Credit: Ann Brown
Here’s a look at some of the carnivals taking place in Africa around the month of February.
It’s party time in Luanda, Angola, where you’ll find the expected colorful costumes and gravity defying headgear. Participants dance the samba/samba down the street in this carnival competition. As with most carnivals, there is a king and queen, dancers, and music everywhere.
And the music is semba. Brazil’s samba music and dance actually has their roots in semba of Angola. “The word ‘semba’ comes from the Kimbundu language and can mean to pray or invoke the spirits of ancestors or local Gods,” according to Our Africa.
Slaves were captured from the Angolan region and taken to Brazil between 1600 to 1888. They took their religion, music, and dancing with them. That’s how the semba/samba tradition became part of Brazilian life.”
Carnival in Luanda goes all the way back to 1857, and of course there are other carnivals at this time in Angola, but the one in the capital city is the biggest and most spectacular.
Angola is trying to make its carnival THE African carnival destination, and the Luanda carnival organization committee is spending a reported US $500,000 and upwards annually to do so.
Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)
Cabo Verde celebrates carnival on three islands. There is a smaller one on Santiago island in the capital city of Praia, and while it pales in comparison to the carnivals that take place in Mindelo, São Vicente, and in Ribeira Brava, São Nicolau, the city has been working to strengthen its carnival contribution. All three have special days for children to enjoy and parade in carnival or “carnaval” (Portuguese for carnival).
There is a local saying that São Vicente has the show, São Nicolau has the heart. Carnaval de Mindelo is a major spectacular–always pulling out all the stops. In fact, it has been called the most dazzling in all of Africa. It’s been turning the streets of Mindelo into an all out festa since the 18th century. Preparations start nearly a year prior, most typically in December. Obviously, folks on São Vicente take carnival seriously. The streets are packed with full-blown celebrations as the city goes into overdrive. Participants dress in outlandishly beautiful costumes; attendees wear wacky, wonderful outfits; live drumming and music blast loudly. And the city gets a major boost in tourism. Neves enjoyed her turn as one of the SV participants so much so she may go back again.
Yes, Guinea-Bissau, which only has a handful of Catholics (as the majority of its people are Muslim), does celebrate carnival. For carnival in Guinea-Bissau the costumes are a little different than what you’d expect. People don the traditional attire of their ethnicity. Carnival is celebrated in many cities and regions, but the main one is the Carnival of Bissau, which is also well-known the Carnival of Bijagós tradition on Bubaque island. Additionally, there is also the Carnival of the Pepel (carnival of the animals) in the city of Quinhamel. Here, people not only wear traditional garb but also huge animal heads–tigers, roosters, rabbits, mice.
In the capital city Maputo, carnival consists of a series of public parades while carnival celebrations head inside at bars, clubs, or in private events. Still Carnaval de Maputo attracts about 9,000 people, including 3,000 dancers from local junior high schools. But in the city of Quelimane you will find a more traditional carnival, of course with African flair. The city’s lays claim to the country’s best carnival. Carnaval De Quelimane lures in more than 50,000 people from all parts of the country as well as tons of tourists. The area where carnival takes place is also called “Little Brazil.”
Nigeria boasts that its Calabar Carnival Festival is “Africa’s biggest street party.” And it’s not really “carnival,” for it takes place in November usually. It is more to celebrate the upcoming Christmas festivities, as it starts off with a tree-lighting ceremony. There are musical concerts galore, attracting international acts, from Akon and American gospel singer Kirk Franklin to U.S. rapper Fat Joe and pop singer NeYo. And it’s a BIG party–32 days of events, activities, and parades.
In Africa most of the traditional carnivals are in former Portuguese colonies, but other countries are trying to lure in carnival tourists as well, including Seychelles, which recently started its own carnival for that reason–Carnaval International de Victoria. Now in its sixth year, the event has brought in top international stars such as Dionne Warwick and Grace Barbé to beef up its presence. This carnival doesn’t really center around lent; it is typically held in April.
South Africa’s version of carnival, like Seychelles, has nothing to do with Lent and is a big tourism draw. There are carnivals in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and in Gauteng, whose carnival is just 10 years old. The Joburg Carnival is a New Year’s Eve event, patterned after Brazil’s world-famous Rio Carnival and launched in 2004. Troupes perform for prizes in categories such as best costumes, best choreography, and best troupe performance. There’s also Gauteng Carnival, which began in 2005 and had 3,000 participants and has grown so much since its early days that it was moved to Soweto in 2010. The newest SA carnival is Cape Town Carnival, which started in 2010, attracting about 11,000 people, and has quickly grown to attract a whopping 50,000. According to the carnival organization, the goal is to not only showcase the arts and culture of the city but to “create employment and training opportunities in costume, float design and production as well as large event logistics.”
Zimbabwe’s Harare international Carnival is relatively new, having started within the last two years with a goal to increase “employment and wealth creation, foreign revenue generation, industry expansion, infrastructure advancement and social goodwill,” according to its website. Held in December, it has a Brazilian style with a Zimbabwean flair, of course.
Are there any other festivals in Africa you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments or head over to our Contribute page.
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