African Roots in Uruguay


Afro-Uruguayan

Today in our show, we continue talking about Blackness in the Americas. Our guess is Uruguay. We share a little bit of history, music, culture and more of Uruguay and Afro-Uruguayan.  Let’s beginning. Listen more in our Podcast.  

Once again welcome to Afrosaya, the Afro-Latino Podcast. I’m Alex Gutierrez. 

Today in our show, we continue talking about Afro-Latinos and we are looking at Afro-Uruguayos.

Uruguay is a beautiful country. It’s located in South America. The official name is the Oriental Republic of the Uruguay or Republica Oriental del Uruguay. It shares borders with Argentina, Brazil, Rio de la Plata, and the Atlantic Ocean.

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Uruguay was colonized by Europeans relatively late compared with neighboring countries. Montevideo is the capital city and it was founded as a military stronghold by the Spanish in the early 18th century, signifying the competing claims over the region. 

Uruguay won its independence between 1811 and 1828, following a four-way struggle between Spain, Portugal, and later Argentina and Brazil. It looks like everyone around Uruguay wanted a pice of land of this beautiful country.

Candombe

(Óscar A. Ulloa is a PhD Candidate in the Hispanic Studies Department at University of California, Riverside. ) He writes about candombe: 

Candombe is an Afro-Uruguayan musical style and dance, centered around drums, and performed by groups called comparsas. It has its roots with the African slaves forcefully taken to Uruguay during the colonial period and slightly into independence. As a word, candombe is employed as a qualifier to express all that is tied to Afro-Uruguayan culture, sometimes it is called as “cosa de negros” (thing of blacks). 

Despite it being brandished as a racially disparaging qualification, this has never dissuaded non-Afro-Uruguayan interest in candombe, but it does complicate it. At first it was a religious ritual from Africa that was later re-signified and employed during Catholic festivities, which today has translated into Carnaval in Uruguay. 

That fact is, in itself, a testament to how the Afro-Uruguayan community has negotiated the survival of their traditions into today’s Uruguayan culture. Candombe then as a practice manages to endure and becomes a stalwart for Afro-Uruguayan community organization and expression. 

As a marginalized group, that was their way of opening a space for themselves in public places outside of a work environment where they were typically assigned to military service and menial jobs. However, there in the performance they literally take the street, “ganar la calle”, and in song and dance exist in the face of discriminatory circumstances. 

The lyrics of candombes through the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries have a history of manifesting discontent with those conditions, denouncing the practically forced military service of the Nineteenth century and the limited opportunities for work that seems to be a perpetual state of affairs to this day.

Candombe also went beyond the holidays. Due to the segregation and grouping of the Afro-Uruguayan population, in the Twentieth century they were put in conventillos, which would more or less translate into housing projects. These conventillos have helped the formation of the candombe’s culture. 

Impromptu performances by comparsas are initiated by a llamada. That call consists of someone going out into the street and beginning to play the drums. Whosoever answers the llamada recognizes the drumming for what it is and is invited to form part of the comparsa’s performance. 

The intimacy behind a call, to ask if another is there and have the call recognized and answered is indicative of the solidarity in the improvised community that is created.

There is a lot to talk, but if you have questions or want to know more about our topic of the day and you feel that we didn’t cover, you can email as as afrocontacto@gmail.com or go to afrosaya.com and get in touch with us. 

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