Each country has its music folklore, but if music associated with Carnival worldwide is carioca samba, there is a composition in Spain that resonates by itself: the chirigota or murga.
This word conveys energy and life and applies to both the group and the music they perform. Like jokes, trying to explain a murga only spoils it. Therefore, it is better to enter the portal that grants access to the chirigota planet and check its gallery, which dates back to 1950.
But let’s go to erudition, and -as we say in Spain- “if I get too annoying, please let me know.“ As per the COAC (Cádiz’s Official Contest of Carnival Groups), rules say a standard chirigota is made of seven to twelve people who sing in different voices. The tenor usually sings the foreground melody, accompanied by bass drums, snare drums, guitars, güiros, and kazoos. The dressing code is also a part of the carnival’s mise en scène.
Why is the murga a reference in Spanish popular music?
Although with a different name, the chirigotas come from the 16th–century tradition of reading aloud tales describing social situations, making the most from the relaxing time provided by the Carnival, which is threatened by the imminent arrival of strict Lent.
Like every popular music, the murga is alive, and its tentacles spread widely. Hence the existence of the Uruguayan murgas –coming from Cádiz–, an example of this music’s flirtation with internationality.
The chirigota was born early in the 20th century and has not changed that much until today. The person behind its name and renown is Antonio Rodríguez, aka “El tío de la tiza” (“the Chalk Guy”). Since then, except for the forced silence due to their prohibition between 1936 and 1948, the murgas have continued to evolve and become more shameless, especially since the mid 70s, when democracy was back in Spain.
The murga music pattern is that of a song with verses and choruses, and a unique feature: each verse is based on a different structure, and manages to combine the current top hits with classical Spanish music styles, such as pasodoble or cuplé. Whereas Herr Frankenstein’s created a somewhat deformed creature, the chirigota artists are particularly skilled in building genres and styles.
However, despite the apparent mess, everything binds to a canonical structure and a control body: the COAC (Cádiz’s Official Contest of Carnival Groups), which sets the standards to the genre: a structure consisting of a chorus, two pasodobles, two cuplés and a medley in quatrains. Also, although you must practice for every style, one of the difficulties here lies in keeping in step with tricky lyrics, however the essence of these compositions.
What is most interesting in these groups is that they can create lyrics with a satirical, humorous, and political content, and nevertheless short-lived. Chirigota fans know a new ‘vaccine’ must appear every year because its contents are always up to date. If a remarkable event occurs just the day before the performance, it will miraculously be reinterpreted on stage. That’s why every chirigota is unique and unrepeatable.
For the entertainment of the staff we leave you one of the best chirigotas of this Carnival 2020.
Latham, Alison. The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford.
Medina, Ángel. Los atributos del capón: imagen histórica de los cantores castrados en España. ICCMU.
Ruiz Mantilla, Jesus. Yo, Farinelli, el capón. Aguilar.