INTERVIEW: ¡VAMOS! Festival | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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As many a keen festival-goer should know, serene skies and luscious weather mean much more than simply the arrival of summer: for, at last, the hugely popular ¡VAMOS! is finally set to return to the North East this June, spreading joy, culture, and showers of confetti wherever it goes. I caught up with co-Director Patricia Oliart to chat about the rich background of the event in wake of its 10th anniversary.

First up, give us a brief summary: what is ¡VAMOS!?

¡VAMOS! started off as (and still remains) a celebration of Spanish and Portuguese speaking cultures, situated in the North East of England. Since 2006, thanks to our sponsors and partner institutions, we have produced cultural events from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. But also, a lot of our programme is based on events proposed by local people, which allows the festival to be very grounded in the region. Another thing that defines the festival is its wide appeal to different audiences. Everybody can find something they want to come to!

I sense a clear theme developing here. But what is it in particular about Spanish/Portuguese speaking entertainment that that you love?

What attracts us most is probably the combination of well-known expressions that have been among us for a long time (flamenco, salsa, samba), together with an endless feel of surprise and wonder of things we did not know existed. These are very vibrant and dynamic cultures, nurtured by old influences but renovating constantly and very creatively.

The unique culture and party atmosphere must attract an incredibly diverse crowd, correct?

Attendees to the festival are all sorts of different people; migrants, their British friends and neighbours, their bicultural children and people from the UK who have spent some part of their lives in Spain, or Portugal, or Latin America. But more and more, all these people are not the majority of ¡VAMOS! goers! Local people and residents from Pakistan, India, China, Japan, Greece, Italy, North America, Nigeria and many other places have joined our events with no previous link to the Spanish and Portuguese speaking world. They arrive with openness and curiosity, join in and simply enjoy themselves!

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“These are very vibrant and dynamic cultures, nurtured by old influences but renovating constantly and very creatively”

So, ¡VAMOS! is now a major staple in the North East festival calendar. How does it feel that the event has gained so much success, and reached its 10th anniversary?

It’s taken a lot of hard work and a great team effort, but it’s been enormously gratifying, precisely because of the appeal to different audiences. A lot of people have embraced it not only attending, but contributing to our events with their time and passion.

What has granted ¡VAMOS! support (apart from our fantastic sponsors) has been the passion, faith, and an incredible sense of dedication on the part of Nik Barrera (festival founder). But this is not just an individual’s project: It was imagined as a great community project from the start. Since it began, ¡VAMOS! has grown vastly, as it has attracted many people who want to share their own connections with the Spanish and Portuguese speaking world within the local community they live in. This is what makes the festival a great cultural, communal and “life-affirming” experience, as I’ve heard Nik say a few times.

So, in our events there is always a happy mix of those who want to share who they are, those who want to celebrate and remember, those who want to experience something new, and those who simply want to enjoy whatever this lovely city has to offer!

Finally, ¡VAMOS! Has held plenty of colourful events over the last decade-from manic film screenings to Mexican wrestling. But what have been some of the highlights for you?

Among the individuals who year after year bring their love and passion to the festival, I can mention two, but there are many more. Paco Bethencourt is a guitarist from the Canary Islands who came to study in Newcastle. Here, he created the North East Flamenco Collective, an international community of guitarists who gather to play the music they love. Every year there is at least one fantastic event dedicated to Flamenco, which is always accompanied by busy workshops for all aspects of it: the dance, guitar playing, and even clapping (which I, a curious Peruvian, always wanted to crack as the rhythm is so different from anything I know from South American rhythms!)

The Tyne Carnival has also run now for three years- It was proposed to ¡VAMOS! by a great group of Latin Americans, from Colombia, Venezuela and Bolivia who were all part of Rumba North East. Francisco Volcan (the lovely man behind Deli Churros), Yuvel Soria (a popular Zumba instructor) and the dynamic and multi-talented Ximena Cordova each met with ¡VAMOS! in 2010 to propose this project, and it’s grown bigger and bigger ever since!

¡VAMOS! Festival runs between Thursday 4th and Sunday 14th June.

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