Is Carnival Season in Buenos Aires
When one thinks of Carnival season, usually Brazil comes to mind. Don’t be fooled. Argentina also gets into the festive party season for Carnival. If you find yourself in Buenos Aires in February, get yourself in party mode because it’s carnival season! Carnival is celebrated all throughout the country during the weekends of February, with the biggest parties taking place in the province of Entre Rios. This article will focus mainly on Carnaval Porteño or the carnival celebrations that take place in Buenos Aires and where nearly 1.5 million people in the city take part in.
For national Carnival click here: https://vamospanish.com/carnival-celebrations-in-argentina/
First things first, Carnaval Porteño, is an extravagant and colorful festival centered around the tradition of the murga. What the heck is a murga, you ask? It’s a band of marching percussionists and accompanying dancers that perform on the streets during carnival season. The music and dance itself, sometimes referred to as corsa, traces its roots to a mixture of African and European cultural expressions. More specifically, the dance originally comes from Cadiz, Spain and developed over into its modern conception in the working class, immigrant neighborhoods in Argentina and Uruguay beginning at the turn of the 20th century.
Each murga and its performers are representative of a given barrio, sporting funny names like “Los amantes de la Boca” (The lovers of la Boca). Truly, a community affair, murgas begin practicing months in advance and sometimes practice in the squares of their neighborhood.
When carnival comes around, the murgas perform on the street where skilled dancers of all ages dressed in elaborate sequined costumes “whirl and kick” to the rhythm provided by the different drums and instruments. The beat is carried by the bombo con platillo, a unique drum brought by immigrants that comes with a cymbal. This beat provides the foundation for murgueros to sing, dance, and wave flags that represent their barrio.
The energetic performances are characterized by a mixture of cultural, artistic, and political expression. Oftentimes, the chants and singing that accompany the percussion are political critiques or patriotic chants.
Murgueros are dressed to the nines usually wearing suits, gloves, top hats, and a variety of accessories and frills– all in bold and bright colors and shiny sequins. These costumes are custom-made usually by the barrio’s mothers and individualized by each performer with badges and other accessories.
A bit of historical context helps contextualize this colorful Argentine tradition. Like many cultural customs in Argentina, carnival is a product of a mix of diverse immigration and local criollo tradition. The dance and song, originating in working-class immigrant neighborhoods, was often used as a way to blow off steam and articulate everyday realities and societal disenchantment. Interestingly enough, this tradition was used as a way to ridicule and mock systems of power and authority– explaining the origins of the gaudy suit and top hat and the content of the songs. Murgas were often divided along ethnic lines, but by the 20th century, they formed along within barrios of Buenos Aires and communities rather than nationality or ethnicity.
Although today, murgas are composed of men and women of all ages, in the past women were not allowed to dance alongside men. During the last dictatorship (1976-1983), the public holiday was annulled, and murgas were forbidden to take place on the streets, instead forcing them inside and making people pay to enter. Thus, the carnival spirit during the dictatorship suffered a serious blow.
However, with the return of the democracy, the spirit of carnaval is alive and well. In 1997, murgas and the tradition of an open and free carnival was granted a “cultural heritage” status by the city government. Today, murgas are still very politically charged and are a way for distinct communities from around the capital to come together and to celebrate life, but also to express grievances. In 2011, the Argentine government reinstituted carnival as an official two-day public holiday.
How can you enjoy Carnaval Porteño? I am glad you asked. Buenos Aires’ carnival differs from others in the country in that it isn’t just one large parade, but many celebrations in over 35 sectioned-off streets in neighborhoods across the city. Taking place every Saturday and Sunday in February in the evenings beginning at 7 pm until late and on the official carnival holiday Monday, February 12th and Tuesday, February 13th. You can find information on the nearly 100 murgas performing and closest corte near you here . On a given night, you will find enthusiastic local neighbors dancing along with the whole family in support of the traveling murgas. Get some choripan in Buenos Aires at one of the delicious parrilla stands and call it dinner and a night out. Be prepared to find many children (and adults) spraying around aerosol foam and stray footballs coming from different directions. It’s all apart of the experience, just avoid wearing your Sunday best.
More information about carnival and where it can be enjoyed can be found at: http://www.buenosaires.gob.ar/noticias/carnaval-porteno-2018 and disfrutemosba.buenosaires.gob.ar/ Discover Argentina Business Directory