Batala Lancaster drummer Heather was one of nine of our drummers who played at Badajoz Carnival this year. She reflects on why she’s made this trip seven times now, and will again.
It’s hard to explain in simple terms why I’ve come to describe our annual trip to Badajoz as “my favourite week of the year”.
We go there to join the members of Batala Badajoz as they perform several times as part of the annual carnival which is celebrated around the world and is also known as Mardi Gras. (The celebrations culminate on Shrove Tuesday/”Fat Tuesday”).
Badajoz is a city on the Spanish border with Portugal and as such has a very long history as an important military site. It has a Moorish Alcazaba (fortified citadel) and Batala Badajoz is the only musical group who have been granted permission to rehearse there for the carnival. So our rehearsal space is a lovely outdoor area surrounded by tall date palms within the ancient walls.
We usually have blue skies and sunshine for our rehearsals, and Batala Badajoz arrange for a picnic lunch to be brought to us.
During breaks, we mingle with fellow drummers from other Batala bands from countries such as France, Greece, Austria and the USA. We don’t always speak each other’s language but we always manage to communicate with smiles and a common interest.
The main event for us is the day-long parade on Carnival Sunday. Each group lines up and then has an hour to complete the route. There are many “comparsas”, usually comprising a troupe of dancers and a kind of trolley or framework within which the drummers play their various percussion instruments. They all wear incredibly detailed, colourful and matching costumes and are mesmerising to watch as they perform their well-rehearsed routines. I believe that Batala are the only band to parade carrying our drums. This year we broke our own record as there were over 170 of us, swelling Batala Badajoz’s number by about 120. As anyone who has seen us will testify, the sight and sound of us coming towards you is a powerful experience to behold.
We have a fancy dress party on the Sunday – a chance to let our hair down, and this year was no exception. There were many hilarious moments. We drum into the night on the Saturday and Monday, with the latter traditionally being our “all-nighter” for anyone who feels up to it. We start in the main square with a performance of an hour or so, and then after a break, we can move on to the next square. Some of us choose to go to bed at that point, around 2 am. Others continue to move slowly across the city centre, drumming as and when. Suddenly we realise the sky is getting lighter, and at around 9 am it’s time for breakfast. Picture a café full of weary drummers, struggling to keep our eyes open! Then it’s time to line up for our final parade of the carnival: the burial of the sardine! Some of us who’ve been back for a few hours’ sleep join the “all-night survivors” and we all find the energy to drum for one more hour, along with several of the comparsas. In a bittersweet moment, we hit our drums for the last time and realise that our amazing experience in Badajoz is over again for another year.
Those of us who haven’t headed back home by the evening of Shrove Tuesday can enjoy a farewell dinner, ending with emotional goodbyes to our friends, old and new. For me, certainly, with a promise of “see you next year”.
So, why is it “my favourite week of the year”? I love the socialising, the location(s) where we drum, the atmosphere of the carnival, the traditional feel, partying, good value . . . but by far the overriding reason why I find it so special is the very warm and genuine welcome given by the members of Batala Badajoz to all of us who join them. They work hard and go out of their way to ensure that we all have a fabulous time, and are humble in our praise.