A PhD-level scientist, Sankar Chatterjee possesses the passion for traveling worldwide to immerse himself in new cultures and customs to discover the forgotten history of the society while attempting to find the common thread that connects the humanity as a whole for its continuity. His most recent essays appeared in The Missing Slate and Travelmag - The Independent Spirit.
Photos courtesy: Shelley Chatterjee
A Cultural Feast in Los Carnavales, Cádiz, Spain
Though globalization, migration and assimilation have been creating new cultural festivities at different corners of this world, historic national festivities still maintain their allure and attraction to the citizens of a particular country. One such annual weeks’ long historic carnival in the city of Cádiz in southern Spain still takes place in late February. Popularly known as the “Los Carnavales,” the event claims to have been originated in mid-sixteenth century when this city, next to the Mediterranean Sea, served as an important port for the Spanish Empire. Widely known throughout Spain, the residents of the entire city along with visitors from other parts of the country take part in the festivities. During this period, on Saturdays, revelers wear colorful costumes, either regal or comical as well as paint their faces matching their costumes. The biggest attraction of the festival, however, is the various singing groups, labeled as the Comparsas, Chirigotas and Coros, respectively.
While on a trip in that part of the country recently, my wife and I boarded a train at Jerez traveling to Cádiz on a Saturday morning. Immediately, we were warmly greeted by a group of friends, on the way to the carnival, dressed as the individual character of The Simpsons, the popular American TV show.
The members of this group provided us with some information on the nature of the various singing groups. The members of a Comparsas group, wearing identical costumes, sing witty and satiric songs covering everyday life, political news as well as government policies. On the other hand, the members of a Chirigota group, also wearing identical costumes, deal the similar subject matters more in a humorous parody manner. A Coros group is usually made up of a large group of singers along with some musical instruments (guitar and lute, for example) on a flotilla. Their music encompasses the entire spectrum from serious to comical. Each member of the group wears elaborate and fancy, but different costumes.
After disembarking in the Cádiz station, we initially walked towards the western end of the town to get a view of the Mediterranean Sea on a beautiful sunny day.
After enjoying the beach for a while, we turned around to walk towards the city along with several costumed groups of adults and children, just arriving in the town.
As we arrived to the town-square, we found a group of Comparsas, made up of similarly-dressed young teenagers entertaining the crowd with their version of a satire. They were well-rehearsed indicating the amount of effort went into the act. It has been said that the participants in any type of singing group prepare for the carnival throughout the year.
On an opposite corner of the square, an adult group of Chirigotas, all dressed in similar costumes, was delivering a parody of a popular song with intermittent participation with laughter from the audience.
Next, we arrived at the main street of the town where a parade of the Coros groups on their flotillas already began. One such group, everyone costumed differently, along with instrumentalists in the background gave a full performance of various songs (satires to parodies) in front of us.
The carnival is popular not only for its musical performances, but also for its offering of eclectic foods; a street vendor was seen to clean and prepare a collection of sea urchins for gastronomic delight. For our lunch, we checked out a few local cuisines in a sidewalk café.
The long day with display of fancy costumes along with laughter, singing, dancing and tasting of eclectic foods slowly inched towards the evening, reminding us for our return trip to Jerez. But what a day-long feast of Spanish culture it was to be!