Ritual Rhythms: Candombe

This informative video, filled with rhythm and pageantry, explores the history and modern reality of candombe, the drum music of Uruguay’s black parade bands. But candombe is not merely the spectacle of the dancers and drummers, the glitter of the costumes and flags. It is a way of life that was born in the musical gatherings of slaves in urban marketplaces and plazas, continued in their incorporation into religious parades in the 18th century, and has been subject to both marginalization and cultural preservation ever since.

Since then, candombe has spread out beyond its black roots. In the era of globalization, Uruguayans of all backgrounds have embraced the music of the candombe drum as an expression of their national cultural identity and an emblem of the traditional roots of Uruguayan culture and society. The documentary, narrated by candombe historians, musicians, experts and pioneers like Lagrima Rios and Martha Gularte, explains how despite persistent racism, past and present, the 200,000 Uruguayans of African descent experience candombe as a way of life, as part of the cast of characters that inhabits the tenements of Montevideo’s Reus and Ansina neighborhoods, where parents rock cradles with drummed lullabies, and poor children learn to play drums on oil cans.

Another part of candombe culture is the figures and institutions that populate it – not only the drummer but the vedette and the drummaker. The drummaker is a craftsman who knows the precise art of carving and pegging the drums, and tuning them by fire. The vedette is a woman who marches in front of a candombe group, her dancing and her sensuality the inspiration for it all. Moving from riveting musical performances to detailed discussions of the history of slavery and the historical development of candombe, this documentary is an exciting and informative introduction to candombe, the music of Afro-Uruguay.

Ritual Rhythms: Candombe
dir. Mabel Maio
Uruguay, 1999, 48 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles

Da Luz, Alejandrina. “Uruguay” No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today, ed.
    Minority Rights Group. United Kingdom: Minority Rights Publications, 1995.
Lewis, Marvin A. Afro-Uruguayan Literature: Post-Colonial Perspectives. London: Associated
    University Presses, 2003.
Olivera Chirimini, Tomas. “Candombe, African Nations, and the Africanity of Uruguay.” African
    Roots/American Cultures: Africa in the Creation of the Americas, ed. Walker,
    Sheila S. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2001.

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Study guide prepared by Michael A. Birenbaum Quintero.
Special thanks to Sheila Walker of Spelman College for her comments and suggestions.
This project has been partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Copyright 2005, Latin American Video Archives. Contact LAVA at info@lavavideo.org