Montevideo is known for being the city that celebrates Carnival the longest ! In fact, during 40 days, the Uruguayan capital sparkles during street shows and samba parades. After attending the noisy and colorful sambodrome of Encarnacion in Paraguay, we travelled to Montevideo with the aim of seeing the “Llamadas” that are held in the heart of “Barrio Sur” and “Palermo”.
It’s in these neighborhoods the “Cadombe“, a form of music that is today considered a cultural heritage in Uruguay, has been developed by former African slaves brought by Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the mid 17th century. The Cadombe is based on African dance and drum rhythms that were originally used to call one another. Nowadays it is not only gathering the communities but also helping the remembrance of their culture and history. To know more about the history of Cadombe, check out this very informative website : http://www.candombe.com
We arrived in Montevideo the eve of the Llamadas and were told that every single seat was sold out. What a shame, it was the reason we came to Uruguay! We were told of two options. 1) we could join in and book a balcony. This is basically locals opening their doors to allow tourists join them for a BBQ and beers while benefiting from a bird’s eye view of the parade (with a price to match) or 2) we could take a chance and hang out around the streets and find a spot to watch the parade for free. As we are on a budget we went of the second option. We were doubtful but still walked towards the street “Isla de Flores” where the Llamadas was supposed to take place… and there it was ! Thousands of wooden chairs were aligned on both sides of the very narrow street but in some places we had enough place to stand and watch the show. We won’t lie, it was not ideal. We would have of course preferred avoiding the crowd and stood where the seats were as it seemed quieter but online sales were impossible and we couldn’t make it quicker to Montevideo.
Standing on the ledge of a window and hanging on to the metal rails, we witnessed a Uruguay that we didn’t especially enjoy. The locals seemed to not be able to stay at one place. Always pushing others and continuously walking up and down the street with their cigarettes (weed is legal in Uruguay) and their beer or litres cartonned wine… creating human traffic jams and not really caring for each other. It was a very uncomfortable situation. We got particularly annoyed at the few very badly smelling and sweaty people who were stuck just under our noise… so we only stayed for one hour. It was truly enough ! A bit tired of all this chaos and the aches in our feet from standing on the ledge, we went for a walk and ended up where the groups gathered and prepared to enter the parade. We really enjoyed seeing this other side of carnival with space around us !
The parade itself was completely different from what we had seen so far. We genuinely enjoyed the familiar atmosphere and the energy of the Comparsa. We could really feel the african heritage through the candombe beats, the dancing and the costumes. In opposition to Encarnacion (and we assume Rio) with queens and the great samba dancers, the participants of the Llamadas were here to share their History and not only showcase beauty and/or skin…
In fact, each “Comparsa” tells a story through a group of characters. Comparsa are composed of a “Cuerda of Cadombe” (20 to 30 drummers using 3 types of “tambourilles”), a few people waving flags and others holding giant moon and stars, a group of dancers (las Mulatas), an old man (El Escobero), an old mother (la Mama vieja) and finally a Medicine man (El Gremillero).
You will hopefully will identify each of them in the short video we prepared below. We unfortunately don’t have a single photo as we only went to the Llamadas with our GoPro.
Tips : Missed the “Llamadas” parade early February ? Ask around in Montevideo as the Cadombe groups often meet up in the streets to play and train for the next festivities. It is usually on Sunday night in the area of Barrio Sur and Palermo.
Keep in mind those area are still poor and that it can be dangerous to walk around the streets by night with your fancy camera or any type of personal belongings.