Carnival is famed for the noisy, colourful, festive atmosphere. SUR
Carnival: Lampooning the ruling classes with plenty of Andalusian wit
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Carnival: Lampooning the ruling classes with plenty of Andalusian wit

Of all the Spanish fiestas held throughout the year, there is nothing more unrestrained than 'Carnaval', a fun time for dressing up without feeling ridiculous

Tony Bryant


Friday, 2 February 2024, 09:48


Towns throughout Andalucía, as in the rest of Spain, are gearing up for carnival, the first major festival of the year. Traditionally celebrated in the week before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, carnival is an opportunity to let off steam before the prohibitions before Easter. Of all the colourful Spanish fiestas that take place throughout the year there is nothing more unrestrained than carnival, as this is one of the only activities where everyone can dress up and have fun without feeling silly.

One of the top attractions is the groups of amateur musicians and singers famed for their elaborate costumes, witty lyrics and catchy tunes. There are also the more serious groups who are in search of prizes and recognition in the official competitions. The most derisive are the 'chirigotas' who will scathingly attack anyone from royalty to television personalities. 'Murgas', meanwhile, are groups of singers whose songs are based on the current social and political events.

The 'coros' alternate between serious and light-hearted and appear in theatres or in the streets, while the 'comparsas' are known for the solemn content of their songs. Finally, the 'cuartetos' are all about pure, unadulterated humour. The groups' performances are often legendary, although most foreigners, and even many Spaniards, fail to appreciate the fast wit of the Andalusians.

The preliminaries of the Concurso de Agrupaciones (satirical groups) have been taking place in Malaga since the middle of January, with the grand final taking place in the Cervantes Theatre today (Friday). On Saturday the groups will be performing in the streets.

For years, this raucous celebration has been essential in breaking down social barriers and providing escape from repression. The songs performed by the satirical groups are used as a unique opportunity to lampoon the ruling classes. This tradition of poking fun at the government, the church, or anyone currently in the news is the very essence of carnival.

During the years of the regime, Franco frowned upon events that he considered blatantly mingled religion with the purely secular, and carnivals were banned altogether. However, in Cadiz, probably the most renowned in Spain, the 'Gaditanos', being famously independently minded, continued clandestinely.

Cadiz's lavish extravaganza is renowned for its outrageous costumes, colourful, and sometimes provocative, parades, and humorous tableaux. Its origins date back to the sixteenth century. The most accepted theory is that the carnival in Cadiz was inspired by the grand carnival of Venice.

Anarchic glory

However, carnival is not just confined to Cadiz, because the rest of the country will celebrate with grand parades, theatre shows and plenty of Andalusian wit.

The carnival, which was not restored to its full anarchic glory until 1978, is a fiesta of the people and an opportunity to let go of all inhibitions. The parades are gaudy and ostentatious, with huge models of anything from phallic symbols to leading political figures and Disney characters.

Electing the carnival queen is usually a huge event, although maybe not as popular as the drag queen competition. These performers are traditionally outrageous in appearance and their parades are spectacular.

Carnival in Malaga is famed for the noisy, colourful, festive atmosphere, as well as the strange customs, one of which is the 'Entierro de Boquerón', which consists of a parade that parodies a funeral procession. Most of Spain buries a sardine to mark the end of festivities, but Malaga burns a giant anchovy on La Malagueta beach.

Carnival events take place between this weekend and the middle of February across the region. Consult your local town hall for programme details.

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