21 March 2011

Carnival in Alcalá


Unlike the last two years, the sun shone on Alcalá for this year's Carnaval.   The Playa was like a fairground;  the concerts in the marquee were packed; half the town dressed up in costume, and industrial quantities of paella, sardinas, chicharrones and tagarninas were cooked in the open air and served to the crowds.

Yesterday we watched the pasacalles del humor (humorous street parade), and it struck me yet again how wonderfully sociable, resourceful and fun-loving the Alcalainos are. This isn't put on for the tourists, or to make money - it is entertainment for the people by the people.  Check out this video if you can spare a couple of minutes, and you will see how infectiously good-humoured it all is:



The following history of Carnaval in this area, and how it survived Franco's attempts to clean it up, is extracted from an article by a writer who grew up in Alcalá in the 1930s.

The carnivals of Cádiz [Province] have taken the form in which we know them today since the year 1827. There were groups who wrote their own music and lyrics about the economic, political and social issues of the day. Until the onset of the Civil War, in 1936, they were celebrated without interruption. They even took place during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-1930).

I have only vague memories of the Alcalá Carnival, because when they were banned I was only four or five years old. I remember my father singing some of the songs of the street musicians and singing groups from San Fernando, where his brother lived. His brother's children invited my father every year to spend a day at the Carnival in la Isla de León [San Fernando] because he loved to hear the singing groups.

However at the start of the Franco regime the carnivals were suspended. They were supposed to have been replaced with “Traditional Festivals of Cádiz”; a pale version of the real thing.  The Gaditanos [natives of Cádiz] did not accept the change, because there was censorship which prevented them exercising their freedom of expression. So they carried on in secret, harmonising their songs and ballads loaded with literary irony.

After 1960, new comparsas and chirigotas started to appear In Alcalá: Los Piratas, Los Moros de Agadir, Los Traperos, Los Pistoleros del Oeste, Los Cabreros, Las Mozas de Servicio,  Los Piperos, Los Apaches ... They performed in traditional carnival style, but they had to be careful with their lyrics.


In 1980, democracy having been fully restored, carnivals recovered their true spirit and choirs, comparsas and chirigotas flourished in all the towns of Cádiz province. Alcalá also contributed to the carnival celebrations, with a chirigota called “Los Legionarios”, performing in the Cine Andalucia. In 1981 the Alcalá group “Los Esparragueros” [the asparagus-gatherers] distinguished themselves in Cádiz, winning the 4th Provincial Prize. They were a chirigota, with words, music and arrangements by Juan Sánchez Suárez and directed by Domingo Ruiz Ruiz. With this group, Alcalá managed to get itself listed among the most distinguished names, something very hard to do in Cádiz.

It must be remembered that carnivals became established in Alcalá, as in the rest of the province of Cádiz, very early on. In Spain, the heyday of carnivals was the 19th century; in Madrid and Barcelona, for example they have the burial of the sardine. But Cádiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife are the most traditional of Spanish carnivals. It is an ingenious tradition to liberate the people from the pressures of work, family responsibilities, the economy, politics and even religion. The most surprising thing is that, the masks and disguises are not there to conceal mistrust, vengeance or delinquency. When that happens it is due to outsiders interpreting it wrongly. In Cádiz and its Province, they are a camouflage only for humour, wit and irony.

Carnaval 2011 - photos by Chemary Gomez Reyes

Chirigota "Los Protegidos"
Sardiná en la Playa

Chirigota: "Y mi Mundo es Otro"

Romancero: La Historia de un Baguette" (featuring Juan the baker)

Fairground atmosphere in the Paseo de la Playa

Comparsa: Al Loco de la Alameda

Chirigota juvenil: Al tres metros sobre el Suelo


1 comment:

Tumbit.com said...

I agree with you - it's sad when so many of the larger and Coastal towns lay on the stereotypical fiesta for the benefit of the tourist. Even many of the traditional fiestas seems to be selling out.