The city of Melbourne, Australia has long been considered synonymous with multiculturalism. It boasts the largest Greek community outside of Greece, and its Italian community can claim credit for the elaborate espresso boom here. You can eat authentic Ethiopian food in Kensington and shop at Vietnamese markets in Footscray. Increasingly, you can also get a serious dose of Colombian culture in Melbourne.
There may be 9,000 miles between the South American country and Melbourne, but they seem to be inching closer each day. Australia’s 2011 census showed 11,318 Colombian-born people in Australia, a 98.2 per cent increase from 2006. Victoria, the state where Melbourne is located, has the second largest Colombian community in the country, just after Sydney.
“I wasn’t sure if I was in the right country, since I hardly saw any Australians,” remembers Maria Delgado, who came to Melbourne from Colombia in 2014, of the city’s multiculturalism. Domestic-born Australians are taking notice as well, coming to appreciate how much Colombian music, dance and culture fit into the mold of their city. “I think their culture fits perfectly with the Australian one and maybe adds a bit of energy and fiesta,” says Clive, a sales executive in Melbourne from Vasey, Victoria.
To experience Melbourne’s Colombian culture for yourself, first head down to the Central Business District (CBD)’s Flinders Lane to browse street vendors selling hand-woven artisanal Colombian products. For everything else, check out the highlights below…
One of the most popular hangouts for homesick Colombians is the CBD’s Cento Mani Café, an authentic Colombian restaurant serving classics like bandeja paisa, a dish of red beans, rice, meat, chicharron, egg and plantain, and ajiaco, a chicken and potato soup. The cafe even offers the typical jugo de lulo, a drink made from the tropical fruit lulo, a staple of Colombia.
Head north to the trendy Fitzroy neighborhood, where you’ll find Sonido, a small Colombian-inspired café serving arepas, empanadas and great coffee. Enjoy the bright hodgepodge décor as you smell the fresh coffee and listen to Latin hits and regional Colombian music.
Start by joining the city’s youthful Latino crowd Thursday nights at Lion Hotel in Melbourne Central for the weekly event Dulce Latino, where you’ll dance to Salsa, Vallenato, Cumbia and Reggaeton.
Reserve Friday or Saturday night for Mendoza’s Social Club, an almost-hidden Latin music bar in the CBD. While Fridays are relaxed and best for sampling cocktails from Latin America, Saturdays draw Latinos from throughout the city, not just Colombians. Bodies pack into the tight space while a Colombian DJ spins.
For those looking for some open air on Saturdays, head a few blocks over to Russell Street for the Tropical Rooftop Latin Bar, which hosts Tropical Saturdays, a weekly dance party featuring salsa, champeta, cumbia and more. The bar also celebrates special events such as Colombian Independence Day in July.
Melbourne is a hotbed for innovative live music, and the Latin music scene is no exception. Colombians and other Latin Americans have collaborated, fused and created unforgettable sounds in Melbourne. To hear non-traditional Cumbia mixed with sounds like reggae, Afro-Colombian and ska, the groups Madre Monte, Dela Cáye, and Amaru Tribe all play live shows at bars and clubs around Melbourne. Look for parties by DJ collectives Cumbia Massive and African Champeta for more sounds from Colombia and Latin America.
Check out the CDB restaurant Vamos, located near some of the best graffiti in the city, for its pop-up Colombian music night, La Bomba Colombiana (you can also take Spanish lessons at the restaurant). Dance enthusiasts should check out the Latin Dance Calendar for events throughout the city.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the best Colombian bands and events during Melbourne’s many festivals, especially St. Kilda Festival, held annually in February, and Melbourne Fringe Festival, running from late September through early August. Colombian music and dance will also make an appearance at events such as the Melbourne Latin Summer Festival, the Hispanic and Latin American Festival and Melbourne Latin Festival. (Check event calendars such as Broadsheet, Time Out and What’s On for correct dates and times.)
Feature image shows Amaru Tribe performing, credit Camilo Quiroja.