Archive | January, 2010

Montevideo – Carnival is here!

30 Jan

Carnival has officially begun in Montevideo. It was all a bit underwhelming and I kind of forgot it even happened. Like when you buy a bag of Maltesers on the way home from the pub then suddenly remember their existence two days later. Does that actually happen to anyone else? Anyway, the opening ceremony had its moments but suffered from being very drawn out. Tickets had been sold for front row seats which meant all the cheapskates had to do with crowing over from a distance, and as there wasn’t really enough acts to warrant five hours of parading it all seemed a bit uneventful. I managed to stick it out for two hours before the heat and boredom crept in. There just wasn’t enough candombe and the groups which call themselves humoristas and pariodistas may just be some of the most unfunny human beings I have lied my eyes on. I have found men wearing chicken costumes funnier. It will all improve though! Next week features two whole days of Candombe and after that mini stages will be erected in every neighbourhood and there will be performances every night for the following 40 days, of which I will most likely be around for about 2. It’s the longest carnival in the world! I’m not sure if anyone is really that bothered though!

This is what it looked like:

Candombe during Carnival

The Legendary Shakers

28 Jan

Well it seems there is nowhere Beatlemania didn’t reach. After speaking to many people here I kept hearing that music started in Uruguay with The Shakers, so I thought it was about time I checked them out. The first clip that I came across on youtube was:

I don’t think it’s possible to get any more Beatles than that! Two of the guys from that band went on to pretty much shape the entirety of Uruguayan music after, with Hugo Fattoruso in particular generally regarded as something of a master, but most of The Shakers material was a complete rip-off of the Beatles. Their albums even mirrored the trajectory of the Beatles. First album ‘The Shakers’ seems to be all the jingly-jangly pop songs, second album ‘The Shakers For You’ tried to be more well-crafted, supposedly similar to Revolver/Rubber Soul, and the last one ‘The Secret Conference of Toto’s Bar’ was their Sgt. Pepper’s. I managed to find a copy of this last one on the ‘net and am currently downloading. I’m especially looking forward to hearing the last song, ‘Longer than the Plum.’


25 Jan

I’ve got to the point now where I am knocking back at least 8 radishes a day. It’s officially become an addiction. I’m not sure if this is because they are that much better than the ones in England, it’s just that I’ve found the perfect way of devouring these little beauties.


I should really warn people though, eating radishes like this can be a little dangerous. Yesterday I ate six in a row and had to have a sleep to get over it. It is a taste explosion which actually physically changes you as a person. It’s basically the same as when you drink tequila. You cut your radish open, spray on some salt and then you can either down the radish and squeeze some lemon juice into your face or alternatively apply lemon juice to radish before it even realizes that it’s is on its way to your face. I made a video to show this in action purely because I’m quite enjoying having a camcorder and don’t really know when to stop.

Eduardo Mateo – an absolute legend

23 Jan

During my first trip to Uruguay last May I briefly stayed with a bald-headed Vespa freak in Tacuarembó in the North of the country. Mainly I had chosen to couchsurf with this fellow as I fancied making a trip to his town and noticed that the guy was a keen guitarrist. In the end I got on far better with his dog, Telstar, than him but this trip was memorable for one major thing. I asked him for some Uruguayan music and he spent about an hour deciding on three albums by three different artists that I should put on my mp3 player. The first, Hugo Fattoruso, was okay, nothing special. The second was Eduardo Mateo, and I still haven’t managed to get to the third. It took me about two months before I managed to get past the first song on the Mateo album to be the fair. That song was Yulele:

The album I had been given was Mateo’s Classics Vol.1, which is a collection of songs off his first two albums. Along with Os Novos Baianos’ Acabou Chorare this is probably the album I’ve listened to the most during my trip. The fact that I knew nothing about the album and its creator making the experience even better perhaps. It’s quite clear that there is a lot going on with Mateo. His voice is constantly taking on different personalities and the lyrics, well the lyrics are pretty sad. But it’s the rhythms and the unusual melodies that really make these songs great, with some of his vocal harmonies in particular literally bringing me to my knees.

I have been trying to find out more about him but it’s a nightmare. I have been to every bookstore in Montevideo and there is nothing. I eventually managed to find a book that someone had scanned into their computer online. It’s quite interesting but all the blurring and crookedness from a bad scan job make it hard to read for any more than 5 minutes. Other than that all material on the web is in Spanish and not of much interest. There is also a massive lack of live videos on Youtube, hence the videos I am posting here.

Of which, this is another, this time featuring songs from his second album. I just read that only 443 copies of this album were ever pressed. Apparently the public were a little dismayed by the changes he’d made in his voice. After singing quite clearly on his previous albums, he’d decided to try droning his voice more, using even stranger harmonies and many people assumed this was because he had become mentally ill.

And to finish with a quote which I probably have badly-translated from Spanish:

“I am not fully realised as a guitarrist because I am not fully realised as a human being, and further I am not happy. So the music I play signifies my problems. There are spaces when I am playing when I am not me.”

Further information:
Discography of Mateo with links to download many of his albums

Candombe: the (female) beat of Uruguay

20 Jan

Every Sunday La Melaza head out onto the streets near Parque Rodo in Montevideo to bang their drums. They’re not alone, there’s a number of different groups which march through their neighbourhood on a Sunday, as well as some groups which do it every night! La Melaza is a bit different though. I managed to get an okay recording of them playing on Sunday. You really should listen to it:

La Melaza

Okay, so my little camera/voice recorder couldn’t really handle the bass, but the main thing about this recording is just the different rhythms and the way they are using the drums. The Candombe dates back to when the slaves were brought over to Uruguay in the 18th century, and most of the candombe groups stick to the traditions as much as possible. There are three different rhythms they use.

La Melaza exist outside of this, despite the fact that they have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of its traditions. I think the reason they have had to do this though is because they are all female. They started as a project borne from the idea of doing special for International Women’s Day and have grown as a force since then. Being an all-female group has meant that they have had to replace the normal thumping bass that ripples through candombe with different counter-rhythms, and I believe this has now set their style completely apart from all the other candombe groups out there.

I will be meeting some of them this week to do an interview so will probably be writing some more about them in the very near future. In the meantime, I also managed to get a short video clip, although the quickly-disappearing sun and my camera’s affliction to nighttime bashfulness, have not made it the cinematic glory it hoped to be. Despite this, it gives an idea of La Melaza, and also the chance to listen to some more of their mighty fine beats.

NB: Following this encounter I interviewed three members of La Melaza towards an article for UruguayNow. The article can be viewed here.

The Bimbo Cup

18 Jan

Unfortunately there were no bimbos at the Bimbo Cup, but it did prove to be a great evening. First off, Danubio trounced Nacional (Paraguay) 5-2 in the opening game with some nice goals too! The real reason for the evening was always going to be Peñarol v Nacional though, and this started to show about halfway through the first game when the stadium started to fill with Peñarol and Nacional fans who started to chant at each other. I felt kind of sorry for the players left playing football on the field as nobody seemed to be really interested in what they were doing. The fans were just warming themselves for what was to come, which would be El Clasico. Which, despite, this just being a friendly, would not be just a friendly, there was pride at stake after all. In the end, the game proved not to be too much of a swashbuckling affair and finished goalless. Peñarol should have won it though after a number of one-on-one’s with the goalkeeper which they conspired to miss. This meant the game went to penalties and Nacional inevitably won. I managed to actually get some video footage of the final winning penalty and the celebrations won. It’s somewhat low-key by South American standards but at least shows how many people there were in the stadium and how much both sets of fans wanted to celebrate the final whistle, Nacional for their victory and Peñarol for their team’s efforts, especially considering their team has generally been the worse of the two in the recent past.

Christmas far from home

15 Jan

When I first decided that I would stay in South America over Christmas I have to admit I was a little concerned that maybe I would miss it. Now that all festivities have passed and we are well into the swing of January there is no doubt that it was the right move and I would recommend everyone from England to book a flight and get the hell of that island next time Santa comes round, and not even just for the week of Christmas, the two weeks before and after too!

The lack of pressures is an absolute delight. No need to worry about co-ordinating those work-related Xmas parties, having to contend with the thousands of presents getting stuffed in your eyeholes via the tv, newspapers, Internet, shop window and whatever other surface happens to be facing in your direction between October and December, but most of all, the ability to get the hell out of the house. The ability to go to the beach, go to a poolside party, have a couple of beers in the park, these are the sort of things we should be doing when we have two weeks off work, not sat inside our houses watching 3-hour long episodes of Coronation Street and finding out the exact point when your body is ready to vomit from eating too many nut truffles. It’s such a waste of free time!

Now we’re two weeks into January and the fact that not one single person I have spoken to has mentioned a resolution of any kind, no diets, no yoga videos, no gym memberships or anything else that basically relates to the marketing of health-related products to people sitting on couches, stuffed with turkey and chocolate. Everyone actually seems pretty happy and in fact are more preoccupied with getting out to the beach while they have some free time than anything else.

God, I ended up ranting a little bit there. I do apologise! In a slightly diagonal note, I now have a camera after both my camera and mp3 player broke. I forked out for a multi-functional mp3/mp4/camera/voice-recorder thing-a-me-job. I figured it should be christened with a couple of photos. So here goes:

So this is the first one, just a quick shot of my current pad, up on there on the eighth floor. It’s the balcony just before the top.

And more importantly. This is my ticket to the Bimbo Cup, taking place tonight. I have been reliably informed there will be at least 70,000 bimbos in attendance. This seems like an adequate number. More interestingly, though, is the fact that I will get to see two football matches. The first, Danubio, featuring a ridiculously over-weight Alvaro Recoba, against Nacional, current champions of Paraguay, and the second, Nacional v Penarol, just about one of the biggest rivalries in football, or it would be if these two teams hadn’t been pretty rubbish for the last 20 years. Anyway, normally it is sold out. Stupidly, I forgot to buy a ticket before today and had to pay for the expensive seat. A whopping 5 pounds! It would have been 3 quid if I had acted faster.

My ticket to the bimbo cup!
My ticket to the Bimbo Cup

More Cashew!

11 Jan

I just found another blinding cashew-related picture. This one is an advert for lipstick, stating how you can have lips the colour of a cashew. Obviously, they’re referring to the fruit rather than the nut here, but this seems crazy seeing how the cashew fruit seems to have a whole variety of colours. Even in the picture above you can see on the tree behind her there are at least two completely different colours of cashew fruits, and even those have different levels of shading. It would be like having lips the colour of a cox apple, which would kind of be red and freckly getting greener and greener the closer it gets to the middle. Nobody wants to kiss that, surely!

Get your cashew lips here!
Get your cashew lips here!

Uruguay, in all its pomp

11 Jan

I really wanted to start with a picture of one of the candombe groups here but my camera is currently broke and I have just seen an amazing photo of something else, so I feel that will have to take precedence!

it's the biggest yes yes yes
It’s the biggest yes yes yes

That’s one big cashew tree. It’s up in the north of Brazil somewhere. It produces 2.5 tonnes of cashew nuts every year. I feel pretty certain I must have eaten one of its little fruits at some point in my life, especially in my cashew heyday! I really feel like I should see if there are any jobs going at the Cashew Nut Marketing Board in England because I really feel like they’re missing some tricks. First, it turns out that there are cashew fruits as well, now there’s a tree that’s the size of the park. I’ve never wanted a cashew nut more!

Right, so I was actually gonna write about Uruguay but I’ve been getting a bit sidetracked! It’s all been Brazil and nuts so far, so I will get back on track.

It’s my second week in Montevideo now and the pace of life here as well as the people are absolutely perfect. At one million people it must be one of the smaller capitals in South America, plus most people have gone on holiday to the beach this month, which all means that the streets remain a notable sense of calm. That is, until the candombe starts, which seems to happen at 7pm most nights in a few of the neighbourhoods here and on Sunday happens for most of the day all over the place. Generally a bunch of 20 or so people banging three different types of drums in a sound that doubtless shares some similarities with samba. When it’s properly organised there’s also a group of dancers and performers, my favourite being the old man who normally does a great geriatric dance at the front. When carnival happens next months no doubt all these people will be out in force to parade the streets. We’ve already had one major procession, which was the parade of wise men last week, and there’s something really nice about the carnival here. It seems to lack the craziness of Brazil or even Notting Hill (I’m not even going to mention Nottingham carnival) but not the euphoria as everyone involved or watching seems to be having the times of their lives. As well as this being down to the fact that everyone is pretty laid back, and there’s not that many people to start with any, I think this is also due to the fact that it’s legal to smoke marijuana here, which means that dotted all along the route is the smell of green, emanating from all manner of different sources, old ladies sitting in deck chairs being the most surprising.

This country is fast becoming one of my favourites in South America, up there with Ecuador. There’s no hiding that the mindset in the smaller countries seems to fit my own so much better, and boy is it something of a relief to leave Argentina. I met some great people there, but I was also getting extremely tired of some of the arrogance there. Their feeling of superiority over Uruguay is shocking. I really hope I don’t act that same way about Wales! It is strange though in Argentina how they constantly talk about how beautiful Patagonia is yet hardly any people from the North travel there, and in fact more go to Uruguay, where they visit to enjoy the beaches, but yet hardly any of them speak glowingly of this place. Nationalism. Boy do I hate it!

Now they better have some cashew nuts in the supermarket…

Os Novos Baianos – the greatest band in brazil ever! (maybe)

6 Jan

Okay, I realised that maybe I’ve been neglecting this blog a bit because I could be posting a lot more things here. I’m constantly finding out about new music and hearing great bits of information about South American football, and I just had never thought about posting it here. Well, all that is now to change!

I really want to paste a clip of Os Novos Baianos performing Brasil Pandeiro:

This band and specifically the album which this song comes from, Acabou Chorare, have become my favourite thing about Brazilian music. It seems ridiculous that I had never heard of this band before. They seem to have somehow been missed off the radar in England, with all the press going to Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes. Well, I have to say I have been listening religiously to all of these guys, as well as Jorge Ben Jor, Milton Nascimento, Gal Costa, Maria Bethania, Ney Matogrosso, Chico Buarque and the rest, and none of them have produced an album quite as good as Acabou Chorare.

I met a Brazilian in Buenos Aires who told me a little about their story. Apparently they all lived together in a hippie commune in Bahia and had been working on putting out some rock music, when Joao Gilberto came to see them. He had heard that their guitarist was pretty shit hot. Anyway, story goes that he told them to give up the rock music and instead stick to Bossa Nova, and I’m pretty sure that was the moment when the template of all Brazilian popular music was born. There is a beautiful mix in their music between the bossa nova melodies allied with some real rock riffs, as well as the three very different voices that share vocal duties throughout. They’re also quite willing to add in some samba beats when necessary, and I think all of this is on show in Brasil Pandeiro. Trying to watch that video clip without smiling is a near impossibility!