The Lenten season is almost upon us, and for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, that means one thing: Get all the partying out of your system before Ash Wednesday on February 10.
That celebration of excess known as Carnival is a global phenomenon – from Venice to Venezuela, Barranquilla to Brazil, Cuba to Cologne. In the U.S., the tradition is most commonly associated with Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) in New Orleans.
Here in Seattle, there is an uneasy relationship with the festivities thanks to the ugly Mardi Gras riots of 2001.
As someone who studied Carnival in urban settings during graduate school, I’ve researched both the good and the bad of this annual celebration. The sense of reckless abandon, uninhibited freedom, and upending of social orders that is at the heart of the Carnival tradition dating back to its medieval European roots can walk a fine line between liberation and lawlessness.
On the one hand, major-league Carnivals in places like Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Trinidad are becoming increasingly commercialized as they attract international tourists and global brands. They become safer for visitors but less spontaneous and accessible to locals, while folk traditions get crowded out in favor of mass-produced costumes and parties. “Mardi Gras: Made in China” is a good primer on this phenomenon.
On the other hand, Carnival celebrations by Caribbean immigrant communities in places like Brooklyn and London are often targeted by police and painted by the media as inevitable sources of violence.
But cultural politics aside, that doesn’t mean all is lost for those hoping to chase away their winter blues and join in this worldwide revelry.
Here is The Seattle Globalist’s pick of the top events for Carnival Seattle 2016 to keep you partying all the way from this weekend right through the final hours of Fat Tuesday:
Friday, 8:00 pm:
Kicking off the long Carnival weekend, the Brazilian jazz and soul quintet EntreMundos will headline The Royal Room’s Brazilian Carnival! backed by the Tudo Beleza dancers and the samba reggae stylings of Bahia in Motion.
Saturday, 12:00 pm:
A Mardi Gras-style pub crawl embarks across downtown Seattle, either blissfully ignorant or willfully defiant of the aforementioned episode from 2001. Costumes, games, dance moves, magic tracks, boomboxes, and anything else you might need to sustain you through some heavy-duty day drinking are encouraged, though organizers’ claim of “What could go wrong?” sounds like famous last words.
Saturday, 8:00 pm:
Back to The Royal Room for a tribute to Alain Toussaint, the Nawlins jazz legend who passed away last year. Local cats will dive into Monsieur Toussaint’s extensive catalogue, whose funky riffs underpin much of the rock and soul music we love today.
Saturday, 8:30 pm:
Eduardo Mendonça, a musician and composer originally from Salvador da Bahia, leads The Crocodile’s 22nd annual Carnaval show with a heavy Brazilian flavor. Expect crowd-pleasing samba favorites, elaborate if scantily clad costumed dancers, and bottomless caipirinhas.
Saturday, 9:00 pm:
Seemingly every Carnival tradition crowns a king and queen, and Atropa Productions delivers with their third annual Mardi Gras! burlesque show at the Highline Bar. Live music from Seattle’s Butterflies of Death and Eugene’s Westbound Caravan.
Sunday, all day:
Not much going on in the city, so tune in to a live stream from somewhere in the midst of a Carnival takeover and bring the street party to your living room. Try New Orleans’ WWOZ, Barranquilla Estereo, CarnivalTV from Trinidad, or BahiaFM in Salvador.
Monday, 6:00 pm:
KEXP’s DJ Chilly brings modern Latin sounds to Seattle’s airwaves every Monday on his weekly El Sonido program. This week, he’s going for a Carnival theme and will bring in guest DJ Gregzinho (full disclosure: that’s me) to drop some knowledge from across the hemisphere.
Tuesday, 8:00 pm:
The Nectar Lounge gets in its las’ lap (as they call the final night of partying in Trinidad) with a Mardi Gras Extravaganza featuring a reunion show by Los Cumbieros, a Seattle-based cumbia ensemble with members from up and down the Americas. Also playing: 12-piece funk band Marmalade and VamoLá, a drum and dance ensembles modeled on Brazil’s blocos (street bands)
Tuesday, 9:00 pm:
It wouldn’t be Fat Tuesday without a brass band, and local horn players deliver when Tubaluba Does Mardi Gras at the Tractor Tavern. Alongside Elektrapod and Blubber.