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27 July 2013

In Buenos Aires, nights out start with pre-drinks or “previa” at 1am

Elizabeth Yentumi on nightlife in Argentina, which differs from the UK on more than just the time.

By Elizabeth Yentumi

One of the most well known aspects of Buenos Aires is the buzzing nightlife scene. While I’ve never been a club-hopper, something which has always threatened to undermine my student status, I do enjoy the occasional night out and love to dance to anything with a beat. My debut into Buenos Aires clubbing was quite the experience.

Many similarities exist between the standard British night out and its Argentine counterpart. First of all there is the customary pre-drinks or ‘previa’ which serves not only as a fun social prelude to the evening but also provides slight economic relief in the face of increasing nightclub drinks prices. The main difference lay in the fact that the gathering I found myself at began at the horrifying time of 1 am. Three hours later I tried to explain to a group of spirited, stylish portenas (Buenos Aires natives) that by this time in the UK I would have spent a respectable four hours on the dance floor and would be contemplating my journey home and the leftovers I would gorge on before running into the open arms of my bed. This was received with incredulous stares, a few snorts and a ‘Che boluda! Ya no empezó la noche!’ meaning ‘Mate, the night has only just begun.’

It’s now 4.15am. I tried to hide my fatigue and restlessness to get to the boliche, nightclub, while the girls continued to ply me with Argentine mainstay Fernet, an amaro or bitter spirit. Type Fernet into Wikipedia to see a full list of the ingredients to get an idea of this strange, new herb-filled drink. I may like it now but my facial expression after that first sip bore an uncanny resemblance to the look I gave my Grandma after a spoonful of cod liver oil when I was 5 years old. The taste wasn’t far off either. Sadly I couldn’t hide my expression as quickly as I had hoped. We finally arrived at the nightclub by taxi at 4.45am (not that I was aware of this).

Other similarities between UK clubs and Argentine ones include long queues of scantily clad girls teetering on heels, higher entrance fees for men and drinks deals for guests who arrive before a certain time. The real difference, however, can be found on the dance floor. A rhythmic and lively genre of music called Cumbia is played in addition to the popular UK and US chart music we’re used to. Originally enjoyed in the 90s by lower classes and pinched from the Caribbean coast of Columbia about 50 years before, the songs are a fusion of West African beats, Spanish guitars and various Argentine folkloric influences like cuarteto. What this somewhat incomplete definition really means is that people can shake, shimmy and let loose a bit more than when dancing along to the faster, static beats of pop music.

Cumbia also encourages dancing in partners, which is not only good, quasi old-fashioned fun and a bit like a salsa class with tipsy students but also an ‘efficient’ way for a guy to initiate conversation with a girl. Imagine a Latin American Grease. On the practical side, if you don’t dance energetically it doesn’t look as though you aren’t enjoying yourself; just that you are ‘feeling’ the beat. The relaxed vibe allows Argentinians to party until long past dawn. And if staying out until 8am wasn’t enough, why don’t we add a spot of breakfast before we go home? Personally, I was proud of the 6.30am end to my night, although it was slightly undermined when my friends, who I realised were far from quitting the dance floor, made me promise I wouldn’t go home so ‘temprano’ again. A poor show from the British girl who claimed to have a passion for dancing. I made it until 6.55am the next time. I can’t quite hear your applause…

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