One of the most famous carnivals in the world is in Barranquilla, Colombia. The secret I have to offer is that Colombia’s Carnival celebrations span anywhere along the Caribbean coastal region near the cities of Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and Riohacha. I happen to be living in Dibulla, La Guajira, a coastal pueblo near Riohacha for my Peace Corps service. Never did I think I would be enjoying the charm of Colombian carnival season for longer than a month starting with the weekend after Three Kings Day, and every weekend leading up to Mardi Gras.
Every Saturday during this season, people go out to celebrate “pre-carnavales” in a “caseta”, which are enclosed spaces used to celebrate during carnival season. These spaces could be a bar, discoteca, or an empty lot that is only used for carnival alone (like where I live in Dibulla). Each city has many of them, and each pueblo might have one or two. My pueblo has one that just happens to be next door to me, called KZ Lesvia. This venue is in my neighbor’s back yard, where it was used to screen movies back in the day. Considering the fact that there is a mango tree that looks over the entire venue, and the screen-turned-stage is perfect for the DJ to do their thing, it is an enchanting carnival experience. The best part of attending this venue every Saturday night is seeing how people dressed up more and more as time went by, including more bright colors.
If you ever attend a caseta (aka in Spanish “KZ” for short), there are a few things you need to prepare for before you arrive. Colombians celebrate any party by throwing flour or baby powder, foam, or water. Many women wear hats in order to protect their hair from most of these elements, but there is no getting away from the amount that gets on your face and clothing, so come prepared knowing you can’t do anything about it. It’s all in good fun, and there is no point in getting upset if you know what to expect.
I was surprised to see a parade on a random Friday, three weeks before actual carnival. The mayor’s office organized a small parade with their office workers and some mobile speakers. They walked down my street, and I was more than happy to join in on the dancing and celebrating for what I thought was a random surprise. Apparently, there is a parade every Friday a couple of weeks before carnival. The week later, the parade grew to include at least 5 “comparsas”, or parade groups, that comprised of the hospital, the mayor’s office, the school, and a couple of other groups. To top it all off, there just happens to be mango trees that line the streets and met us every step of the way we paraded, no more than 2 miles around the small pueblo.
I had the distinct honor of parading with girls that I have been giving dance classes to. I was even more excited that they decided to make red leotards that matched mine. It made me super happy to see them organize, sell desserts, fundraise, and have their new dance outfits made all within one week and with barely any of my help or council. They also made sure to place me right next to their comparsa.
Growing up with a Colombian Mami, Checo Acosta was well known in my household for the song Ché Mapalé, which always got everyone who is anyone up off their seat to dance. This is still a largely favorite song to play during Colombian carnival, but there are many more classics as well as new songs that everyone listens to in the Casetas. If you want to listen to some of the music, click on the links for the playlist created for the Carnaval de Barranquilla, and El Heraldo’s song competition for the 2017 Carnaval song. The music spans from traditional Cumbia, Puya, Mapalé, and Vallenato to more modern sounds like Champeta, Reggaeton, Tropi-pop, and more.
The costumes, colors, colors and more colors
There are particular Carnival costumes that are popular in Colombia, but here are some more that were found particularly in Dibulla:
I attended the 2017 Carnaval de Barranquilla starting on February 25th, so click on the link to explore the largest most famous Carnival of Colombia.
WEPA CARNAVAL – QUIEN LO VIVE ES QUIEN LO GOZA