By Cassandra Oliveras

Uplifting beats, bursts of color, feathers and beads…before your imagination runs off to Rio, head to El Museo del Barrio to celebrate the fun and exuberance of Carnaval with your family this year. On Saturday, February 18, 2012 East Harlem’s cultural gem will open its doors free to the public as part of its SUPER SABADO! Target Free Third Saturdays, starting at 11am.

Photo by Ayano Hisa, Courtesy of El Museo del Barrio

The festive tradition of Carnaval occurs annually in the days leading up to Lent. Some quick research on its etymology reveals a potential link to Late Latin or Italian roots that translate into “farewell to meat.” Carne, of course, refers to its root word for meat, which is given up on select days throughout the Lenten period. This year’s festival begins in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, February 17 and is celebrated around the world through “Fat Tuesday”, on February 21.

Here in NYC, El Museo del Barrio has programmed activities for all ages around this theme, including mask making; free Gallery tours; a Carnaval Photo Booth; and classes that teach the traditional dances of El Carnaval de Barranquilla.

Later in the day, more adult activities are on the agenda including a free concert by the mesmerizing Mexican Songstress Lila Downs, presented in collaboration with Carnegie Hall’s Neighborhood Concert Series. Lila blends Mexican rhythms and native dialects with American folk, blues and rock, selling out venues worldwide. This concert is currently at capacity, but a stand-by line will be available for those of you feeling lucky.

Although unrelated to Carnaval, the culminating presentation of this day at El Museo is a must- see Spoken Word performance in memory of the late El Barrio author, Piri Thomas. The stage will be aglow with a veritable “who’s who” of notables in the Spoken Word world, hosted by Dr. Marta Moreno Vega and Felipe Luciano, and curated by Rich Villar. Poets include Martin Espada,Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Junot Díaz, Willie Perdomo, Mayda del Valle, Emanuel Xavier, and others.

This reflective season is often noted for what people are about to give up…don’t forget how much is to be gained and reveled in amidst the rich culture of this great, big, noisy city.

Originally published February 2012
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