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Candombe (can-dome-bey) is an African derived rhythm that has been an important part of Uruguayan culture for over two hundred years. Uruguay, with a population of approximately 3.2 million, is a small country located in South America, bordered by its two massive neighbors, Brazil (162 million) to the East, and Argentina (34 million) to the West. This rhythm traveled to Uruguay from Africa with black slaves, and is still going strong in the streets, halls and carnivals of this small enchanting country.
To understand how this rhythm, which is so strongly rooted in Uruguayan culture evolved, one would need to turn back the pages of African and South American history to look at how this contagious rhythm anchored at the shores of Montevideo. The text that follows are excerpts from books and articles written about candombe, as well as the viewpoint of individuals who have been close to this scene.
Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, was founded by the Spanish in a process that was begun in 1724 and completed in 1730. African slaves were first introduced to the city in 1750. The roots of this population were not homogeneous, but rather a multi-ethnic swath of Africa that was culturally quite varied. 71% were sourced from the Bantu area, from Eastern and Equatorial Africa, while the rest came from non-Bantu Western Africa: Guinea, Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and the Gold Coast (what is today Ghana).
Candombe is what survives of the ancestral heritage of Bantu roots, brought by the blacks arriving at the Río de la Plata. The term is generic for all black dances: synonymous with and evoking the rituals of that race. Its musical spirit sums up the sorrows of the unfortunate slaves, who were hastily transplanted to South America to be sold and subjected to brutal work. These were pained souls, harboring an inconsolable nostalgia for their homeland. During colonial times, the newly arrived Africans called their drums tangó, and used this term to refer to the place where they gathered to perform their candombe dances; by extension, the dances themselves were also called tangós. With the word tangó, they defined the place, the instrument, and the dance of the blacks.
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