17 - 18 February
Two hours’ drive outside of Mexico City you’ll find Las Estacas, an idyllic natural reserve and spa facility deep in the city of Tlaltizapán.
With a natural river running through it and whole areas of green canopied by towering, overshadowing palm trees, these natural springs really are a blissful backdrop for a music and arts festival. In a global festival market where numerous events pride themselves on bringing the party to breathtaking locations, Carnaval de Bahidorá is one of the few which deliver.
As you journey through the site it’s clear that production value is high on the agenda. Though where some festivals airdrop their sets in with little regard for the location, Bahidorá feels informed by its surroundings.
The Sonorama main stage sits in the centre of the site with an eye-catching light instillation by Mexico City studio Quarso to its left. The sounds of Buenos Aries music collector and artist Chancha Vía Circuito are a nice fit for this environment, his blend of Latin American blueprints with dreamy experimentalism acts as a handy reflection of the event’s curatorial ethos. The stage also plays host to some of the bigger EU/US names on the line-up; Ariel Pink, Mount Kimbie and Kamasi Washington are de facto headliners. Mount Kimbie battle through sound issues to bring the affecting sounds of Love What Survives – it’s a shame that a setlist so heavy in rich, idiosyncratic tracks is brought down by technical holdbacks, but they still enjoy a rapt response from the crowd. More triumphantly, Kamasi Washington’s mind-bending free-jazz odysseys hypnotise the audience. His band (featuring two drummers and a vocalist) deliver a breathtaking set including compositions from last year’s enduringly beautiful Harmony of Difference EP.
It’s a two-day festival which never quietens down once it gets started. The programme runs from 11am on the Saturday through to 5pm on the Sunday with no breaks. Once Kamasi Washington ends, Sonorama plays host to more electronic-leaning live acts like Shigeto’s live show and the affecting (if a little on-the-nose) emotional electronic pop of HVOB.
Loosely, the line-up is framed around electronic sounds, a broad thread that ties the diverse bill together. The intoxicating sounds of Rio-based selector Valesuchi simmer in the midday heat over on the Bunker. It’s a stage which, despite some fairly intrusive brand visibility for festival sponsor Doritos, functioned as an epic platform for some of the blockbuster DJ names. Floorplan’s 2am sermon brought exactly the hands-in-the-air ecstasy he’s booked to provide and a genre-traversing closing set from Fred P became one of the talking points of the weekend.
Leave the Bunker and head towards the river to Asoleadero – a beautiful lakeside stage where the DJ faces a stream full of ravers. A highlight here came from Discwoman’s Riobamba whose heavy patchwork of future-facing Latinx club rhythms and infectious reggaeton radio hits showed a deep knowledge of the sounds dominating the festival’s surrounding regions without coming across like any kind of scholar, and dancing to this set was extremely fun. This wasn’t the only floating stage, the Estacion was housed in a swimming pool, welcoming Gilles Peterson, Rita Maia and London-based South African DJ Esa who closed the show.
Proceedings at the Estacion were stolen by Madrid-based Argentinian rapper Nathy Peluso whose fusion of old-soul melodies with razor-sharp hooks has clearly already made major waves with the local audience who rapped her hooks back at her without missing a bar. This was one of her first festival dates, and it’s arguably Mexico’s premier music festival. The reaction her set received and her response to it was testament to the importance of embracing your locale as a festival; it’s here the real moments happen.