The carnivals have always given the people of Santiago a means to
release tension, to put aside their worries and dance to the rhythm of
conga music. This year, like every year, locals and visitors will keep
up the tradition and pour onto the streets in what is considered the
most colorful carnival in Cuba. This is one of the most important
cultural events in the city: many of its participants spend the whole
year preparing their routines for the event. And don’t worry, it’s a
family event. The entire family will either participate in the parade
or at least help make costumes or embellish floats. One way or another,
everyone will do their bit.
Carnival highlights include comparsas (neighborhood dance
groups whose choreographies are generally related to Caribbean
traditions and the daily life of the people of Santiago) and the
processions of decorated floats that will parade, as usual, mainly down
Avenida Garzón, where a jury will choose the best. The conga lines are
perhaps the most popular element of the carnival, but they are meant
to join, not watch.
Right at the end of the procession, mamarrachos (characters in flamboyant, colorful costumes), muñecones (huge papier mache figures) and enmascarados (men and women wearing elaborate masks), accompanied by parranderos who with their drums, congas, rattles, catchy choruses and cornetas chinas liven up the event—if that is even possible. Inserted into carnivals as early as 1916, the corneta china, or Chinese horn, was introduced in Cuba by Chinese immigrants, adding another layer to the festivities.
In recent years, the festivity has extended to other open areas
in the city where live music with son, salsa, merengue as well as rock,
pop, and disco will be played by the most popular bands of the moment.
Free of all commercialization, the Santiago Carnival is truly an
opportunity to celebrate this nation’s unique history and culture in a
riot of rhythms, drumming and color.
Although many Cuban towns hold their own carnivals, none attracts
the crowds of the Santiago Carnival, so don’t miss out as the whole
city moves to the rhythm of conga lines, the sound of the corneta china,
drums, congas and French drums as well as pots and pans turned into
unconventional percussion instruments, which lead dancing crowds down
the steep roads of Santiago de Cuba.