Desfile de Las Llamadas
Translated as the Parade of Calls. This is one of the main events of the carnival season in Montevideo and happens every February. It consists of two nights (last thurs and fri) in which candombe drum groups parade down one of the main streets in Palermo (our neighborhood) from 9 pm until about 3 am. People from all over the city converge on a 10 block area, carrying with them bottles of beer and boxes of wine. The candombe drum tradition originates from an african migrant call to gather, and sometimes uses a complex call and response pattern of drumming.
The Little House is located about 2 blocks from the end of the parade route which means that we were really close when we wanted to go check stuff out, but we were also really close when we just wanted things to be quiet. In the weeks leading up to the parade, various candombe groups would practice their routines by marching through the neighborhood in the evening (usually starting around 10 pm… still haven’t figured out when Uruguyans sleep).
We decided to party it up and went out for chivitos (yummy sandwich of sorts… more on those later) before heading up to see the parade. We got there a little early (i.e. the parade had already started, but the crowds hadn’t arrived) and found a spot right up against the guard rail dividing the street from the sidewalk, and the performers from the spectators. We were at the very end of the parade route which facilitated our arrival and departure.
Some general information about the parade… We were told there were approximately 30 groups walking each night, for a total of about 60-70 groups. The groups with better costumes, prettier girls, and better drumming walk on the second night. Each group is some sort of club, with the better ones having sponsors.
Each group is lead down the street by their banner and a carried coat of arms of sorts. This is followed by various people in costume waving large flags. It seems the thing to do is to fly the flag over the spectators’ heads, allowing them to touch the silky fabric. The children, who inevitably end up in the street with the performers particularly like to play with the flags.
The flags are followed quickly by one or a couple sets of scantily-clad dancers exhibiting various levels of happiness. Having just danced their way down 10 blocks in heels, I understood some of the unhappy faces I saw. If I had to pick two words to describe the dancers I would choose “flashy” and “feathers”. They had feathers in their hair, feathers attached to their shoulders, and sequins everywhere.
Following the dancers were a couple of pairs of old “geezers”; a men and women who are suppose to represent the eldest of the community. The men usually carried canes and wore fake beards and top hats, while the women wore long skirts with petticoats underneath to make them fluff up. All the while they danced and twirled down the street. One group that we saw on thursday night had replaced their old geezer with a young geezer who couldn’t have been more than 4 years old. He still looked the part; sporting a cane, beard and top hat.
Dancing around and through the old geezers and into the candombe drums were two or three girls in more elaborate costumes. Supposedly the prettiest girls in the group were awarded this honor.
Then came the drums. Deafening, you could hear them coming from blocks away. The sounds from separate groups never mingled because the one closest was so loud it overshadowed any other sound. The ground vibrated a bit. Each group had 60-80 drummers, almost exclusively men, each playing their own drum painted in the groups’ colors. Not all drums are created equal, as some are larger or smaller and produce deeper or higher pitched sounds. The large drums seem to stick to a 4/4 rhythm while the small ones beat to a different rhythm, maybe a 7/8. It was hard to catch the beat and dance, but it was obvious that was my own unique problem.
Some of the groups would continue playing until they were well off the end of the parade route and on to the next street block. They would be followed by their family and friends and inevitably someone carrying a broken drum.
This went on and on, with groups following each other by a few minutes, until the full hours of the morning. Between groups people would come along selling things… carnival masks, light up toys, cotton candy, popcorn, and of course apples on sticks!
For more pictures, see Asa’s Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cadburynaught/sets/72157629307021283/