Over the past two weeks, I have developed a better understanding of contemporary divisions among murga troupes in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires based on interviews and interactions with murgueros in Cachengue y Sudor. One major point of differentiation is whether troupes participate in the “official” Carnival sponsored by the Comisión de Carnaval (Carnival Committee) of the government of Buenos Aires or the “unofficial” Carnival organized by the Movimiento de Murgas Independientes (Movement of Independent Murgas). The Comisión de Carnaval was created in 1997 when the city government declared Carnival activities and associations as cultural patrimony and passed an ordinance which committed financial resources to support murga troupes and Carnival festivities. This significant step forward in reviving Carnival was spurred in large part due to the mobilization – including protest marches calling for the re-establishment of Carnival as an official holiday (which was eliminated by the military dictatorship of 1978-1983) – of both younger and older murgueros in Buenos Aires.
Several years later, in 2004-2005, the Movimiento de Murgas Independientes emerged as murga troupes throughout metropolitan Buenos Aires pursued alternative channels for organizing and putting on Carnival. One reason for this is that the Comisión de Carnaval only includes and assists murga troupes in Capital Federal (the “city of Buenos Aires” and not the surrounding “provinces of Buenos Aires”). Another reason is that in the early 2000s, the Comisión de Carnaval began instituting a concurso (competition) in which murga troupes are required to perform in a pre-Carnival evaluation. The troupes are judged based on a set of criteria that, according to a few murgueros in Cachengue y Sudor, reflect the aesthetic standards of more “traditional” murga troupes. In addition, this evaluation affects the funds and visibility allotted to each murga troupe for Carnival. Several murgueros in Cachengue y Sudor mentioned to me that this concurso has introduced an unnecessary competitive spirit among murga troupes, reinforces a vertical/hierarchical organizational model, and functions as a way of limiting innovation and creativity within murga as an artistic/musical genre.
From 2000 to 2004, Cachengue y Sudor participated and performed within the “official” circuit of Carnival, and now is one of the few murga troupes based in Capital Federal that belongs to the Movimiento de Murga Independientes (the majority are murga troupes from the provinces). Many murgueros in Cachengue y Sudor stated that they deeply value the principles of “horizontalidad” (non-hierarchical social relations) and “autogestion” (self-management/funding) that define how the murga troupe operates as a collective project.
Over two consecutive Sunday meetings of Cachengue y Sudor, I had the opportunity to observe how murgueros put horizontalidad into practice during a process of annual self-reflection and collective critique about how the troupe has fared in artistic, logistical, and organizational terms. About 30 adults and 4 children gathered in the living room at the home of one of the murgueros, where all of us sat in a circle – some on sofas and chairs, and others directly on the blue concrete floor. Although it was a chilly evening (and the living room opened up directly to a central patio area) murgueros transformed the bare space into a warm and friendly atmosphere – they were uninhibited about sitting close to each other and showing affection and solidarity through hugs, passing around snacks, and sharing matés. Over a period of almost 10 hours of discussion (over two Sunday meetings), murgueros demonstrated a serious commitment to listening to each other, reflecting on the issues raised, and offering suggestions for how the troupe as a collective might function more effectively. There were specific murgueros that volunteered to jumpstart the meetings but no one led or dominated the discussions. As one murguero said, “nadie es el dueño de Cachengue” (“no one owns Cachengue”).
To more easily include everyone’s voices, murgueros spent time talking in both smaller and larger groups. In each group, someone took the initiative to note the names of those who wished to speak in the order in which each murguero/a raised his/her hand. While there were definitely interruptions, and a lot of commotion due to both adults and children coming in/out of the room, I could see how murgueros made an effort to be attentive as each person expressed her/his opinions or experiences, regardless of whether s/he had been in the murga for a few months or several years. It was an opportunity for honest and non-confrontational venting, addressing tensions, and healing conflicts that emerged over the course of working together. It is also my impression that this intentional community, or extended family, has tremendous value to its members in the face of urban fragmentation and diminished feelings of cohesion in the neighborhoods of contemporary Buenos Aires.
Mariana Pardes is an MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU