Life is carnival

For many people Barranquilla is the capital of joy. They think and feel this not only because of its climate and its people, but because they are the house of the Barranquilla Carnival.

Rejoicing in Barranquilla

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

This is the most important folkloric and cultural festival in Colombia. Each year this city becomes the scene of for several folk expressions that give free rein to the joy of locals and visitors.

It does not matter much that those who visit it do not know how to dance since the flavour and the savoury currambera go pierce the skin instantly. Joy is contagious and it is eternally enjoyed.

The place of so much rejoicing is the incomparable Barranquilla. It is the capital of the department of Atlántico, Colombia. It is located west of the Magdalena River.

Barranquilla was created when immigrants from all over the world arrived there. And, this is a key point: its people are one of its biggest attractions. They have a cordial and optimistic spirit, for this reason their people visitors will fall in love with them.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

It is not secret: in Barranquilla life is carnival. The magic of the Atlantic is felt in its streets and is spread among its inhabitants. There is no eagerness, music in the pores and dance in the veins.

La Arenosa

It is the birthplace of great men and women who have shown the best of Colombia before the world. Among them: Sofia Vergara (actress – modern family), Sugar Baby Rojas (boxer), Edgar Rentería (baseball player), Silvia Tcherassi (designer) and Shakira.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

“La Arenosa” overflows flavour from all its pores and the sticky melodies of the cumbia begin to rumble in the ears of those who seek a unique destiny.

Enjoying the carnival time is an obligation. All the Barranquilleros and Barranquilleras wear it in their hearts and show it on their hips.

This celebration brings together emblematic expressions of the memory and identity of the people of Barranquilla, the Colombian Caribbean and the Rio Grande de Magdalena.

Its mixture of cultures sustains what we are as a nation. It’s has a capacity for social mobilisation that overcomes all kinds of differences.  It has convening power is at the heart of people who make diversity a reason for celebration that encourages popular art and keeps our past alive.

The first version of the carnival was celebrated more than a century ago. We know that Carnival parties have a European origin. Those of Barranquilla have a similar background in the celebration that took place in Cartagena de Indias, at the time of the Colony, as a holiday for slaves.

With the migration to Barranquilla came cultural expressions from different regions. Dances, music, sculptures and customs were mixed or kept intact to this day.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes


In details

In order to get to have a more detailed view of all that the carnival entails, we decided that talking to its organizers was crucial to our goal. A carnival of joy, traditions, love, queens and games, among others.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

Solkes: How do you choose the queen of the carnival?

Barranquilla Carnival: The designation of the Queen of the Barranquilla’s Carnival is made by the Board of Directors of Carnival of Barranquilla presided over by the District Mayor. The Queen is designated in the second semester of the year to start the promotion of the Carnival of Barranquilla.

Falling in love with life is inevitable when you are under the barranquillero sun and missing it at departure is as logical as the flashing throbs of a heart that knows a new illusion.

One of the most important features of this party is that all kinds of people have a place in their celebrations.

Solkes: Who can participate in the Carnival?

Barranquilla Carnival: The Barranquilla Carnival can be enjoyed by all the people who love, live and enjoy the party. Each barranquillero or visitor adjusts his budget according to the organization of his festive agenda. The city offers events for all audiences and all budgets, you can enjoy free events such as ‘Baila la Calle’, parades such as La Guacherna, the Flower Battle, the Great Tradition Parade, the Great Comparsas Parade or enjoy the great concerts that take place in the city, during the Carnival season.

Another of the most important events for us and many visitors is the gay carnival. Participated in comparsas composed of members of the LGBT community, which is estimated that more than 12 thousand people parade.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

Solkes: The LGBTl community have a large space at Carnival, how does it take place?

Barranquilla Carnival: The LGBTl community has several spaces for participation during the same, that is how, from its organization, the Autonomous Corporation of the Gay Carnival, directed by Jairo Polo, organize an agenda of activities that include: Taking of the City, Reign Popular Gay, Izada de Bandera, Coronation of his Queen, until special parade of the community, which takes place in 2019.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

On the other hand, children have to enjoy and express themselves. This they do in the midst of an environment of joy, creativity and tradition. Schools, kindergartens and communities participate. In this parade it is common to see mini-floats adapted to the size of children.

The night also has its parade. It’s called the Guacherna. It is the most important event of the precarnavales. It involves folk groups, cumbia, tamboras and costumes by candlelight and colored lanterns. This parade was born at the beginning of the 20th century in the Abajo neighborhood.

In 2007, the Barranquilla Carnival was declared an oral and intangible heritage of humanity by Unesco.

This is a carnival that keeps us united to our traditions, to a spirit of renewal, which is updated with the passage of time without losing its origin.


Talking with people

But, writing about this cultural event does not seem to be enough. For this reason, we decided to talk to some people. We did this to have a more global and complete vision of the meaning of the carnival.

Solkes: What is the best part of the carnival?

Mónica Ardila Pontón: The best is the energy of the people, it is contagious. What I liked the most is the dance, the comparsas, the atmosphere. The tradition is respected through the colors and iconic figures.

Lucia Pérez: Energy is contagious. The saying “who lives it is who enjoys it” is totally true. People live and enjoy music and colors. It is a beautiful tradition.

Camilo Mendoza: For me, the soul of Carnival is music. Seeing the orchestras and the compás is the best. There is no comparison.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

Solkes: What would you advise a person who is going to carnival for the first time?

Mónica Ardila Pontón: Be prepared. The events in Barranquilla are usually by day but there are some at night. People do party hopping because there are several events at the same time. There are events that are closed to the public but there are events that are popular, in the streets. If you are going to the battle of flowers, you should go with something to hydrate yourself, a lot of sun screen. Going to concerts is key, they are good, they have the best artists.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

There are some events that are almost mandatory within the carnival. One of them is the reading of the Bando. With it, the precarnavales are officially launched. In this act that is traditionally celebrated in the Plaza de la Paz, the Mayor of the city of Barranquilla delivers the keys of the city to the Queen of Carnival. At that time “power is transferred” during the Carnival season.

The “Bando” is the decree that gives free rein to the merrymaking during the carnival and is read by the Carnival Queen in a folkloric act with King Momo and the kings of the children’s carnival.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

The phrase of the carnival is: Who lives it, enjoys it! As we realized, this famous phrase has a reason. This phrase was created in 1993 by Marcela Blanco, then director of the Carnaval Foundation of Barranquilla, in the company of Ricardo Chams, director of advertising company Signo and Patricia Maestre, president of the Atlantic Red Cross Section.

The idea was to identify the feeling of the Barranquillero. It is an expression of joy of living the best party in Colombia.

One of the most important characters is King Momo. He is a barranquillero who was born in the bowels of the Rebolo neighborhood, cradle of the Litanies and home of folkloric groups of greater tradition. King Momo 2019 Freddy Cervantes Álvarez, is the first Momo King of Litanies in the history of the Carnival of Barranquilla.


Cultural manifestations

The carnival is highlighted by the union of different types of cultural events in the party, these can be contemporary, modern, traditional and folkloric. All these different expressions are essential and important. The existence of different modalities in the Carnival is a characteristic and sign of Identity of the celebration of Barranquilla and cause of its splendor.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

There are dances, comparsas, litanies, costumes and comedies. They are cultural samples in their greatest expression.

The litanies are a traditional oral manifestation of the Barranquilla Carnival. They are carried out by people called “Letanieros”, formed by a soloist and a choir that recite verses in the form of a litany. The groups of litanies criticize, censor and joke about local, national and international news, about topics of daily life and Carnival.

Comedies are a genre of popular, traditional, picaresque and folkloric theater of the Barranquilla Carnival.

The costumes are the result of ingenuity and the popular creation of the Colombian Caribbean are transferred to the costume that annually shines in the Carnival season. Creation is given free rein. The costumes are the result of ingenuity and creativity.

The troupes are traditional manifestations inside the carnival. They are presented with a defined theme. They are dance expressions with choreography, music and other artistic creations. There are two forms of troupes: those inspired by costumes, dances and customs of popular tradition, called Comparsas de Tradición and those of Fantasía product of the imagination, ingenuity and creativity of their authors.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

The dances are choreographic groups, which collect the music, songs, costumes and other elements of the mestizo culture of the Colombian Caribbean, incorporating elements of the cultural matrices, indigenous, Spanish and African. It is divided into three:

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

Traditional dance: dance of the Garabato, the dance of the Congo, the dance of the Mapalé, the dance of the Son of black.

Relationship dances: They are characterized by having in the spoken word their most important resource, because they have an argument that is related to verses during their execution. They have been present at the Barranquilla Carnival for more than a century. To this category belong the dance of the picoteo, dance of the goleros and gallinazas, dance of the cayman and dance of the pilanderas.

Special dances: traditional dances present in the Barranquilla Carnival . To this category belong: dance of the congo, dance of the doodle, dance of the mapale, dance of are of black and the cumbiamba.

One of the most important moments is when the Congo de Oro is awarded. It is the highest honor.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

There are several types of categories: floats, trailers, cumbias, squiggles, congos, are black, maples, comparsas of popular tradition. There are also Colombian fantasy troupes, special dances, dances of relationship, old age, popular carnival comedies, litanies.

There are also, traditional individual costumes, contemporary individual costumes, contemporary collective disguises and “Joselito leaves with the ashes”.

THE CONGO DE ORO is awarded among the groups and musical groups that appear to compete in the Festival of Orchestras and Accordions, which was created in 1969 and which takes place from the early afternoon of Monday afternoon until the early hours of Carnival on Tuesday.

The festival of orchestras is an announced delight. Since the year of its debut (1969) the Festival of Orchestras and Sets, became one of the most anticipated events in the Carnival of Barranquilla.

Orchestras Night initially emerged as an alternative space for local orchestras and artists to come directly to the Orchestra Festival. But nowadays, the Night of Orchestras is a projection showcase with its own soul and audience, where the different groups and participating regional artists can opt for a unique trophy.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes


The end of the Carnival

The Carnival comes to an end with the burial of Joselito Carnival. The funeral symbolizes the end of the festivities. On this day in many neighborhoods of the city jocular “funerals” of Joselito are performed. It is not very clear who is Joselito Carnival.

Jairo Gúzman © Solkes

He can be a real person or a doll and is usually transported inside a coffin or stretcher adorned with flowers and ribbons and surrounded by his “widows” who mourn him.

And, you can see a river of widows, dressed in black, hats type turkeys and dark glasses. Everyone takes to the streets on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday to mourn the death of ‘Joselito’.

You can see how the joy that flooded the city lowers its tone.

Barranquilla has been more than a port for the country for centuries. It is the place by which the world enters and that is amalgamated in their customs culture and races.

After the coronation of the queen, concerts and shows are held throughout the city. The Battle of the Flowers, the Parade of the Great Parade and, on Tuesday, the Barranquilleros mourn the death of Joselito.

To conclude

Without a doubt, this is a cultural event that says a lot about Colombians. Living a Carnival in Barranquilla is a valuable experience for Colombians and foreigners.

There is a term that really defines the carnival … the enjoyment. This means that you dance, move the body as you want but move it. It is the way that the Barranquilleros have to welcome you and tell you that it is one more. You have to get into the ‘recocha’, ignore the ridiculous and the shame. You have to laugh out loud and be tolerant to the fullest. Tolerance is fundamental. The idea is that during four days and their nights everyone is infected with happiness and enjoyment.

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