The Malta Independent 22 May 2019, Wednesday

The carnival company bringing a Mexican twist to the Maltese tradition

Albert Galea Saturday, 2 March 2019, 10:39 Last update: about 4 months ago

Chris Aquilina lives for carnival.  He has been following this passion for the past 40 years, and this year will be no different as his company - Tad-Deheb Carnival Company - look to bring a Mexican twist to one of Malta's most awaited annual traditions.

The Malta Independent visited the company's humble garage in a warehouse complex a couple of weeks ago as preparations for the annual bonanza were in full swing.  Aquilina explained that the company's float this year is based on the Mexican Día de Muertos celebrations - an historic tradition dating back centuries where the country celebrates the day of the dead through prayer along with colourful parades and ceremonies.

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He says that the initial inspiration for the float came from watching the hit James Bond film Spectre  - the opening scene of which depicts  Bond walking through a Día de Muertos parade - and were further built upon through the critically acclaimed animated film Coco - which depicts two characters, Miguel and Hector, embarking on an extraordinary journey through the Land of the Dead to find the real story behind Miguel's family.

Both Hector and Miguel in fact feature prominently on Tad-Deheb's float complete with intricate movements. One of their iconic guitars will also serve as the stage at the front of the float, on which the company's dancers will perform.  Aquilina says that the company will have 36 dancers performing on Carnival weekend in full costume.

The float is a job which has been ongoing for months, Aquilina says, as a team of 12 or so people work on-and-off to complete the majestic structure. It is a float that probably cost the company north of €20,000 - a cost which they themselves foot with the help of some sponsors.

Whilst his company in all encompasses some 50 people, Aquilina does lament that not enough children are being pushed towards involving themselves in this tradition.  He recalls how he used to spend his days as a 10 year old at the float warehouses working with Pawlu l-Pampalun, and laments that unfortunately in the Smartphone and tablet age the vast majority of children are not interested anymore in taking up such hobbies. Without children learning the trade as people like him grow older, hobbies such as this will eventually die, he admits.

Asked about what else he would like to see in the future, Aquilina replied that he would especially like to see the Carnival Village project - preliminary work on which begun last year - completed. It was a statement that Aquilina echoed with more emphasis when this newspaper met him again earlier this week.

Preparations for this year were on track until the week before carnival, when the extreme weather destroyed the tent in Marsa that the float had been taken to for storage.  Aquilina explains that for the bits of work to be carried out, the float had to be moved from the garage that Tad-Deheb operates out of as it is not high enough for them to be able to assemble the float.

Luckily for them, the float only sustained minor damage. However, while it will take more than one long night to make the necessary repairs and finish off what's left, Hector and Miguel will most certainly be one of those gracing the streets of Valletta this weekend.

Photos by Alenka Falzon

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