Painted bodies, colorful outfits and infectious drum beats filled Valparaíso this weekend as the annual Mil Tambores festival took over the city. This year’s festivities, bigger and brighter than ever, promoted public education.
The three-day festival kicked off in style on Friday afternoon in Plaza Echaurren, where crowds flocked to observe and even take part in a display of stunning body painting. According to Chilean daily El Mercurio, some foreign visitors were surprised by the level of undress of the participants, who enthusiastically offered up their bodies as a canvas in the name of art. Nine-months-pregnant Valentina Martínez drew particular attention with two lucky white elephants painted across her swollen belly.
A lively dance procession wound its way from Plaza Echaurren to Parque Italia on Friday evening, with a range of dances from African style to capoeira and batucada. Despite the colorful outfits and joyous energy of the festival, many dance groups transmitted more serious messages through their performances. “Las Choras del Puerto,” a group of women painted black, campaigned for the legalization of abortion in Chile and its integration into the national health system.
At the rear of the procession was a masked diablada (dancer of the Devil) who moved to the tune of the famous cumbia song “La piragua.” For the procession, participants changed the song’s lyrics to “No to Pascua Lama, no to Pascua Lama” in protest against the controversial mining project on the Chile-Argentina border. A particular favorite with the crowd were Chin Chin Tirapie's “Pitbulls of Chile” – a parody of Chile’s Carabineros police force whose dancers wore canine masks and performed lewd dances with phallic-looking batons to both the delight and horror of the crowds.
Once the procession arrived in Parque Italia, many onlookers enjoyed bands on the main stage erected specially for the event, while others stayed in the park as the procession dispersed into several drum performances with impromptu cueca performances from unexpected corners such as Chile’s Hare Krishna society. The beat of Santiago-based group Andú also proved particularly infectious amongst revelers, who moved on to another concert in Caleta Membrillo in the early hours of the morning.
Popular Latino-ska group Juana Fe provided the pinnacle of the weekend’s events with a performance at Caleta Membrillo on Saturday night. In the intimate oceanside venue, onlookers braved cheap rum and the keyboard player’s excessive display of chest hair to groove to the Afro rumba beats of the group, about to embark on a tour of Europe.
Mil Tambores organizers will undoubtedly be pleased by the success of the 2008 event, which benefited from a higher level of promotion than in previous years.
Click here for additional photos from this year's event.