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It’s the highlight of Carnaval week in Puerto de la Cruz and last year it attracted more than 35,000 spectators.
It’s only 7.30pm. Registration of contestants isn’t scheduled to begin for another hour but already crowds are claiming their places along the route and against the barriers in Plaza Charco.

Tonight is double pleasure for us; not only are we here to watch the arrival and registration of the contestants in this surreal event, but its early start gives us the perfect excuse to eat at the Meson California guachinche in Plaza Charco.

The music strikes up and the beer barrels beside the stage are loaded, ready to oil the heels of contenders. Then it begins – a trickle at first but quickly gaining strength into a river of weird and fabulous costumes emerging from the crowds to be registered, have their heels measured for minimum height and be introduced to the audience.

It’s a process that takes in excess of two hours during which time the contestants imbibe copious amounts of alcohol, building nerve and diminishing co-ordination until heels morph into shifting mountains beneath their feet.

This year the costumes were a triumph with the Cinderella shoes and the chickens coming out top of my list.

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As soon as we heard that Ministry of Sound were going to be appearing in Santa Cruz on the first Saturday night of Carnaval 2011 it was a foregone conclusion. We would be there.

There was much debate over how we would get in and out of the city, tales of traffic mayhem being rife, but the prospect of long walks, a bus ride dressed as Hit Girl and Brother Jack, another long walk and no idea of how we would get home again settled it. We’d take our chances and drive into the city.

I drew the designated driver short straw and we set off around 10.40pm to give ourselves plenty of time to check out all the venues in the city before heading to Plaza Europa to share the Ministry of Sound experience. As it turned out, driving into the city couldn’t have been easier. We arrived at the bus station car park to find plenty of spaces (the Canarios don’t tend to like paying for parking when an empty pedestrian crossing costs nothing) and with the final touches applied to our costumes, headed off into the surreal pandemonium that is carnival.

Everywhere we went, the sights and smells of food assailed us, from candy floss and sugared almonds at the fairground, through baked potatoes and hot dogs along the paseo marítima to the amazing food stall in Plaza Candelaria with its Desperate Dan– sized montaditos and its rotating barbecue on which half suckling pigs sizzled.

Everyone who wasn’t eating, and most of those who were, were drinking, and the ground was littered with carrier bags bulging with bags of ice, bottles of Jack Daniels, Smirnoff, Arehucas, cans of Red Bull and bottles of coke from which groups were serving themselves generous refills in between salsas. Beer stalls lined every street, their counters propped up by escapees from a drug-induced nightmare, and a giant plastic lime with its top half sliced and opened served as a bar for a mojito mixing barman dressed as a bee.

We made our way first to Plaza Principe where a very traditional band was just warming up a crowd who were enjoying their salsa under the stars. Next it was on to the small stage below the Plaza where a rock band were belting out Spanish and US classic rock anthems to a select gathering. As the clock ticked towards Ministry of Sound time we headed to the main stage at Plaza Candelaria where thousands of fancy dress clad revellers were getting into their stride to the Maquinería boy band who were belting out a lively stream of carnival favourites accompanied by some very nifty dance moves.

By now, the Carnaval spirit had us by the throat and there was only one place that we needed to be. As the lasers scanned the night sky, and over a steady dance beat, a deep voice intoned a monologue that told us of a night when it was written that a new generation would come and dance until the ground shook.
As the volume pumped up and the Ministry of Sound roadshow took to the stage, the prophecy came true.

Unfortunately, my flip camera also shook and the microphone gave up the ghost on the volume. So with suitable apologies to Ministry of Sound for failing to capture the full force of your music, here’s a taster of Santa Cruz Carnaval 2011 . the food, the music and the people.

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Anyone visiting Tenerife over the next month is quite likely to find themselves witnessing events that are a little out of the ordinary as Carnaval 2011 hits the island like a tropical storm in costume.

Depending on which part of the island you’re based in, you’re quite likely to witness party goers dressed as smurfs, witches, angels and Marvel comic characters either fresh faced and bright eyed on their way to the street party, sleeping precariously on a harbour wall or still propping up a bar mid-morning with eyes as red as the sunrise.

You’ll also probably stumble over exhibitions, vintage car rallies, dancing competitions and even, as in the case of the unsuspecting holidaymakers in Puerto de la Cruz a few days ago, a mini carnival parade.

As visitors and locals strolled the cobbled streets of the town centre on an average Sunday morning, the peace was shattered by the persistent sounding on a tinny horn which heralded the arrival of the candidates for the town’s Carnaval Queen 2011 elections in vintage cars accompanied by a mini parade of dancers and musicians.

You don’t have to attend the main events to know that party time has arrived; unlike the mountain to Mohammed, Carnaval will come to you 🙂

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I like Latino music, I really do, but not at the expense of every other type of music in the Universe and unfortunately, here in the north of Tenerife Latino is aired, played and listened to as if no other order of notes has ever been invented.

Still, it was New Year’s Eve at the annual street party in Puerto de la Cruz and I resigned myself to another night of salsa, salsa and more salsa which certainly improves in direct relation to the quantity of alcohol consumed.

Midnight strikes, grapes are swallowed, fireworks explode into life and the champagne corks are popped – hello 2011.
Jack, Nicole, Sebastian and I wander back to Plaza Charco where the evening’s Latino band are in full swing and the dance floor is packed with salsa dancers. I do my best to shake up an explosion by attempting (badly I suspect) to emulate the moves while carrying a rucksack in which our chilled cava supply is stashed.

Shortly after 1am Nicole and Sebastian bid their farewells and Jack and I  finish off a bottle of cava and head over to the other side of the harbour to see what’s happening.

Lo and behold, what we find is the alternative New Year’s Eve – the one that has loud, throbbing rhythms and multi coloured strobe lights and joy upon joy, the unmistakeable chords of Insomnia!
With unrestrained delirium we launch ourselves into the middle of the pulsating dance floor and let the music wash over us in a tsunami of nostalgia.
I don’t think I have ever been more happy to hear Faithless, and the atmosphere alongside the harbour with the neon Big Wheel of the funfair slowly turning in the distance is nothing short of electric.
Now this is what I call party music.

We video’d snippets of the two sides to our NYE party so that anyone who has never experienced New Year’s Eve in Puerto de la Cruz can see what they’re missing and book now for 2011/2012. Oh, and in the interests of editing, I’ve culled the 5 minute firework display down to 1½ minutes.

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Walking the streets of Puerto de la Cruz around midnight last night, you’d have been forgiven for wondering if some giant, flesh-eating plants had invaded the town leaving the streets bereft of its citizens. But there’d be two vital pieces of information you’d be missing. Firstly, much of the population were nursing the hangover from hell after a full day of partying at the Fiestas Del Carmen on Tuesday and secondly, those who were still capable of dancing were all being held hostage at Plaza Europa by a diminutive African woman named Angélique Kidjo.

After the excesses of Tuesday, it took a Herculean feat of will to drag myself away from the prospect of a comfy sofa and a night in front of the box last night, but someone has to do it…
Bitching about the fact that there was no break between fiestas at this time of year and sounding like Victor Meldrew in knickers, I headed down to town at around 9pm for the opening night of the annual Jazz & Mas concerts.
Arriving in Plaza Europa, some hundred or so chairs were laid out theatre-style, most of them already occupied. The stage was set outside the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) building, lined by bright green kiosks enticing us to piensa en verde (think green) and beyond the stage large Heineken banners fluttered in the sea breeze like prayer flags calling the faithful to imbibe.

Yul Ballesteros

Jack and I positioned ourselves standing a metre or so behind the chairs, so that we could easily access side of stage for photos, and berated the use of staid seating for a concert as we watched a more mature crowd jostle for spare chairs.

First up was celebrated local(ish) lad, Yul Ballesteros, fresh from the New York modern Jazz scene. Born in Gran Canaria, this young man has been wowing New York with his guitar prowess and last night, it was easy to hear why. His improvised style may not be everyone’s first choice of easy listening but he certainly pleased the jazz aficionado audience last night. His set lasted for over an hour and had Jack and I doing a U-turn on our earlier diss’ of the seating arrangements as our backs, still exhausted from Tuesday, began to register painful indignation at this abuse.
Feeling slightly guilty, I didn’t join in with the random cries of Otra when Yul and his quartet left the stage.

Angélique Kidjo

Muttering to each other about only staying to watch a bit of the next performance, we watched a small African woman with close-cropped grey hair; flared loons split from the knee down and ankle boots, take to the stage. Unaccompanied, she split the night with a voice so powerful and sweet that it brought tears to the eyes. She sang her song in Swahili, keeping time with a soft rhythmic tapping on her thigh; this tiny figure on a huge stage which she filled with her presence. In an instant, she had captured the 500 strong audience and held them in her thrall.

She ended her song to tumultuous applause and immediately went into a fast tempo African number, a fusion of funk and soul to the beat of African drums, her body gyrating and stomping in a dance display of pure vitality and joy. That was it. The onlookers from the back surged forward to surround the seating area, dancing like they’d just discovered how good it was. Soon the ranks broke again and a tide of dancing bodies swept to front of stage as Angélique lifted every single individual up and sent their spirits soaring through the night.

The fact that she spoke entirely in English, most of which would have been lost on them, did nothing to diminish Angélique’s hold on her audience as she told us about how her father had introduced his children to the world by bringing them music from all the places he could never afford to send them to; Europe, America, India – musical influences that she now melted and fused with her native African beats to produce her high energy, compelling songs.

Our broken backs now forgotten, we watched, sang, danced and laughed as Angélique held us hostage late into the night. By the time we left, a good percentage of the audience were up on stage with this incredible woman, helping her to celebrate her fiftieth birthday by dancing to the drums of her childhood which echoed through the empty streets and followed us all the way back to the car.

If you ever get a chance to go and see Angélique Kidjo – do it.  It’s not just a concert, it’s a life-affirming experience.

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Aaron Thomas

It’s a well known fact that the nightlife centre of Tenerife is Playa de Las Américas…or is it?

Well, as far as many of the people who holiday on Tenerife year after year are concerned it certainly is. The area known locally as ‘The Patch’ is choc-a-bloc with live venues staging tribute bands, comedy acts, drag shows and karaoke. Now reduced to a small area but just as popular as ever with the young contingent, the area of Veronicas and Starcos is where a heady, hedonistic cocktail of top sounds, cheap drinks and exposed ‘white bits’ plays out nightly.
And for those with a more sophisticated entertainment palette, Costa Adeje provides chic venues such as El Faro Chill Art where your wallet might feel like it’s been mugged, but it’ll enjoy the experience.

Interestingly, what many of Tenerife’s millions of visitors rarely discover is that there’s another world of nightlife in the north of the island, one whose nightclubs are packed to the rafters every summer weekend with locals and holidaying mainlanders.

Kenny Neal

In the capital city of Santa Cruz and the charismatic harbour town of Puerto de la Cruz, the nightlife is only just beginning as many of the south coast holiday makers are wending their way back to their hotel beds. Discos pump out Latino, Reggaeton and Salsa intermingled with top UK and US dance, Indie and chart sounds until the first churros of the day emerge crisp and fragrant from the fryer at 6am, ready to be doused in sugar and dipped in hot chocolate by the tired clubbers on their way home to bed.

And as the days grow longer and the evenings grow warmer, both Puerto de la Cruz and Santa Cruz stage street festivals of top notch live music to modest audiences who enjoy the entertainment for free.
Last month alone audiences were treated to a European Music day in Puerto which included the extremely talented singer/songwriter from Tasmania via Madrid – Aaron Thomas. And in Santa Cruz the fabulous Annual Blues Festival of Santa Blues saw audiences enthralled by the likes of Larry McCray and Kenny Neal.

This month the extremely popular Heineken Jazz y Mas festival hosts concerts across venues in Santa Cruz and Puerto de la Cruz between the 8th and the 18th July and features ten concerts from traditional, through modern and improvised Jazz to a Billie Holiday tribute night and the amazing African singer Angélique Kidjo.

So, the nightlife centre of Tenerife is Playa de Las Américas…? Well, let’s just say it’s one of the places where you can enjoy good music this summer.

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It’s a weird thing about Los Silos. Venture there during the day and you’ll find a sleepy, picturesque village with an Art Nouveau bandstand, a church that looks like it’s constructed out of icing sugar and egg whites; and beautifully restored traditional architecture. But go there for one of its fiestas and you’ll find yourself knee deep in dreadlocks, harem pants, patchouli oil and peace and love.

Hippies and batucada in Los Silos

Hippies and batucada in Los Silos

And that’s exactly how it was last weekend when Los Silos staged the Boreal Festival of the Whale; out came the Neo-hippies in their droves.
As I wandered up towards the whale skeleton that stands as a sculpture on the headland I had to snake my way through jugglers, a girl practising her Zuni Poi Swings who nearly had my eye out, trainee stilt walkers and a dreadlocked, bare-chested, uni-cycle rider.
The air was thick with the smell of musk, patchouli and the Tree of Moses and the peace and love was positively palpable.

Beneath fluttering, silk pastel flags stalls lined the promenade. In between the juggling paraphernalia, homemade jewellery and henna tattoo stalls, there were information points extolling the adoption of earth-friendly practices in businesses and homes.
At some point some baby turtles were released into the sea but it must have been a very low key launch because I managed to entirely miss it.

A large stage was filled with equipment, chord practising guitarists and roadies muttering “uno, dos” into the mikes. At one point several people including myself thought that the band had started and one woman began to dance but then the song just fizzled and the “uno, dos” began again. I concluded that the sound engineers were rubbish and that the waiting bands were refusing to perform with such an incompetent mixing desk.

Satisfied with my made up explanation and feeling slightly giddy from the atmosphere, I headed off to Garachico in search of rock and chips.

Reaching the tiny harbour the smell of leather and burgers assailed my

Leather and chrome at Garachico

Leather and chrome at Garachico

nostrils and the iconic chords of Kings of Leon soothed my ears.
The car park was lined with the chrome, leather and glass of motorcycles and milling around them were black leather-clad bikers and their chicks.

I grabbed a burger and wandered the rows of bikes feigning any kind of knowledge whatsoever of what a great bike looks like.

I felt like I’d wandered into the anti-Christ of the Eco festival. Goth T shirts and black studded belts and wrist bands replaced pastel hemp. Tattooed fire-breathing dragons and bloodied knives replaced butterflies and wispy spirals and boots the size of astronaut’s moon walkers replaced flipflops.

With just a handful of spectators out front, the bands took to the stage. No sound checks were necessary here as the mixing desk was in the über-efficient hands of a professional sound production team and the opening chords rang out across the harbour, bouncing back off the frozen lava streams on the hillside.

Saturday night in the Isla Baja region proves that the culture on Tenerife can be every bit as diverse as its geography.

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