Carnival lights up the streets of Santiago de Cuba

Posted: 27-Jul-16 15:09

Celebrating one year as part of Cuba's cultural heritage, Santiago de Cuba's carnival started off with a bang this Thursday. Following the explosive "Fiesta del Fuego" (also known as the Fire Festival), this colourful parade gathers "santiagueros", Cubans from all over the island and foreigners and unites them in one big party where everyone lets go and follows the conga beats.

Carnival lights up the streets of Santiago de Cuba

As a sizzling Caribbean country, Cuba celebrates carnivals in many of its cities, including Havana, Matanzas and Sancti Spiritus. Nonetheless, it is only Santiago de Cuba’s blazing parades that have transcended as the country’s most remarkable summer parties. To prove it, this city’s carnivals were recognized as part of the nation’s cultural heritage just last year, as Santiago de Cuba celebrated 500 years since it was founded by the Spanish colonizers.

In 2016, the city’s incomparable carnival began on Thursday to the exciting beats of conga. With the amazing Fiesta del Fuego as a precedent, this year’s celebration tries to continue in its footsteps and treat the public to a marvellous experience.

A violent expansion of colour, deadly dance and drum rhythms, Santiago de Cuba’s carnival seeks to celebrate the nation’s history, culture, and community accentuated by the country’s national holiday on 26th July. After many years of tradition, this explosive celebration has maintained its buzzing atmosphere and gripping spirit.

The origin of this carnival dates back to a time where African slaves sought out to showcase their cultural roots and religious practices as a counterbalance to Spanish religious processions and saint-worship. According to the popular legend, the solemn Spanish had wended their way through the streets to the Cathedral to pay their tributes to Santiago (St. James), when the slaves took to the streets to celebrate in their own fashion. As a reflection of Cuban culture altogether, this festival of music, dancing and ritual features influences from Spanish, African, Caribbean and French-Haitian cultures.

In spite of economic obstacles and shortages, the people of Santiago are as enthusiastic as ever in trying to make this spectacle a show that will wow and exhilarate the crowds. Much organisation goes into the annual event, including the preparation of floats, posters, costumes, folkloric dance demonstrations and processions as well as the annual selection of the Carnival Queen.

Although much of the action is tightly coordinated, carnival always leaves room for spontaneity and improvisation; making everyone feel at ease and free to join in however and whenever they like. Visitors can put on costume and move their feet to conga orchestras like Los Hoyos, San Augustin, El Guayabito and Paso Franco or simply relax for a moment and take in the magnificent scene that unfolds before them. If you’re visiting Santiago during the summer, the Carnival is one experience you most certainly won’t want to miss.

If for some reason you can’t make it during those dates or prefer to appreciate it from a quieter ambiance, the Carnival Museum exhibits some of this tradition’s most amazing aspects. The Museum building, in downtown Santiago, dates from the late 18th century, and boasts seven halls with more than 250 pieces, comprising costumes, trophies, banners, effigies, floats and musical instruments from through the ages.


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