Uruguay Carnival puts spotlight on black culture

Fri Feb 6, 2009 3:16pm EST
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By Kevin Gray

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Uruguay's black community, long in the shadows of the country's cultural and political mainstream, is enjoying an awakening as its African roots are celebrated in a pulsating drum Carnival parade.

On the first Thursday and Friday of February, thousands of people crowd the capital Montevideo's traditionally black neighborhood as costumed drummers and dancers kick off a street fiesta known as the "llamadas" -- Spanish for "calls."

It is a tribute to the once-ignored African roots of this small South American nation tucked between Argentina and Brazil.

Street bonfires flicker toward the nighttime sky as rows of men pound on drums and female dancers gyrate in skimpy feather-and-sequined outfits in the most popular of Uruguay's many Carnival parades.

Young men twirl flags on long poles as the driving drums echo throughout the narrow streets.

Growing international interest in recent years in the celebrations' music -- called "candombe" -- has helped give momentum to a burgeoning black cultural movement.

"We're finally getting some recognition," said Beatriz Ramirez, a former civil rights activist and adviser to a government office promoting black women's rights.

Some black Uruguayans also credit the street festival's increasing popularity with helping to raise racial awareness about Afro-Uruguayans historically overlooked in a country made up largely of Spanish and Italian immigrants.   Continued...

<p>Members of a "comparsa", a Uruguayan carnival group, participate in the "llamadas" parade in Montevideo February 5, 2009. REUTERS/Andres Stapff</p>