BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – Bárbara Calderón, 24, works up a sweat jumping in the air, swinging her hips and lifting her arms in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital. The rhythm of the drum and cymbals guides her dancing as her “murga,” or street band, rehearses for Carnaval, which kicks off tomorrow.
“For me, Carnaval is the passion of my life,” says Calderón, still breathing heavily. “It is what I am going to do until I can’t anymore. While I have the strength to continue doing it, I am going to do it.”
Calderón is a member of a street band called Los Atorrantes de Almagro, which translates to “The Losers of Almagro,” a middle-class neighborhood in Buenos Aires. The group’s 80 members – dancers, singers, musicians, mascots and flag-bearers – convened every weekend in Plaza Almagro for the past year to practice their routine for Carnaval.
Part of Buenos Aires’ official cultural patrimony, murgas and their satirical performances are an artistic expression of the sentiments of the people and the identities of their neighborhoods. They practice every weekend of the year to prepare for Carnaval, which kicks off tomorrow. More than just a street band, the murgas link generations of community members as family and friends collaborate to generate joy for themselves and others.
While murgas have flourished around the country, the pioneer ones arose in Buenos Aires, according to the city government’s website. The first celebration of Carnaval in Buenos Aires took place in 1869.
In 1997, the city legislature declared the street bands as part of the autonomous city’s official cultural patrimony, says Pablo Romano, Calderón’s husband and the director of Los Atorrantes de Almagro. There are 120 murgas in the city, and their members, or “murguistas,” comprise men, women and children.
Carnaval in Buenos Aires has undergone a revitalization in recent years, emerging as a powerful form of social art, according to the city government. Murgas embody organization, artistic development, social commitment and popular celebration.
This year, Carnaval lasts from Feb. 2 until Feb. 12. In Argentina, the final two days are national holidays.
During Carnaval, the murgas perform on stages erected in various parts of the city as well as parade through the streets. The government closes the streets around the stages, interrupting vehicular traffic so that the public can enjoy the performances.
While the bands perform, children in the crowd spray foam. Streamers and confetti fill the streets, as a festive atmosphere envelops the city.
But the murgas’ performances do more than entertain. They also represent their neighborhoods’ identities as well as satirize current issues or public figures.
Romano says that murgas’ performances follow a specific outline. A presenter from the group first recites a verse introducing the band, then the band introduces itself with a song. After, the group performs a critique – a satirical song about a public figure or incident. The presenter then recites a farewell verse, followed by a goodbye song by the group.
Romano, who founded Los Atorrantes de Almagro