Fukuoka’s own 14th Annual Isla de Salsa went off with a bang the first weekend of August down at Seaside Momochi. Salsa means ‘sauce’ in Spanish and this festival certainly makes for a sizzling mix of Latin and Caribbean music, food, and art – exemplifying its tagline ‘Borderless Music….Borderless Minds’. If anyone forgets what the theme is, watching people come together over music will easily remind them!
The festival fuses international sensations together with over one hundred local musicians and dancers to create a musical oasis overlooking Hakata Bay. Summer is the perfect time to soak in the Latin salsa flavor – whether it’s blasting out of speakers or in the tacos that will your taste buds away!
The best part of this smorgasbord of Latin culture is that there are always new and upcoming performers to be found in the crowd, spreading the seductive sounds of the Spanish guitar and displaying dance moves that give the hips a great workout. This year, Los Van Van of Cuba rolled into Momochi as the act to sing and sway to. Nathen Maxwell and the Original Bunny Gang even popped over to Fukuoka from Los Angeles to spice things up. The sounds on show ranged from Santana-style jams to Groove Armada-esque beats – like something you might hear at Café del Mar in Ibiza. Mini dance lessons peppered the schedule, giving attendees the chance to strut their stuff on the makeshift dance floor. Belly dancers entered the fray too, with a mesmerizing performance backed by guitar and the sound of waves crashing on the beach to the left of the stage.
But the musical and dance acts were not the only stars of Isla de Salsa! The collection of summery white tents to the back and side of the festival area were home to a food explosion. Tacos, burritos, and taco rice galore – it was ‘Tex Mex’ heaven! When a sudden rain shower burst from the sky, members of the crowd rushed for Latin- and Spanish-inspired snacks that fired them up for more dancing as the clouds came out again. What concoctions were a-flowing? Cases upon cases of Sol Beer, imported from Mexico, were littered about the bustling beach bar at the very center of the festival area. For those who preferred cocktails to beat the heat, muchos mojitos were on hand, crafted by a bar tending team full of flare.
Sizzling music, food, and weather helped to create the jovial atmosphere of Isla de Salsa but it was the crowd that completed it. The attitudes of everyone security guards to cooks grilling in the back of their tents to fans waving their arms in the air in front of the stage reflected the warm hospitality of Latin culture. Vendors enthusiastically shared their food and fashion with festival-goers as reggaeton thumped in the background. A great majority of the audience dared to try the simplest version of the salsa as Cuban dance leaders unveiled a setting reminiscent of a street party in Miami. People from France, England, Peru, El Salvador, Brazil, Senegal, Barbados, Argentina, and many more countries stepped to the cries of ‘Ushiro, ushiro, mae, mae’, which indicated dance directions.
For more flexibility during dance time, Fukuokans sported bright colors and prints – the bolder, the better. Long and flowing bohemian dresses decorated young Japanese and foreign women alike. Flowered Hawaiian shorts seemed to be a big hit with men rocking back and forth to the beat.
In conjunction with the omnipresent flora and fauna of Isla de Salsa, eco-friendly practices were encouraged. Rather than scattering trashcans about the festival area, organizers set up booths to collect trash. Some were designated to take PET bottles, cans, and plastic while others were reserved for combustible garbage. These environmental helpers greeted everyone with smiling faces and 100 yen refunds to people returning trash. This eco-consciousness was another layer of the Isla de Salsa onion that captured the human spirit amidst a glistening backdrop of sand and sea.
For those in and out of Japan looking to explore Isla de Salsa next year, the best way is to jump right in! Squeeze into the middle of the dance floor and try belting out some Spanish lyrics! Take advantage of some shade to take a break and sip a drink. Ask vendors to recommend their favorite food and drink combinations to bring out the spice in that salsa. Join in the impromptu beach volleyball during the rain shower. Internationalization at its finest, this buffet of Latin culture makes meeting people from all over Japan and from across the globe practically effortless. See you there next year!
Official site: www.isla-de-salsa.jp
Text by Amelia Hagen for Fukuoka Now