Candombe is an Uruguayan music and dance that comes from African slaves. It is considered an important aspect of the culture of Uruguay and was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage of humanity.[1] To a lesser extent, Candombe is practiced in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. In Argentina, it can be found in Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Paraná, and Corrientes. In Paraguay is continued this tradition in Kamba Kua (Camba Cuá) in Fernando de la Mora near Asunción. Also in Brazil, it still retains its religious character and can be found in Minas Gerais State.

This Uruguayan music style is based on three different drums: chico, repique and piano drums. This music style is usually played in February during carnival in Montevideo, Uruguay at dance parades called "Llamadas" and "Desfile Inaugural del Carnaval".


Candombe Montevideo Uruguay

Common origins

According to George Reid Andrews, the historian of Montevideo Black communities, after the middle of the 19th century younger blacks in particular abandoned the candombe in favor of dances from Europe such as the mazurka. Meanwhile, whites began to imitate the steps and movements of blacks. Calling themselves Los Negros, upper class porteños in the 1860s and 1870s blackened their faces and formed one of the carnival processions each year.

African-Uruguayans organized candombe dances every Sunday and on special holidays such as New Year's Eve, Christmas, Saint Baltasar, Rosary Virgin and Saint Benito. They would set a fire to heat the drums and play candombe music, specially during the night in certain neighbors such as Barrio Sur and Palermo in Montevideo. The typical characters on the parade represent the old white masters during slavery in old Montevideo city. It was a mockery to their lifestyle with a rebel spirit for freedom and a way to remember the African origins.

A music troupe playing Uruguayan Candombe in the "Desfile de Llamadas, through the Sur and Palermo neighborhoods, Montevideo (Uruguay).

A new dance, which embodied the movement and style of the candombe, and called a tango with couples dancing apart, rather than in an embrace, was created by the Afro-Argentines of Mondongo in the year 1877.[citation needed] So wrote a man who identified himself as "Viejo Tanguero" in a September 1913 article in Buenos Aires's first mass circulation popular newspaper.[2] In a book published in 1883 Ventura Lynch—a noted student of the dances and folklore of Buenos Aires Province—noted the influence the Afro-Argentine dancers had on the compadritos, or tough guys, who apparently frequented the Afro-Argentine dance venues. Lynch wrote, "the milonga is danced only by the compadritos of the city, who have created it as a mockery of the dances the blacks hold in their own places".[2] Lynch's report was interpreted by Robert Farris Thompson in Tango: The Art of Love as meaning that city compadritos danced milonga, not rural gauchos. Thompson notes that the population of city toughs dancing milonga would have included blacks and mulattoes, and that it would not have been danced as a mockery by all the dancers.[3]

Comparsa on Candombe Day in Montevideo Uruguay

In Uruguay

In the third decade of the 19th century the word candombe began to appear in Montevideo, referring to self-help dancing societies founded by persons of African descent. The term means "pertaining to blacks" in Kikongo. In Montevideo it meant more than a dance or a music or a congregation, but all of the above.[4] Candombe the dance was a local fusion of various African traditions. A complicated choreography included a final section with wild rhythms, freely improvised steps, and energetic, semi-athletic movements.[5] Candombe in Uruguay includes a music troupe playing Uruguayan Candombe in a special dance parade called “Desfile de Llamadas”, through the Sur and Palermo neighborhoods in Montevideo, Uruguay.

In Argentina

Afro-Argentines playing Candombe Porteño near a bonfire in St. John's night (noche de San Juan), 1938.

The African influence was not foreign to Argentina, where the candombe also has been developed with specific characteristics. A population of black African slaves had been present in Buenos Aires since around 1580. However their place in Argentine culture nearly died out due to events such as the yellow fever epidemic and the War against Paraguay that decimated the black population in Argentina and nearly wiped out their culture.[6] While wars and disease decreased black populations particularly, widespread discrimination in the 19th and 20th century, especially after the abolution of slavery in 1853, also took a toll. In addition, afroporteños (black people from Buenos Aires)were outnumbered by the increasing flow of immigration of white Europeans who displaced black workers in the domestic services, crafts and street sales. Still, in Buenos Aires, mainly in southern districts—today called San Telmo and Montserrat—crowds gathered to practice candombe.

The seeds of candombe originated in present-day Angola, where it was taken to South America during the 17th and 18th centuries by people who had been sold as slaves in the kingdoms of Kongo, Anziqua, Nyong, Quang and others, mainly by Portuguese slave traders. The same cultural carriers of candombe colonized Brazil (especially in the area of Salvador de Bahia), Cuba, and the Río de la Plata with its capital Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The different histories and experiences in these regions branched out from the common origin, giving rise to different rhythms.

In Buenos Aires, during the two governments of Juan Manuel de Rosas, it was common that “afroporteños” (black people of Buenos Aires) practiced the candombe in public, even encouraged and visited by Rosas and his daughter, Manuela. Rosas defeated in the battle of Caseros in 1852, Buenos Aires began a profound and rapid cultural change which emphasized European culture. In this context, the afroporteños (black people of Buenos Aires) replicated their ancestral cultural patterns increasingly into their private life. For this reason since 1862, the press, intellectuals and politicians began to assert the misconception of Afro-Argentine disappearance that has remained virtually until now in the imagination of ordinary people from Argentina.

Many researchers agree that the Candombe, through the development of the Milonga is an essential component in the genesis of Argentine tango. This musical rhythm influenced, specially, the "Sureña Milonga". In fact, tango, milonga and candombe form a musical triptych from the same African roots. But with different developments.

Initially, the practice of Candombe was practiced exclusively by blacks, who had designed special places called “Tangó’s”. This word originated sometime in the 19th century the word "Tango", but not yet its present meaning.

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