One usually gets introduced to candombe by hearing a rumble and wondering if it’s the thunder or the 1st trumpet of the apocalypse.
Disambiguation: not to be confused with the afro-Brazilian religion named Candomblé.
What is candombe?
It is Sunday evening, 6 or 7 pm, and One had decided to call it a day after a heavy Saturday night out or a stroll at Parque Rodó*. But the rumble grows imperious and the curiosity likewise.
So One (then Two, then Three and Four) follows the noise and stumbles sooner or later on a group of 10 to 30 drummers and twice as many dancers/followers marching together slowly down the cobblestoned streets, where traffic has been halted and neighbours watch from their windows.
The vision is surreal: in the dim streetlights, the eclectic crowd (young, old, white, black, alternative-looking or not) gathered here for nothing more than an hour of trance at the sound of the drums.
By looking around, One can distinguish three different sizes of drums: chico, repique and piano. They answer each other in an organised bedlam and it’s this, added to the slow marching within a group of strangers, that creates a feeling of rapture.
Origins of candombe
Candombe originates yet again in the cultures of the African slaves who were brought to Latin America -as a form of communication, entertainment, and to keep traditions that were being threatened. Montevideo was one of the main hubs for the slave trade in the region (along with Cuba), so much so that by 1800 the national population was an estimated 25 percent African and Afro-Uruguayan (nowadays, it is rather around 10%). Candombe is played all around town, but is especially important in the Barrio Sur and Palermo neighbourhoods, the former slave district of Montevideo.
I recommend this very clear and comprehensive article about Candombe on the Guru’Guay blog.
*Candombe was born in Uruguay, and especially in Montevideo, but can also be found in the rest of the country as well as in parts of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.
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