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Festival Cervantino, Latin America's biggest cultural event, returns with new energy

A scene from "Entremeses Cervantinos," three one-act plays written by Miguel de Cervantes, at Plaza San Roque, Guanajuato, Mexico.
Germán Romero, courtesy of Cervantino International Festival
A scene from "Entremeses Cervantinos," three one-act plays written by Miguel de Cervantes, at Plaza San Roque, Guanajuato, Mexico.

On a recent Saturday night at the Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato, Portuguese singer Carminho is performing her second Fado called O Começo (The Beginning). She's accompanied by a quartet of bass, electric and acoustic guitars and the emblematic instrument of fado, the 12-steel string Portuguese guitar. Fado songs are deeply melancholic, the lyrics are filled with 'saudade,' a feeling of nostalgia and longing.

It's Carminho's first time performing at the Cervantino International Festival and the audience is mesmerized. Backstage, after the show, she says the streets of Guanajuato have a lot of energy, like an erupting volcano. "And when I came to the stage, I received the same intensity from the audience. It was great, great, unforgettable!" she says.

This year is special. After a virtual edition in 2020, and a hybrid version last year - the festival is back in person and celebrating 50 years. "It's a festival where people can come to enjoy theater, dance, music, films, literature, gastronomy, street theater, circus, and so on," says festival director Mariana Aymerich. "They can come with the whole family, to enjoy 19 days to feel, to dance, and to reflect with all the artists that are here with us."

There are 25 venues spread across the city of Guanajuato, most of them located within the historic center. The indoor venues include theaters, baroque churches, a mine and a club in the catacombs, underneath the city. Half of the events are free. But one of the best components of the festival is the outdoor venues: five city squares, a former train station, and a supermarket all make the city come alive every day.

At the festival's biggest outdoor venue, Coreyah, a psychedelic Korean folk band is performing in front of more than 4,000 people. The band is a blend of traditional Korean music, American rock and world rhythms.

Every year, festival organizers invite a country and a state of Mexico. Korea is the invited country this year. In collaboration with the Korean embassy, the festival programmers invited 10 different groups including the K-Pop band KARD; Sumi Jo, a renowned opera singer; and the Korean National Contemporary Dance Company.

One of the big performing groups invited by the festival did a flash mob at the Plaza del Baratillo, a picturesque square in the heart of the city. More than 40 performers, including an opera singer and a small orchestra, were recreating a piece from their big multi-disciplinary show called Tururú, Los Jovenes También Viajan en Metro (The Youth Also Travels on the Subway).

Taína González is the director of the production. She made it a priority to include youth from working-class neighborhoods across Mexico City in the performance. "There are many things they could do and never imagined. For example, in the theatre group I'm leading, many of the participants had no idea they were going to do a play," she says. "They've been working on it for a year and it's wonderful to see how much they've grown and how reassuring it is for them."

For 50 years, the Cervantino Festival has been a cultural reference, nurturing the public and every kind of artist. Angela Gonzalez, director of the Ruelas Foundation, says the festival has brought to Mexico all the great performers from around the world. "There's no comparison what the festival has accomplished, at least in Latin America, as a space for a wide range of aesthetic experiences, a place of learning and a space of freedom."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Orquesta Típica de la CDMX, performing at Templo de la Compañía, Guanajuato, Mexico.
/ Germán Romero, courtesy of Cervantino International Festival
/
Germán Romero, courtesy of Cervantino International Festival
Orquesta Típica de la CDMX, performing at Templo de la Compañía, Guanajuato, Mexico.

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Betto Arcos
Betto Arcos is a freelance music journalist. He writes stories about music from around the world, with an emphasis on Latin America. He has been a contributor to NPR programming since 2009, when he began reviewing music for All Things Considered on the weekends.