Only on the Malecón, where the sea breeze which lords over Havana is best enjoyed, is it possible to withstand the scorching heat of the tantalizing conga music, queen of carnival, the largest mass celebration of the year.
Over these hot August weekends (7-9 and 14-16), Havana residents are enjoying the city’s traditional carnival celebrations; some simply reclining on the Malecón, while others sit in the bleachers, expectantly awaiting the dance troupes as they parade past the judges, while the most eager seek out the designated dance areas.
As is customary, the celebrations commenced with the “9pm cannon fire” – a centuries-old tradition performed every evening at the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress – and of course a magnificent fireworks display.
According to organizers, August 7 carnival festivities marked the beginning of a wide range of activities to celebrate the 495th anniversary of the founding of San Cristóbal de La Habana, the city of Havana, in November.
The events, the procession of dancers and floats, the comical presence of giant carnival figures, dancing masses and eagerly awaited parade of dance troupes and their infectious rhythms, and colorful and bright costumes took place along a condensed stretch (between La Piragua and Marina Street) of the famous promenade.
This year’s carnival saw 18 dance troupes perform, among them six so-called traditional formations: El Alacrán (1908 – El Cerro), La Jardinera, Los marqueses de Atarés (leading the procession), Las Bolleras, Los Componedor de batea and La Sultana, as well as others such as Los Guaracheros de Regla (renowned for their lively choreography), La Comparsa de la FEU, (repeated winner of the popularity award), Los Jóvenes del Este and La Giraldilla de La Habana.
The public enjoyed all the designated dance areas – The Anti-Imperialist Tribunal; intersections of San Lázaro and Belascoaín streets, Central Havana and 1ra and D, Vedado – enlivened by popular bands such as Maykel Blanco y Salsa Mayor, Las Anacaonas, Aragón (celebrating its 75th anniversary), Azúcar Negra, Pupi y los que Son Son, Elito Revé y su Charangón and El Niño y La Verdad.
One of the many highlights of the night were performances by Órgano Oriental near the famous El Gato Tuerto night club and the tribute paid to outstanding folklore group Tambores de Bejucal for 53 consecutive years participating in Havana carnivals. On this occasion Los Tambores performed alongside the San Cristóbal de La Habana dance troupe.
Bejucal also provided a blaze of color, music and dance with various Charangas, accompanied by carnival groups’ Ceiba de Plata and Espina de Oro’s monumental floats.
Carnival is a tradition, a popular, enjoyable, exciting, colorful celebration, which carries its own resounding and resonant music, the conga, only tempered by the sea breeze which caresses all of Havana – from the Malecón to its farthest perimeters – a city which according to renowned author Alejo Carpentier “is outlined, grows, is shaped, under the gleaming evening sky…”