Candombe Day on December 3 celebrates the Uruguayan form of the African drum, song and dance, marching tradition.
This is an African Diaspora tradition that has become a Uruguayan national tradition. At first we were surprised that all Uruguayans participate fully in what is clearly an African Diaspora tradition (Candombe drumming and Carnival).
We were born, raised and educated in the United States. Because of our Colonial English heritage, Americans of the USA are taught to see the world in Black and White terms, but the world is Brown, all the beautiful shades of Brown. Candombe is not cultural appropriation or anything like that. We have internalized the culture so it is part of all of us.
There are still some who still see the world in Black and White, but we see ourselves as a proud Uruguayan mix of many peoples and cultures. That’s pretty cool. ¡Viva Uruguay!
National Candombe Day
Uruguay celebrates National Candombe Day on December 3 to honor our African heritage and promote racial equality.
Candombe Day Celebrates the Root of Tango
Candombe is one of the roots of milonga which is one of the three Tango dances (milonga, tango, valz). Candombe evolved into milonga which is in 2/2 time. Milonga evolved into Tango in 4/4 time. That’s what Argentines call the 2×4, the transition from Milonga to Tango. Valz came from European waltz because in the 1910s, rich Argentines used to send their children to Europe for education, and Argentina was then one of the 10 richest countries in the world. That brought Valz into the mix.
Argentine composer Juan Carlos Cáceres (Buenos Aires, 1936) is one of the contemporary masters of milonga and its predecessor candombe. His “Tango Negro” (Black tango) is a classic song in the form.
Once you learn to recognize the Candombe rhythm, you hear it a lot in Tango Nuevo, the Club Tango of the 2000s. Gotan Project, Bajafondo and other masters of the Tango Nuevo form all bring Candombe into the mix.
Gotan Project’s “Notas” even calls it out, “Africanos en las pampas Argentinas, Toques y llamada de tambores, Candombe, Tango, Un gaucho y una guitarra…” (Africans in the Argentine pampas, playing the drum, Candombe, Tango, a gaucho (South American cowboy) and a guitar.)
Africa is a huge continent with many different cultures. During the Colonial Period, millions of people were enslaved from west Africa and central Africa, but also from north, south and even east Africa.
In the Americas, Africans are many peoples, from many places with different cultures. There is no archetypal African or African-American.
Every country and even regions in the Americas have different mixes of geography, history, Indigenous peoples, colonial powers, and Africans. Because of these variations, African culture manifests itself differently throughout the Americas, but with similarities.
Cuban Rumba, Puerto Rican bomba, New York Salsa, Uruguayan candombe and Argentine tango are different dances with common roots. Everyone understands the drum, even if you are not African.
Candombe and Candomblé
Uruguay is between Brazil and Argentina. Uruguayan culture is a blend of both.
African drumming and dancing can be a religious ceremony, a healing ceremony, or a party just for fun. The drum and dance traditions are slightly different for each purpose,
In the Americas, the Yoruba religion of Nigeria and Benin became the dominant African religion in Latin America. In Cuba, the Spanish called it Santería. In Haiti and New Orleans, it is called Vodou or Voodoo. In Brazil, it is Candomblé. These are all different, but share obvious roots.
There must be some connection between Candombe the Afro-Uruguayan drum and dance, and Candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion.
We are not saying that Candombe is religious. It is not. It is an expression of Uruguayan heritage. In a similar way, Puerto Rican Bomba has lost its religious meaning. It is simply an expression of Puerto Rican heritage.
History is often a sad story, but the many ways we blend together are truly marvelous.