Carnival time is with us again, and it falls early this year. The event has been a popular one in Spain for centuries.
The features common to these celebrations, which offered a period of indulgence before the fasting and penitence demanded by Lent, consist of the subversion of established order; the reading of edicts or wills containing biting criticism of local life, personality-transforming masks and disguises and, above all, permissiveness as regards behaviour which, in normal times, would be considered madness, stupidity or plain hooliganism.
Like other fiestas in Spain, Carnival is a time for merry-making, eating, drinking, singing, dancing and dressing up. One of its main features is the singing of satirical songs, composed by the groups themselves and poking fun at institutions, famous figures, solemn current events and anything else.
The main places in Spain for Carnival celebrations are Cádiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the Canary Islands:
Cádiz: In Cádiz the carnival procedures include a spirited procession, contests to chose the best singers and comedians, fancy dress balls, the selection of the queen of the festivities and fireworks. The main attraction is the procession which is held the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
Celebration of Carnival was banned in both Spain and Portugal during their respective, parallel dictatorships: those of Franco and Salazar. The reasons are not difficult to see: Carnival is the most irreverent, subversive, authority-defying of festivals. So it is not surprising that rebellious, defiant Cádiz, the home of the liberal constitution of 1812, has a Carnival to match.
Cádiz is famous for the sense of humour of its citizens and Carnival is a festival in which authority, politicians, celebrities and the church are parodied and ridiculed. The central figures here are the choirs, agrupaciones, groups of between three and forty singers. Current events or personalities are mocked in comic song. The Concurso del Falla is a song festival held in the Gran Teatro Falla before Carnival itself and, to a certain extent, is a relatively serious choral competition.
The most popular type of group is the chirigota, a group normally of ten unison or close-harmony singers, accompanied by bombo, caja (drum, box - used as a percussion instrument), and guitar. Their repertoire is the most satirical of the different types of groups and the literary quality of the songs can be very high, as they may be written by local authors. Only a few musical forms such as the tango or pasodoble are used, so that everyone knows the tune and can concentrate on the words. Another important form is the tanguillo de Cádiz, considered a type of flamenco and also called the tanguillo de carnaval, so closely linked is it to this festival.
When Carnival itself is under way, these groups and choirs are to be found in all corners of the city or participating in parades, vying with each other and with the ilegales, groups which have not taken part in the Concurso. Evidently, your Spanish needs to be pretty hot to fully understand the jokes and parodies, but even if it is not, you will find it difficult not to get carried away with the general high spirits. Fancy dress is more or less obligatory, especially on the Sunday when the major procession, the cabalgata magna, is held.
Carnival comes to an end on the Sunday known as “Domingo de Piñatas”, when containers full of sweets and toys are hung up, then broken open by sticks or any other handy implement and their contents distributed to the people beneath.
| || || |