Challa y Color: Carnaval de San Antonio de Padua

(The following article was translated from Spanish to English by Perla Suazo and Marta Wilson-Barthes.)

It’s like going on a Monday to an art-styled cinema and watching a film from a Middle Eastern director, or from Eastern Europe with Andean influences. Or, like joining together a bit of Latin American carnivals like Oruro, Rio, and La Tirana and giving them a cool Santiaguino gangsta’ touch. Caporales and Hare Krishna, masquerade troupes and saxophone players, Andean plateau and samba dancers, stilt walkers and percussionists, Uruguayan street musicians and cabaret stars. Color, confetti, and mix in the south central part of our capital city.

A strange mix, but damn it was pretty!

Santiago Chile Challa y color

The shine from the suits and shoes, the flashes sing us a song of an unconventional and little-known festival. Did you know that there has been a carnival in Santiago for the past 16 years? A carnival that, although hard to believe, was born in a church in the south central part of the capital, a few scarce blocks from the Franklin neighborhood.

Santiago Chile Challa y Color

During two days in October, Friday the 10th and Saturday the 11th, the excitement could be felt in the air along with the good vibes, healthy joy of music, dancing and colors. On Friday the scene was filled with cuecas and Andean music. Large accordions and street musicians from Uruguay, the latter with their songs carrying messages borrowed from real life- always with blunt themes, social criticism and lots of humor (not to mention incredible voices), finishing off with the presentation of the respective queens and the host’s show. But Saturday is when the carnival really takes off.

I like seeing the brilliant eyes of the residents of the Ñuble neighborhood and of those acquaintances who can always be found in these sorts of celebrations of music and color. The mixing of sounds from the Chin Chin, Ayllu, Inti T’alla, Catanga, Pitamba, Apa, street musicians, and other groups that move and decorate the night together; the sounds of brass and drums interweaving.

Santiago Chile Challa y Color

The people dance, watch, laugh, and applaud. The costumed players (most notably the dogs of Chin Chin Tirapie), adorned with their carnival masks, interact with children who get close. The animated point is provided by the hare hare, who some might have said were out of place. No such thing. Lies. They jump happily, the people get enthusiastic, and they spread happiness to the end of the column: it’s impossible to remain still. The parade barely finishes passing in front of the stage on Carmen Street before we turn around to watch it again, to dance once again and take more photos.

We end in front of the church where the carnival bids farewell. The training and preparation becomes evident as the northern groups arrive as if they had just begun, as if all the hours of jumping and dancing had not affected them in the least bit. The street is full of confetti; the children see it and run to make little mounds to throw at the groups exhausting their last bits of energy. And the hare hare, continuing with their bells and drums while we’re told to move towards the sidewalk because the street has reopened for traffic. As with every carnival, when the lights from the final group go out, they’re already thinking about improvements and what theme will adorn the city next year.

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