General information

Candombe is an Uruguayan music and dance style originating with 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. To a lesser extent, Candombe is practiced in Argentina and Brazil. In Argentina, it can be found in Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Paraná, Salta and Corrientes. In Brazil, it still retains its religious character and can be found in Minas Gerais State.

This 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 Innaugural del Carnaval".


According to George Reid Andrews, a 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 portenos 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 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. So wrote a man who identified himself as "Viejo Tanguero" in a September 1913 article in Buenos Aires's first mass circulation popular newspaper. 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". 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.

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 Ki-Kongo. In Montevideo it meant more than a dance or a music or a congregation, but all of the above. 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. 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.

Instruments and musical features

Candombe is a source of pride and a symbol of the identity of communities of African descent in Montevideo, embraced by younger generations and favouring group cohesion, while expressing the communities' needs and feelings with regard to their ancestors. The music of candombe is performed by a group of drummers called a cuerda. The barrel-shaped drums, or tamboriles, have specific names according to their size and function:

1. chico, small, high timbre, serving as the rhythmic pendulum
2. repique, medium, embellishes candombe's rhythm with improvised phrases
3. piano, largest size, its function similar to that of the upright or electric bass

An even larger drum, called bajo or bombo (very large, very low timbre, accent on the fourth beat), was once common but is now declining in use. A cuerda at a minimum needs three drummers, one on each part. A full cuerda will have 50-100 drummers, commonly with rows of seven or five drummers, mixing the three types of drums. A typical row of five can be piano-chico-repique-chico-piano, with the row behind having repique-chico-piano-chico-repique and so on to the last row.

Tamboriles are made of wood with animal skins that are rope-tuned or fire-tuned minutes before the performance. They are worn at the waist with the aid of a shoulder strap called a talig or talí and played with one stick and one hand.

A key rhythmic figure in candombe is the clave (in 3-2 form). It is played on the side of the drum, a procedure known as "hacer madera" (literally, "making wood").

Master Candombe drummers

Among the most important and traditional Montevidean rhythms are: Cuareim, Ansina and Cordon. There are several master drummers who have kept Candombe alive uninterrupted for two hundred years. Some of highlights are: in Ansina school: Wáshington Ocampo, Héctor Suárez, Pedro "Perico" Gularte, Eduardo "Cacho" Giménez, Julio Giménez, Raúl "Pocho" Magariños, Rubén Quirós, Alfredo Ferreira, "Tito" Gradín, Raúl "Maga" Magariños, Luis "Mocambo" Quirós, Fernando "Hurón" Silva, Eduardo "Malumba" Gimenez, Alvaro Salas, Daniel Gradín, Sergio Ortuño y José Luis Giménez.

Candombe performance

A full Candombe group, collectively known as a Comparsa Lubola (composed of blackened white people, traditionally with burnt corks) or Candombera (composed of black people), constitutes the cuerda, a group of female dancers known as mulatas, and several stock characters, each with their own specific dances. The stock characters include:

1. La Mama Vieja: the Old Mother.
2. El Gramillero: the Herb doctor. an ancient black man, dressed in top hat and frock coat, carrying a bag of herbs.
3. El Escobero: the Broomsman, He has to be an expert candombero and graceful dancer, who performs extraordinary feats and of juggling and balance with his broom.

Candombe is performed regularly in the streets of old Montevideo's south neighbourhood in January and February, during Uruguay's Carnival period, and also in the rest of the country. All the comparsas, of which there are 80 or 90 in existence, participate in a massive Carnival parade called Las Llamadas ("calls") and vie with each other in official competitions in the Teatro de Verano theatre. During Las Llamadas, members of the comparsa often wear costumes that reflect the music's historical roots in the slave trade, such as sun hats and black face-paint. The monetary prizes are modest; more important aspects include enjoyment, the fostering of a sense of pride and the winning of respect from peers. Cuerdaluna is a very popluar Candombe group in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

(from the article Candombe of Wikipedia)

Selected examples

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List of candombe musicians

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