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Chirigotas and Canasta

Cadiz Travel Blog

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I am a little remiss as I forgot to blog about my day in Cádiz for the Carnaval, just over an hour and a half drive from Sevilla. Before I do, you will need a little background information to set the scene.
(And Carnaval is the correct spelling in Spanish)

Carnaval in Cádiz is one of the largest Carnavals in the world and it takes place in the ten days leading up to Shrove Tuesday. The quiet seaside town becomes inundated with visitors, many of whom simply party through the night and snooze on park benches instrad of renting a room for the night. Cádiz Carnaval has a strong musical theme, inherited from the galleons of old that arrived form South America and Africa. These sounds have mixed with traditional Andalucian music and Flamenco. Throughout the year groups practice in anticipation of the buildup to Carnical and the heats take place over several weeks. There are several main types of ‘groups’ outlined here.
Chirigotas – These are humorous groups that perform satirical pieces about everything from politics to current events (this year, even Michael Jackson)
Choirs – These groups of singers may be funny at times, serious at others. They tend to be out and about, entertaining people in the streets accompanied by stringed instruments.
Comparsas – These are the most serious singers at the festival. They are known for their more classic musical talents and the more serious content of their songs.
Quartets – They don’t have to stick to the traditional four – but then, this is the carnival, after all. Time to break the rules! And they are most often accompanied by none other than a kazoo and the beating of sticks.
Romanceros – These are the solo acts at that roam the streets to entertain visitors and locals alike.

Apart from the music, it is the elaborate costumes worn by nearly everyone in attendance that make this event such a spectacle. Jose and I unfortunately arrived without costume but next year I will be back again – this time part of the fun rather than a sightseer.
The entire ‘old town’ is converted to a giant outdoor party as close to 50,000 people descend on the town. Stages are set up everywhere and streets are packed shoulder to shoulder with family groups of friends wearing matching outfits – everything you can imagine. Even to tiniest baby will have a costume and competition among parents seems fierce.

The most popular type of group is the ‘chirigotas’, choirs 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 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.

We arrived late on Saturday afternoon, to a freezing cold and blustery Cádiz. Parking well away form the old town, we took a bus as far as we could and could immediately feel the buzz in the centre. The narrow streets were lit from above with elaborate displays strung from one side to the other. It felt like a roof of stars overhead.
As we wound our way closer to the Cathedral, I had a sense of going in circles and wondered how we would ever find our way back to the car later on!

After a warming glass of local Canasta (like a sweet sherry), we were stopped by a chirigota. After a few choruses we joined in with the actions, giggling like kids as we hopped in a circle. I had absolutely no idea what the song was about but is seemed to enthrall the large crowd and I suspect a it was a little bawdy. The evening wore on like this and by 9.00pm we were more than ready to eat.

We found a darling bar tucked away in a lane off a side street and sated ourselves with several toasty tapas and more delicious canasta. It was warm and cosy but we managed to tear ourselves away to see the main stage festivities and take in the thousands of outrageous costumes. People had really gone to so much trouble and it seems like a bit of a competition to be the most creative. I was delighted to see a couple of Avatars also!

After a type of beauty pageant, come fashion parade, the new Queen of Carnaval was crowned and the stage taken over by a variety of choirs and comparsas. Again, their costumes and attention to detail were astounding. I imagine all the mums of Cádiz spending eleven months of the year sewing costumes just to get them done in time.
As the night wore on the streets became more and more packed. As we headed back to the car around 2.00am, the party was just getting started. I’m afraid the cold air was too much for me so we called it a night.
What an experience though - it was more than I expected.
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photo by: Chiquitatina