Subtitling the Cadiz Carnival

Callum March 5, 2014 0
Subtitling the Cadiz Carnival

PX PatriciaPatricia Martínez Zapico, Live Production Manager, Access Services at Red Bee Media Spain, describes the planning and thought that goes into making the onstage performances at Spain’s annual Cadiz Carnival accessible to all…

If you’ve never been to the Cadiz Carnival, you’ve never been to a carnival – or so the locals would have you believe. It’s one of Spain’s most famous carnivals, and supposedly one of the funniest in the world. If you’ve ever met any Cadiz locals, or ‘gaditanos’ on your travels, there’s a high probability you had a laugh or two.

Gaitanos have a reputation for being the wittiest people in the country and are renowned for their stinging sarcasm, ability to pluck puns out of the air and extremely fertile imagination when criticising the government, or simply describing their everyday circumstances, causing lesser mortals to helplessly fall around laughing.

Secret language
These amusing folk even invented their own unique tongue – the language of carnival songs. These people cherish the carnival and spend the whole year preparing their costumes and rehearsing for it. In Cadiz, if you are not part of a group of satirical performers, then you’re nobody.

The groups come in various shapes and sizes, from small ‘quartets’ – that can ironically have anywhere between three and five members – to large choirs comprising 15 to 45 people. Somewhere in the middle are the Carnival glitterati, groups made up of about 10 members that are known as ‘comparsas’ and ‘chirigotas’, who are notorious for their biting satire.

This sarcastic song-singing comes naturally to those born in Cadiz, but was once deemed so dangerous that it was suppressed under the Franco dictatorship. Outsiders tend to give up trying to ‘get’ all the jokes sung in this secret language, which are packed with cultural references, made-up words and local-specific topics. Instead, most find themselves wandering the old quarter of town content to be mesmerized by the melodies and  costumes that accompany the performers’ sarcastic parodies.

The ultimate acid test
It is hard to think of a type of content less well-suited to live subtitling than performances at the Cadiz Carnival – and we subtitle a lot of difficult stuff.

We were first asked to provide live subtitles by [Andalusian public broadcaster] Canal Sur four years ago for a competition held at the Gran Teatro Falla theatre, and have been able to build up a wealth of knowledge and experience since then – but the assignment remains the ultimate acid test for any self-respecting respeaker.

So, what is it like for those whose job is to make sure that people who are deaf or hard of hearing have the chance to fall about laughing too?

Well, it’s not a one-off day; we usually have to wear our carnival kit for the whole of February. This year, the preliminary rounds of the official contest began on January 31st and ran until February 15th. The chirigotas (choral folksongs), comparsas (conga musicians), choirs and quartets that made it to the quarter finals then competed over six more nights.

That was followed by two days off, and then another three nights on in a row to find out who managed to best the competition on the Teatro Falla stage. On Friday 28th February the Carnival reached its climax with the final at the Gran Teatro Falla – the Olympus of carnival lovers.

Undercover agents
Unsurprisingly, we never get a firm schedule for our shifts when we are respeaking the Carnival, let alone on the night of the final. It’s for the Grand Jury to decide when we turn off our mics.

With the competition so fierce, no one wants to give away the slightest clue of what their song is about, making it extremely hard to find any material to prepare from. Even if we are lucky enough to get hold of something through our network of undercover agents – and I don’t mean that figuratively – it’s often useless, because the performers usually improvise their lyrics on the night.

As if all that wasn’t enough, there’s no audience in the world more up for a bit of participation than the audiences in Cadiz, which means that the singers are constantly interrupted by chants, boos, hurrahs, and even spontaneous performances by performanced by the overexcited members of the audience themselves…

As is always the case, the subtitlers lucky enough to be on the Carnival shift this year had a whale of a time – despite all the challenges, it’s a very popular shift.

If ever find yourself in this part of the world during February, you can check out the real thing in Cadiz in person or tune in to the subtitled version on Canal Sur. Chances are you’ll end up giving in to the collective merriment too.

Red Bee Media Spain is headquartered in Seville and provides live subtitling services for a range of broadcasters and content producers. For more information, contact +34 0955 091 130 or visit

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