I went to Montevideo for the carnival because Uruguay has a stronger carnival tradition than Argentina. This most have to do with the fact that the black population of Argentina "miraculously" disappeared in the 19th century. Many died of diseases and many where given front row seats in the wars against the Spanish and Paraguay.There are different aspects of the carnival. You have the llamadas, which I prefer. The groups performing in the llamadas consist of about 20 to 30 drummers playing forceful rhythms to which a group of people dance.
The people dancing depict people from the days of slavery. So you have some women dressed up as the woman from Uncle Ben's rice, a guy with a walking stick and a bag with herbs dancing in a rather spastic way depicting the medicine man and a lot of barely dressed women. I don't know what they depict but they surely got my attention. One was dressed only with some tiny decoration put on her nipples and crotch. She could just as well have gone naked.
The groups practice the whole year and in general are made up by people who live in the same neighborhood. So it works like a kind of glue for the community.
The girl I was staying with says that the whole year on Saturday she can't go to sleep before 12 because the neighbourhood is practicing. There is no much use trying to get some sleep when 30 people are beating the shit out of some drums ion the street. Most groups are only from 2 neighborhoods: Palermo and another one which name I don't remember.
These neighborhoods used to be and still are neighborhoods with a big black community. I heard that until 20, 25 years ago the carnival was really a black thing, but that after the dictatorship also the other people got interested in the carnival. Although the carnival of Uruguay has a lot in common with the carnival in Brazil when it comes to the dressing up (or rather dressing down) of the "dansmariekes" (Dutch name for the girls that dance in the carnival parade), the rhythms are different. It's not samba, it's Candombe (not to be confused with Candomble about which is my next post).
And the rhythm goes a bit like this: ta ta taa ta ta. Okay not much sense in trying to describe it. It's ear deafening for sure. The drummers give 100%, at the parades I saw some drummers with big blood blisters on their hands. Every bang must hurted like hell.
The other element of the Uruguayan carnival is the murgas. This consists of a group of people dressed up like harlequins singing in a kind of off tune voice accompanied by a guitarist and a drummer. The songs are mostly about (local) politics and events and are supposedly very funny. I don't know; my Spanish is still very basic and my knowledge of Uruguayan politics is even worse. It was nice to visit the carnival also to be out of Buenos Aires for a while and also because Montevideo is a really cool city. It's so quite, streets are virtually deserted during the day, it has more the feeling of a pueblo. I wonder how the rest of Uruguay is since the capital is already so laid back. It also has a lot of colonial architecture almost crumbling down.I wanted to check some beaches in Uruguay but a check on my bank account made me return to Buenos Aires to the freegan community immediately.