Spanish original and photos
The carnivals of Cádiz have taken the form in which we know them today since the year 1827. They took place even during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-1930). When I was born, in 1932, they had returned to being celebrated openly under the Republic. There were already groups who wrote their own music and lyrics about the economic, political and social issues of Alcalá. Until the onset of the Civil War, in 1936, they were celebrated without interruption. In Alcalá there is reliable evidence of this, because that same year the comparsa1 “Los Abanderados” [standard-bearers] was formed, directed by Juan Torres Sánches, father of Paco Peneca.
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. That was where my Uncle Pepe, my father's brother, lived. He had several children – Jacinta, Cristóbal, Domingo, Catana, and maybe more. Their name was Leiva Roa. I believe they are nearly all dead now but their children – Uncle Pepe's grandchildren – are still alive. They 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 with the imposition of the Franco regime the carnivals were suspended and were supposed to have been replaced with “Traditional Festivals of Cádiz”. These were “Carnival-Lite” - neither fish nor fowl. The Gaditanos [natives of Cádiz] did not accept the change, because there was censorship in place which prevented them exercising their freedom of expression. Nonetheless, they carried on in secret, harmonising their songs and ballads loaded with literary irony and carnival-style melodies.
In Alcalá, after 1960, new groups started to appear: “Los Piratas”, Los Moros de Agadir” (Vicente el Churrero), “Los Traperos” (Miguel Coronado de la Cruz), “Los Pistoleros del Oeste (Paco Peneca), “Los Cabreros” (Pipo), “Las Mozas de Servicio” (Eugenio Andrade), “Los Piperos” (Alfonso Rojas) y “Los Apaches” (Luis Pizarro Medina), and more. These comparsas and chirigotas performed once more 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. To give them support the comparsa “Los Segadores” came over from Cádiz, along with a cuarteto, much to the delight of the public.
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 named among the most distinguished, something very hard to do in Cádiz.
I must also tell you that the first Carnival competition celebrated in Alcalá was in the Sáinz de Andino School. The first prize went to the chirigota “Los Nenes Caca” , whose members were from “Cristo Vive”, comprised of Antonio Manuel Corbacho Vera, Arsenio Cordero Domínguez, Juan Jesús García Córdoba, Aurelio Sotomayor Lozano, Antonio Moreno Grimaldi, José Pedrosa León, Moisés Rodríguez González, Manuel Rodríguez García, Jesús Mansilla Romero, Francisco Cumbre Martínez, José de la Cruz Ligero, Mariano Benítez Pérez and Gabriel Almagro Montes de Oca.
One of the pasadobles went like this:
I pay my compliments to this beautiful town,
And sing of it simply because I love it.
I am Andaluz above all,
And Alcalá is the most beautiful place in the entire world.
I carry it so deep inside me
That it hurts me when people try to insult us,
Saying that we are sorcerers.
But if we are, we are Gaditanos without hiding it.
And so I'm not ashamed to admit it,
Because I know that in my town
Nobody would think like that,
And if they did, they would come and speak with us
And ask us to make changes.
Very soon we will have a swimming pool
And in summer we will be able to refresh ourselves.
But if anyone wants a good soaking,
There is no better remedy than to go down to the “Pra'o”
Recently I was able to see, in the Alcalá historical records, the opening song of the 2008 Carnival, by Jesús Monte, proving that the festival was still going from strength to strength. In 2009, a group appeared called “Si lo sepo no lo meto” [roughly translates as “if you know something, keep it to yourself”]. And in the Diario de Cádiz I was able to read the interview with the Alcalá comparsa called “Los últimos” [The Latest, or Last Ones] in which the journalist said: “A great title for these comparsistas from Alcalá de los Gazules, who bring to the boards of the Falla [Theatre in Cadiz] the spirit of the forests. They put their hearts into it, but they are let down by their voices, and are a little unco-ordinated. The public responded to their songs with silence.” Good - a polite and discreet critic.
It must be remembered that carnivals became established in Alcalá, as in the rest of the province of Cádiz, very early. In Spain, the heyday of carnivals was the 19th century; in Madrid they have the burial of the sardine and in Barcelona the burial of Carnival. Cádiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, nevertheless, are the Spanish carnivals with the greatest tradition. It is an ingenious popular 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 hide mistrust, vengeance or delinquency. When that happens it is due to outsiders. In Cádiz and its Province, they are a camouflage only for humour, wit and irony.
Translated by Claire Lloyd.
1. One of the types of singing group associated with Carnival: the others are cuartetos, chirigotas, coros and romanceros. For a more detailed description see http://www.andalucia.com/festival/carnival-cadiz.htm