In the back of the bus, sandwiched between spare costumes, I get to talking with Coco Giovanaz and Damián Olmos, who joined the murga in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Like the rest of the troupe, they are close friends who share a passion for carnival. “For me, carnival is my lifestyle,” says Olmos. “It’s a festival that lasts all year for us, not just a month.”
“We leave everything for this,” adds Giovanaz. “Our vacations, weekends. and weekdays are spent rehearsing our voices, songs, and costumes. And the suits, they’re not easy or cheap to make.”
Giovanaz tells me that carnival has only been canceled twice—during COVID-19, and during the dictatorship, the period from 1976 to 1983 when a military junta ruled Argentina and brutally cracked down on public assembly. “This brought back a bit of a memory,” says Giovanaz of the COVID-19 cancellation. Everyone is glad to be back on the course.
We arrive at the ‘murga zone,’ where all the groups convene before stepping onto the day’s official course, quickly unloading the instruments, flags, and gear amid boisterous traffic. We shuffle down the road to our starting positions, as another group of performers walk past, giving out fist bumps and warm smiles to those of us waiting to perform.
We’re next. I nervously grab a flag emblazoned with Relegados de Belgrano’s name and colors and hold my breath.
First, there’s a whistle. Then, the bass drums, snares, and symbols come alive with a thunderous roar. Shaking out my stage fright, I move to the beat, mimicking the other members around me, who flash encouraging smiles. We run through the dance routines and songs**—none of which I’ve actually learned—**while progressing down the road toward the awaiting stage. Spectators in plain clothes spring out from the crowd, drawn to our percussive thumping. In perfect unison, they join our dancers, doing high kicks above their heads, grinning from ear to ear. We’re all moving together. And just as Toloza promised me, it’s like being in a trance. I close my eyes and let the moment take over. Somehow thirty minutes pass, before another group is waiting to take our spot on the course.