Cadiz Carnival Guide - What to see

José Guerrero Roldán, 'El Yuyu' taking part in the pre-carnival singing competition. © Michelle Chaplow
José Guerrero Roldán, 'El Yuyu' in the pre-carnival singing competition.
Cadiz Carnival Dates

WHAT WILL I SEE?

SINGING GROUPS COMPETITION

The singing competition (COAC, Concurso Official de Agrupaciones Carnavalescas) is the central event of the pre-Carnaval, with four types of groups taking part - chirigotas, choros, cuartetos and comparsas. About 300 groups in total enter the contest.

The competition is held during the 20 days before the Carnival, in four stages: preliminaries, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and final. It finishes on the vispera of the Carnaval, the night before the official opening of Cadiz's biggest street-party. Some of the groups play on carruseles (floats) around the old centre on the following weekends, as the Carnaval proper kicks off.

The main venue for the singing contest is the Gran Teatro de Falla.

The songs, especially those performed by the comparsas and coros, poke fun at topical themes and characters - local bigwigs and celebrities, the church, the government - who have been in the news recently, or more universal Spanish issues such as bribery and corruption. So it helps to be up on what's happening locally, to understand what they're singing about (though the costumes and stage actions will give you a clue). If in doubt, ask someone else to explain, and it may suddenly become clear.

Costumes are cleverly thought-out to tie in with the group's tipo and content of its songs. They are intricately made, with incredible attention to detail, from headpieces, hats or wigs, and make-up, right down to props.

After the grand final, the groups sing in bars and clubs, and in the street too, especially the coros and chirigotas - they are also taken around on carruseles to sing to a delighted public. See the day-to-day events guide.

STREET PARTY

Everyone should experience the weekend madness, when people arrive on Saturday, from all over Andalucia and further afield (mostly by train and bus), dressed up and armed with liquid refreshment, to join in. The party starts on the train, as groups of chickens, smurfs, nuns, and schoolgirls with swinging pigtails sing heartily in preparation for the festivities, kicking off their own Carnaval celebrations before they've even arrived.

Thousands of people in fancy dress throng the centre of old Cadiz all Saturday night, many not even going to bed, till they stagger back onto their buses and trains on Sunday morning to head home (thereby avoiding having to pay inflated prices for hotel rooms). Some even return the following night to do the same again - the kind of serious professional party animals at which Andalucia excels.

Be aware that at Carnaval, everyone dresses up; if you don't, you will stick out like a sore thumb and be considered a party-pooper. It's much more fun if you join in.

OTHER ENTERTAINMENT

As well as the general jaleo of singing groups in the street, you can also see concerts of various different types of music - rock, flamenco, samba; see children's entertainment, including puppet shows; processions of the Carnival King and Queen; watch comedians perform; and say "ooh!" and "aah!" as you watch the daily firework displays.

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