Judith Schrut reviews La Linea 2024, the annual London Latin Music Festival.

London has long been home or host to diverse nationalities and cultures; one recent study shows London as the world’s most multicultural city, with over 285 nationalities and ethnic groups and 300 different languages. And wherever folk go, their culture and traditions come with them, so it’s no surprise that a world of music, dance and other folk-flavoured events thrives year-round in our amazing city.

Amongst the very best of these is La Linea, London’s annual Latin Music Festival. Now in its 24th year, La Linea brings top Latin music stars from around the globe together with homegrown talent for a two-week soundfest in venues across the capital.

This year I was a lucky ticketholder for La Linea 2024’s opening night at the Barbican Centre, headlined by the vibrant, outspoken and endlessly colourful Lila Downs.

Downs is one of the most influential artists in Latin America. Growing up in both Minnesota, USA, and Oaxaca, Mexico with a mother from the Mixtec indigenous group and a Scottish-American father, she sings in Spanish, English and several Native American languages such as Zapotec and Mixtec, Nahuatl, Maya and Purepecha. Her music flows across borders, genres and rhythms, from Mexican corridos and rancheras to Cuban boleros, from North American folk songs to South American cumbia, with songs about social justice, indigenous peoples, women…and food.

London Latin Music Festival
Mariachi Las Adelitas

The Barbican evening is on fire from the get-go, via strong opening support from London’s own Mariachi Las Adelitas. The only all-female Mariachi band in Europe, they swiftly energise the sell-out crowd with their mix of classic and original Mariachi music, including a soulful, sassy version of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black arranged for horns, fiddles, Mexican guitarrón and seven voices. It’s not long before the entire audience is on its feet — dancing, clapping and practically jumping with joy.

After a brief intermission — and several rounds of ‘Viva Mexico!’ from the jubilant crowd — Downs flutters on stage, like an exotic bird in flowing serape, leggings, high boots and  plump white chiffon tail, her long, black hair stunningly beaded and braided down her back.

Within minutes the audience is up again — dancing, cheering, waving flags and sharing sips from Downs’ famous bottle of tequila. There’s definitely not much sitting tonight. Soon we are, pardon the pun, eating out of her hand as she sings passionately about chile, corn, tomatoes, onions and chocolate; love, death and standing up to oppression, dancing through many colourful shawls, a selection of large hats and half a dozen encores. A wondrous evening indeed.

London Latin Music Festival
Los Tigres del Norte

I found the rest of this year’s La Linea packed with similar treats. There was a rare London appearance of vivacious French-Chilean singer, poet, lyricist Ana Tijoux  and her band at the Village Underground, musical support from the unique and intense voice of Colombia’s Montañera, and the long-awaited UK debut of multi-Grammy-winning band Los Tigres del Norte with its infectious Mexican Norteño beats. Since the late 1950s this family band — lead vocalist Jorge Hernández, brothers Hernán, Eduardo and Luis and cousin Oscar —  have written and sung tirelessly about the trials and triumphs, romances and heartbreak of working people, families, immigrants, outlaws and farmers.

Other festival highlights included Latinas of London, a night celebrating women of Latin heritage and British upbringing at Camden’s Jazz Café, Nu-Cumbian queen La Yegros and the fabulous TangOpera project, featuring fiery performances by top Argentine tango singers and dancers.

Desta French for Latinas of London
Desta French for Latinas of London

La Linea 2024: London Latin Music Festival

Took place at the Barbican Centre and other London venues, 12-22 April 2024.

Further information on La Linea 2024

Can be found at La Linea Festival 2024.

Find out about more Latin music and events in London/UK at Como No!

Images courtesy Baxter PR and Como No!, with special thanks to Joe Baxter and Tom Fletcher. Main image: Lila Downs, photo courtesy ComoNo & BaxterPR.