margate each year through the summer, and I feel this Afro-Latino festival can sit alongside all of the other major events that happen.”

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