Thursday, February 7, 2008

Uruguay's Different Drummers

Carnaval may have seen a revival in Buenos Aires, but it's never really gone away in Uruguay. In both countries, former slave communities played a major role in its development; in Argentina, though their visibility waned as successive governments, promoting a progressive "European" country, shunted them into the background. In the words of historian George Reid Andrews, Afro-Argentines were "forgotten, but not gone."

Across the River Plate, though, Afro-Uruguayans remained far more visible and their heritage still permeates the culture. Last night in Colonia, while returning from dinner, I came upon a small but lively parade of candombe dancers and drummers who beat their colorful tambores with an inexorable African rhythm (though none of them was, to my eyes, obviously Afro-Uruguayan). One measure of the enduring African heritage has become might have been the elderly woman, aided by a cane, who danced down the street as best she could, somehow managing to stay a step ahead of the drummers.

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