Like many other countries in South America, Argentina has been celebrating Carnaval, the festival that happens in the weeks before the start of lent. The biggest festivities in Argentina can be found in Gualeguaychu, a town in the province of Buenos Aires. The town hosts hundreds of performances and competitions and receives thousands of visitors throughout January and February. However, festivities are not found only in Gualeguaychu. Throughout February and some of March, the neighborhoods throughout the city of Buenos Aires, as well as towns in provinces across Argentina, put on celebrations and performances including corsos (parades) and murgas, traditional percussion and dance troupes. This is a list of all the celebrations in each of the barrios so you can see how wide spread the celebrations actually are. The traditions of the festivities vary slightly from town to town, but are generally pretty similar.
A couple weeks ago, I was able to check out one of the performances in the neighborhood of Almagra with a couple friends. Apart from watching a video of the murgas on YouTube, I really had no idea what to expect from the evening. The performances usually start at dusk and continue late into the night. During the weeks of carnaval, the neighborhood strings up bunting flags across the block where the performances take place. Then on the evening of the performances, they install a stage with large screens on either side, lights above the performance area, wooden stands for people to sit, and barriers to protect the performance area. We got there a little early and were able to get pretty good seats for the performances. As the evening went on, the bleachers filled up and the barriers around the block were overflowing with people.
The evening is hosted by one or two people from the area who walk around the area in between performances trying to engage people in the music and the festivities. They make announcements, dance, hand out raffle tickets, and introduce the murgas. As the sky darkens, the lights on the stage get more colorful and begin to move in broad sweeping motions across the stage. It seems as though there is some friendly competition between barrios and each wants to have the best show in the city.
One major component of these evenings is the espuma (foam). It is kind of like shaving cream, but more watery and doesn’t leave stains or harden. I was assured by a little girl sitting next to me that it is not bad for your clothes. Though she said this while holding a can of espuma, so I’ll take that with a grain of salt. Cans are about 5-6 pesos a piece (about $1) and are ubiquitous with children and sometimes even adults. Kids gleefully run around spraying each other, the crowd, and just the air in general and you are very lucky if you don’t get some foam on you at some point in the evening.
The main attraction for the evening are the three 30-45 minute performances by murgas. Popular in Uruguay and Argentina, murgas are musical theater/dance troupes characterized by their bright costumes, loud percussion music, and high kicking dances. Groups are made up of men and women of all ages and can vary in size. The performances include the opening/entrance song, a critique song usually on some political or social issue, small group dances organized by gender and age group, another song which may be an homage to their troupe, and then the exit. There are a multitude of different characters in each group. I have had trouble finding a definitive list but from what I’ve read and what we saw, the troupe includes: an emcee; singers/chorus; the percussionists; the dancers; the fantasies, those whose faces are covered by a mask or makeup, those carrying parasols or flags, etc; and the costumed people, one per group, who hand out candy and who I’m calling the mascots for lack of a better word, though I’m sure there is one.
Each troupe has a different set of colors and the costumes are sewn by the members in the months leading up to carnaval. They are brightly colored satin often trimmed with fringe or sequins. The jackets usually have tails on them and can have long sleeves or be sleeveless vest-like tops usually worn by the women. The bottom of the costume is usually pants, but women also wear skirts or shorts with bloomers underneath. Finally, the costume is topped off with a large hat, again brightly colored and decorated with fringe, feathers, or sequins. Most everyone in the troupe wears these. Each costume is a product of the individual and includes symbols of that individual’s interests. For example, on the back of one little kid’s jacket was a patch of Mickey Mouse while an older teen had the name of a band on his jacket tails.
In the following you can see pictures and some video from three different groups.
In this, the singer is expressing his frustration with the government.
Intermission 1: There is a short break between performances where the kids can run around and have fun.
Outside the performance block
As we were leaving the area, we saw this foam war zone. Kids and adults alike are running around spraying each other, giggling, and enjoying themselves in general.