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Carnival colours in the streets of Cadiz

Anna Mikulska

Translation: Joanna Cal

Phot. A. Mikulska

The word “carnival” is most often associated with Rio de Janeiro and Venice. During this exceptional period, however, it’s also worth considering the small peninsula in the south of Spain, which turns into a great festival for ten days. Cadiz, with just over 12 km2, every year attracts thousands of tourists from the country and abroad with the sounds of guitars, colorful costumes and fun on the streets of one of the oldest cities in Europe.

Phot. A. Mikulska | A group of friends dressed as Mexican mariachi celebrate in the main square Plaza de la Catedral in Cadiz

Cadiz, located on a peninsula by the Atlantic Ocean, as a port city has been in contact with different cultures for centuries. A reminder of the carnival tradition is most likely left behind by travelers and merchants from Venice who came here in the 16th century.

Phot. A. Mikulska | The carnival attracts crowds of tourists, mainly from Andalusia and other Spanish regions.

The first day of the carnival begins with the competition finale of groups performing mainly songs related to Spanish folklore. From Friday to the next morning, in every bar, shop and flat you can hear a live transmission from the Gran Teatro Falle theatre. It’s here that for almost 20 days you can go to concerts which, despite rather high prices, sell out quickly. At the same time, it’s a competition in which about a hundred groups take part and only a dozen or so are in the final. Only during the actual carnival the musicians take to the streets where everyone can listen to them for free.

Phot. A. Mikulska | Dressing up is almost mandatory, especially on the first Saturday of the carnival.

The groups are divided into four types. The biggest of them, coro, consists of eighteen to forty-five people, and the smallest one, cuartetos, is just three or five musicians. In addition, we have also comparsas (ten, fifteen people) and the most popular chirigotas (from seven to twelve musicians). Most often these are accompanied by the sounds of guitars, drums and pitos de carnaval, more widely known as kazoo, the sound resembling small vuvuzelas.

Phot. A. Mikulska | During the carnival in the streets and squares you can hear groups of musicians performing day and night.

For several years now, an integral part of the carnival’s been the so-called “illegal” groups of musicians who effectively compete with official bands. These are usually friends or families who can be heard in a number of smaller streets and squares. Costumes during celebrations are almost mandatory, especially on the first Saturday of the carnival. Visitors can buy a disguise at every venue, and they don’t have to spend a fortune on it – a mask costs up to 1,50 euros.

Phot. A. Mikulska | “Illegal” music bands often sing in a humorous way about politics and important events of the past year.

I’m looking at broken glass, scattered plastic cups and food leftovers that’ve covered the streets of the historic part of the city. It is only the second day of the carnival. I’m wondering if the residents don’t mind the condition in which tourists will leave Cadiz once the fun is over.

Dear, this is my town! Carnival is not primarily for tourists, but for us, the locals. On each of these streets you can hear bands performing. If you listen carefully, you’ll understand that they’re singing about the current political situation, summing up what’s happened throughout the year – says a girl in a white wig with blue feathers and strong make-up, who introduced herself as Luz De La Marina (the Light of the Marina). The satirical performances of the groups in pasodoble, Sevillanas or tango rhythms are most often an opportunity to laugh at politicians or other public figures, who were the talk over the last twelve months.

Phot. A. Mikulska
Phot. A. Mikulska | The carnival party is attended by whole families and groups of friends. Everybody, regardless of age, gets dressed.

We met with Luz De La Marina at one of the squares just before midnight. The fun in the city lasts almost 24 hours. During the day you can mainly see parents with children, often dressed up as a family of super heroes or pirates with colourful balloons. Late in the evening, mainly young people take to the streets of the historic city centre. This is the only time when you can drink alcohol on the streets, which is easily available at any time. At this time, even some clothing shops offer beer or wine.

Phot. A. Mikulska | You can buy carnival costumes on almost every street.

Apart from the competition of music bands, an important element of the carnival is also a parade. Although it doesn’t start until Sunday, the spectators’ chairs along the main avenue of the city are ready from Friday. There are not many of them in relation to the number of spectators, so most people sit on the pavement and the street. The 3.5-km-long way takes about four hours for the performing groups to walk. Before they reach us, we’ll be waiting for more than an hour, and with us whole families, elderly people and babies, all dressed up in costumes. Between eating one packet of crisps and another handful of jellies, children throw confetti around. When the muffled sounds of drums can finally be heard from afar, everyone gets up from the street and chairs at once. Each of the passing platforms is thematically decorated – there are Disney princesses, rock bands, an African savannah… Interestingly, everyone can take part in the parade – in front of the professional performers goes a large group of dressed-up people who joined them during the march. The sun starts to set as the crowd of spectators slowly goes home or to the centre to keep the fun going.

Phot. A. Mikulska | The long-awaited parade traditionally takes place on the main avenue of the city.
Phot. A. Mikulska | Apart from colourful dressed up performers, the parade is accompanied by theme-oriented platforms, huge balloons, mobile constructions and DJs.

Those tired of the crowds of singing and dancing carnivalists can rest on one of the sandy beaches over the Atlantic. The sound of the waves supresses the sounds of drums and pitos de carnaval, which will accompany one of the most beautiful events in Spain for several more days.

Phot. A. Mikulska | “Pitos de carnaval” is an integral part of the event.