Montevideo Carnival

Montevideo Carnival
The Carnival season in Uruguay can last up to 40 days filled with colorful parades and performances. The country’s largest Carnival celebration takes place in the capital city of Montevideo. The Montevideo Carnival attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

The Uruguayan Carnival (Carnaval del Uruguay) is a blend of European and African traditions and customs. Carnival celebrations in the Americas find their roots in European carnivals which are traditionally held before Lent. However, Latin American and Caribbean carnivals have been greatly influenced by African culture brought by slaves. Back when slavery wasn’t abolished yet, participation in the festivities was the only opportunity for Uruguayan black slaves to feel free and enjoy singing and dancing.

Preparations for the Montevideo Carnival begin months in advance. Many of the city’s barrios (neighborhoods) host beauty pageants to choose a young woman who will participate in the Queen contest. These pageants are typically held in December while the Queen contest is held closer to the Carnival. Other pre-Carnival events include the Carnival of the Promises (the children’s parade) in early January and a major parade on January 6 (the Feast of Epiphany).

The Carnival season itself kicks off in late January and culminates on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the beginning of Lent. It is remarkable for its colorful dance parade featuring numerous comparsas. A comparsa is a group of dancers, singers and musicians participating in the carnival festivities in Spain and Latin America. In Uruguay, comparsas are made up primarily of candombe dancers and drummers.

Candombe is an Uruguayan music and dance originating in African-Uruguayan communities. The music of candombe is performed by a group of drummers called a cuerda. A candombe group participating in the parade consists of a cuerda, a group of female dancers, and several stock characters: the Old Mother (La Mama Vieja), the Herb Doctor (El Gramillero) and the Broomsman (El Escobero). There are two types of comparsa. A Candombera consists of black people and a Comparsa Lubola consists of white people who paint their faces black.

Montevideo's Carnival parade is known as Las Llamadas. It features about 80 or 90 comparsas which compete with each other for monetary prizes. The prizes are quite modest, most comparsas participate for enjoyment and to win the respect from others. Many participants of the Carnival wear costumes which reflect the event’s historical roots in slave trade.

Alongside parades, the Montevideo Carnival features murga performances. Murga is a form of Uruguayan musical theater. A murga group consists of 14 to 17 performers dressed in bright costumes. They present a musical play including several songs, recitative, impersonations, and drumming.

Montevideo Carnival

Photo by Jimmy Baikovicius




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