7 Carnival Classics from Uruguay10 February, 2016
The Uruguayan Carnival, apparently the longest in the world, is a month and a bit marathon of riotous satire, fiercely contested shows and above all, the emblematic sound of the murga. It’s said that ticket sales outnumber any other show on the market, football included. The night it all kicks off usually coincides with the ‘Desfile de Llamadas’ as legions of well practiced (and well dressed) dancers, singers and drummers wind their way through the crumbling Centro streets to the sweat drenched sound of candombe.
These are our top seven tracks for those who fancy a flavour of this cracking spectacle. Drinking a mate whilst listening is highly recommended. Flavouring it with the local aguardiente, Grappamiel, maybe not so much.
1 – “El Murguero Oriental” Agarrate Catalina
The Murguero, man who murgas, from the East. No better title and no better way to kick off this playlist. The sound of the murga culminates in a barrage of national pride in this stirring rendition by Montevideo’s favourite sons, Agarrate Catalina.
2 – “Terapia de Murga” Alejandro Balbis
Carnaval is Uruguay’s biggest party, and has two whole days of bank holiday dedicated to enjoying it. The lull in work is vigorously enjoyed in the bars and boliches of cities up and down the country. Sore heads are smoothed with this joyous track by Balbis. Murga therapy? Ask the smiling children watching the extravagantly attired showmen in action and you’d be a fool not to agree.
3 – “Saludos a Los Barrios” Reina de La Teja
The festivities are often characterised by fierce neighborhood pride, as each barrio competes to put on the best show. This homage by Reina de La Teja takes the listener through each and every one of them. Rich and poor, well heeled and downtrodden, every single Montevideano has his or her favourite Carnaval spot, and regardless of social class and status, the music sounds the same.
4 – Comparsa Yambo Kenia
The sound of the candombe is the beat fabric that weaves the carnival together. The streets vibrate day and night with the energy of comparsas rehearsing, perfecting and then performing their pieces. They are, like all processions, ephemeral expressions of collective joy, a spectacle that you get the feeling the participants are enjoying a little more than the public. This desfile through Montevideo’s centre is a good example.
5 – “Brindis Por Pierrot” Canario Luna
Every good murga starts with a rip roaring solo, and there are few better than this effort by Canario Luna. Pierrot, the pantomine dandy who pines for unrequited love, is the perfect medium through which the tragicomedy of Carnaval is expressed. The costumes, face paint and over the top expressions continually blur the lines between joy and sadness, desperation and elation, and exponents of the art know that when they cry, the audience does too.
6 – “La Comparsa de Los Bichos” Ruben Rada
No playlist like this would be complete without reference to the smiling godfather of candombe, Ruben Rada. Him and his drums have entered into Uruguayan national consciousness, and his charismatic, melodic voice is particularly playful in this gem of a track that captures the true spirit of this celebration.
7 – “Se Va La Murga” Jaime Roos
Every good party has to come to an end, even if it is the longest one in the world. Jaime Roos, perm and moustache very firmly present, lilts his way through his melancholy farewell to the carnival for another year. As he sings, carnival swings in and out of our lives ‘like a shooting star’, forever present but sometimes absent.”
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