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Candombe – Sound from Africa on the borders of Rio de la Plata

Candombe was a dramatic and religious dance that congregated the slaves and descendants. It disappeared in the XIX century. This was fulfilled around the 6th of Jaa candnuary, on King’s day. It commemorated the coronation of Congos`s Kings.

This ritual dance took place outdoors or in religious rooms. The instruments that accompanied candombe were tambourines with a single patch nailed to the helmet of the drum and percussed with wood and hand or hand without wood, also marimbas or zambombas.

The name of candombe or tambos, as it was named until 1830, had different meanings by that time. Often, the meeting places were called like the places where the African were grouped. Also, some music and dances that were being executed in those meetings had the same name.

As candombe was evolving, it lost great part of its religious African elements. The main instrument which survived were: the drum, and some typical characters like the “black comparsa” or lubola, the “old mother”, the “grass lawn man”, the “broom maker”, the “star holder” and the “flag holders”.

Candombe`s characters, like the grass lawn man, who is a black man that wears a suit and has a white beard , or the “old lady” who dresses in hoop skirt and lace, ridiculed their masters. When they went away they removed their clothes and they parodied them. The broom man is a juggler with a very small broom. Another one took a star like standard.

The drums were played in groups of between 30 and 100 people. The cord had three types of drums: the small, the chime and the piano. They were grouped in different proportions which produced different rhythmical interchanges. These dialogues in long walk were known as “the drum’s summon”. They traversed the South and Palermo districts of Montevideo.

The drum piano is like the “left handed “of candombe. The big drum has a grave low sound. The piano has a prolonged pattern, but it can improvise.

The small drum is candombe´s spine. The one that maintains the tempo. The chime drum sounds lower than the small. It is the drum that improvises and the small drum can be listened.

Each one has its own expression and “colour”. It is necessary to listen to each instrument.

After 1900, some composers as for example Romeo Gavioli or Pedro Ferreyra began to arise and they put harmony and melody to candombe. As from this moment, a great movement arose and merged with the Son (Cuban popular dance).

As from the 60`s, young composers were interested in candombe and were the first ones that updated it with the 60’s language. They took it to merge it with jazz, rock and also with Eastern music. With Mateo, Rada and “el Kinto” group (with their disc “Musicación 4”) Candombe movement was born. And at present time with Hugo Fatorusso, Ricardo Nolé, Urbano Morales and with me (the one who wrote these lines).


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