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Tuesday, Aug. 17, 1999

Latino culture bursts onto scene

Staff writer

Fans of Latin American culture, especially salsa dancing, will definitely not want to miss Isla de Salsa '99, which takes place in Fukuoka Aug. 22.

Nearly 2,500 people are expected to be on hand for the event, which begins at 2 p.m. and finishes at 8 that evening. Sponsored by Tiempo Iberoamericano, a Fukuoka-based NGO that promotes Latin American culture, this year's event features dancers, musicians, and artists from Central and South America.

"The Isla de Salsa has become Japan's premier Latin American festival," says Santiago Herrera, the head of Tiempo Iberoamericano, "and we get people from all over the country, both Japanese and non-Japanese."

Salsa music forms the basis of the event, but there will also be an African percussion group from Senegal, a saxophone and guitar duo, and a duo from Cuba.

"The star attraction will be Colombian Yolanda Rayo and Orchestra. One of Latin America's top recording groups, they are coming to Japan for the first time just to participate in Isla de Salsa," says Herrera.

In addition to the music, there will be food stands set up at the event featuring Latin American dishes. A sculpture exhibition entitled "Japan Through the Eyes of Latin American Residents" will also take place.

The highlight of the day, though, is likely to be a salsa dance contest. Some of Japan's top salsa amateur dancers, Japanese and foreign, are expected to compete in the event. "Many of the participants have practiced all year for this contest," says Herrera.

Why a salsa festival in Fukuoka? According to Herrera, there are several reasons.

"Fukuoka and the northern Kyushu in particular have long and deep contacts with Latin America," he says. "One hundred years ago, many Japanese people from this part of the country immigrated to Brazil, Peru and Mexico, and even today many people in the area have someone in their family who emigrated.

"In recent years, the area has become a magnet for Latin Americans of Japanese origin and otherwise, who are attracted to the region for economic or cultural reasons."

"As a result, the northern Kyushu region has one of the largest concentrations of Latin Americans in Japan and many Japanese who are familiar with, and may even have distant relatives in, Latin America. Therefore, it seemed only natural that we host a salsa festival," he said.

For more information on the Isla de Salsa, telephone Santiago Herrera in English, Spanish or Japanese at (092) 762-4100 or fax (092) 762-4104.

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