Archive | February, 2010

Montevideo Carnival – Las Llamadas (Part One)

6 Feb

It’s been almost over a week of carnival now. It feels like its been a slow start. The opening ceremony never really got going and since then there have mainly just been a few different theatre shows and not much else. Last night (Thursday) was the first day of the candombe parades, the day I have been looking forward to most. Vieja

There were between twenty and thirty groups in total, all comprised of a set of drummers, a group of dancers and the obligatory historic characters. Among them are Mama Vieja, who looks after the whole thing, El Gramillero, otherwise known as the Herb Man who has got some seriously bad hips but despite this remains unbelievably chipper and a load of guys who are either there to entertain with a few fancy tricks or to hold the flags. Flag Bearers

The Friday llamada has been postponed due to bad weather. The heavens suddenly decided to open up. This means we have to wait one more day for the rest of the candombe groups. In light of the hangover I am still serving I have to think this is for the best. Dancers

Some Writing News

5 Feb

Some of my writing has been featured on the Museyon website. A piece called In a Nutshell: Candombe. I just read it again now it’s online and can’t believe how many mistakes I made. On top of that, a few more have crept in since it’s been published. Damn! Well, hopefully it won’t be my last piece for them, the plan is to write a few more in a similar vein.

Montevideo – Iemanja

3 Feb

Playa Ramirez beach got a little bit surreal last night. About 50,000 people headed down there to worship Iemanja (sometimes spelt Yemaja) around sunset. Worshipping means either a) throwing a rose into the water, b) building a paper ship, sticking a candle in the middle, and sending it off to sea, c) digging a hole in the sand filling it with candles, or d) doing whatever the hell you want as long as it involves candles or something a bit feminine (which is why some shrines seemed to feature a lot of make-up products lying around).

There were hundreds of these holes dug, which coupled with the sunset, low tide which meant that many people were just walking around in the water, and various drumming going on, made it a little eerie.

There were supposedly 50,000 people on the beach (as the newspapers claim anyway) but there’s not even 50,000 Umbandans (the religion that worships Iemanja) in Uruguay. Many of the people were just like me, very curious, and just there to see exactly what was happening. Which is why this thing was so surreal. As people were doing their ritual involving preparing their boat to go to sea, saying prayers and so on, before then going out into the sea to send the boat away, they were constantly surrounded by people taking photos. They didn’t seem too fussed but it can’t really be the way they imagined it.

There was some really nice call-and-response music going on, accompanied by drums. I listened to that for a while, but then some sound system started up a few hundred metres away, so powerful it drowned out most of the music happening on the beach. I went over to where the sound system was and found tonnes of little stalls selling candles, pre-made boats, tiny figures of Iemanja, all kinds of merchandise. Most of it presumably being bought by Uruguayans who don’t believe in Umbanda but want to join the ritual for one night. It’s one of the joys of being a secular country I guess, you don’t have to worry about getting your God jealous by switching sides every now and again.
This is a watermelon that someone had sent out to sea, it didn’t get very far!

Jose Andrade, The Black Marvel

1 Feb

'The Black Pearl'

I’ve been looking into the history of Uruguayan football over the last few days as we scurry around to get UruguayNow ready for public consumption (less than a week to go!). Unfortunately my favourite story won’t be featured but it’s one I really want to tell so, I’m gonna tell it right here!

First off, a bit of background. Uruguay were the first team to ever feature black players in an international game, international tournament and in the World Cup. In 1916 they took two black players, both great grandchildren of slaves, to Chile and the tournament that would become the Copa America. When they defeated Chile 4-0, with Gradín, one of the black players, having an absolute blinder, Chile asked that the game be anulled. Their reason; because Uruguay had black players in the team. Notion ignored, Uruguay went on to win the tournament. When they went to Brazil in 1919 for another Copa America it was the first time that many of the black population in Brazil had seen a player of their own colour. Slavery had only been abolished in 1885 (fifty years after Uruguay, and England) and Brazil were well behind in terms of integration. Black players were completely banned from their leagues in 1910 and even when they were allowed to join a few years later they had to put rice powder on their faces so that the supporters wouldn’t realise. Flamengo, current champions in the Brazilian league, wouldn’t have a single black player on their books until 1936. Uruguay were well ahead of their time and Gradín who played in that tournament in Brazil became a massive hero, in particular, for Pelé.

After that, Uruguay found a new hero, a guy called José Andrade. He could play as a fullback, through the middle or on the wings, and having grown up on the streets, had a catalogue of crafty skills. In 1924 Uruguay went to Paris for the Olympics. They were the first team from South America to compete and absolutely stormed the competition. European football was all about strength and brawn, and this was something else entirely, they breezed through their opposition, scoring goal after goal. It is often thought that this is the beginning of modern football where the street skills of South America met the more tactical approach of Europe. José Andrade became a phenomenom during this tournament, being dubbed the ‘Black Marvel’ and the ‘Black Pearl.’ After the tournament ended he stayed in Paris where he became a fixture of the bohemian and cabaret circuit that was so popular at this time, showing off all the things he had learnt during Carnival in Montevideo. He was a master on the drums, violin and tambourine. He was also a complete alcoholic, which would eventually be his undoing.

Jose Leandro Andrade
This is Andrade serving up a couple of beers behind the bar

Uruguay would go on to win the 1928 Olympics and 1930 World Cup, both with Andrade in the side. It’s one of the things I really like about Uruguay, there seemed to be less division between classes. Even in the height of the slave trade whites would go down to the promenade where the blacks would be dancing and playing drums, and they would join in. The same seems to have happened with football. It was brought over by the English in the late 19th century but as soon as the teams (who were first constituted of bunches of students or railway workers or German immigrants) began letting anyone join they really did let anyone, as opposed to the Brazilians, and I’m sure many other nations.