Carnival in Andalucia

Published: 31st January 2011
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Geoffrey Donoghue of Always Marbella reports on the latest news & events. For more information please visit Always Marbella’s website at

Carnival is celebrated all over Spain in tremendous good spirits, but its high spots are the Canary Islands, especially Tenerife and Las Palmas, and Cadiz.

Carnival, known as Mardi Gras in many countries, is a name for any kind of festivity. By tradition, it is the season just 40 days before Lent celebrated with processions, dancing, and feasting. During Carnival week masked balls, processions of decorated floats through the streets, costume parades, and feasting generally mark the celebration.

The word Carnival probably comes from the medieval Latin carnelevarium, meaning to take away or remove meat (in the past, Catholics were forbidden to eat meat during the 40 days of Lent). The Carnival centres around Carnival Monday, Carnival Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday) and Ash Wednesday.

Most towns and villages in Andalucia celebrate their Carnival with some kind of parade or procession where local groups of funny fellows make up satirical songs about celebrities and big shots, which sends the whole city into a state of frenzy.

The most important Carnival is celebrated in Cadiz. Cadiz is a quiet and serene city on the Andalusian coast, except when it plays host to Spain's ultimate party. The fun began in the 17th century when the city tried to keep up with the decadent carnival celebrations in Venice. The crews of the Spanish galleons that brought back gold and silver to Cadiz from the New World also brought back a variety of musical influences that are still evident at today's Carnival. African and Creole rhythms, sambas and rustic Colombian tunes all intermingle in the streets with local Andalusian songs and traditional flamenco music.

Cádiz is famous for the sense of humour of its citizens and Carnival is a festival in which authority, politicians, celebrities and the church are parodied and ridiculed. The central figures here are the choirs, agrupaciones, groups of between three and forty singers. Current events or personalities are mocked in comic song. The Falla´s Contest is a Music festival held in the Gran Teatro Falla before Carnival itself and, to a certain extent, it is a relatively serious competition.

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 of the different types of groups 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.

Although there may be processions on the Saturday after Carnival, in Spain it has really ended by Ash Wednesday, when in many places it is marked by a historically anti-clerical ceremony called the Entierro de la sardina or the burial of the sardine. This may be life-size or a large effigy and the funeral procession is likely to be attended by groups of mourners in mock grief, many dressed up as priests or nuns, who,that if they are really sorry about something, it is the end of the Carnival.

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