Music of Uruguay

Music of Uruguay

The music of Uruguay includes a number of local musical forms. The most distinctive ones are tango, murga, a form of musical theatre, and candombe, an afro-Uruguayan type of music which occur yearly during the Carnival period. There is also milonga, a folk guitar and song form deriving from Spanish traditions and related to similar forms found in many Hispanic-American countries. The famed tango singer Carlos Gardel is rumoured to have been from the Uruguayan town of Tacuarembó.[citation needed]

The popular music of Uruguay, which focuses on rock, jazz and many other forms, frequently makes reference to the distinctly Uruguayan sounds mentioned above. The group 1960s imitators of The Beatles, deserve a special mention as the band that kickstarted the Argentine rock scene. Also, cumbia, a music style popular throughout most of Central and South America is widely enjoyed by the Uruguayan people, around the whole country.


Folk music (Música típica)

Uruguayan tango

The modern field of tango music and dance arose Buenos Aires, Argentina as well as Montevideo, Uruguay. It is still questioned whether Carlos Gardel, the giant of tango, was actually born in Tacuarembo, Uruguay, rather than in France. He claimed throughout his life to be Uruguayan but a birth certificate appeared following his death leading all to believe he was actually French but left to avoid national service.[1] Other Uruguayan tango musicians, among the most important names, were director Francisco Canaro and his violinist Modesto Ocampo. Also the singer Julio Sosa. One of the best-known tangos in the world, "La Cumparsita", was written by Uruguayan composer Gerardo Matos Rodríguez. Modern tango musicians include Raul Jaurena, Hugo Díaz, Miguel Villasboas, Marino Rivero, Raul Montero, Elsa Moran, Gustavo Nocetti, Luis di Matteo, Julio Brum, Hector Ulises Passarella, and Giovanna. One of the key names in modern tango, poet Horacio Ferrer, who contributed the lyrics for several of the most important tango works by Astor Piazzolla, is Uruguayan as well.


Candombe originates from the Río de la Plata, where African slaves brought their dances and percussion music. The word tango then referred to the traditional drums and dances, as well as the places where dancing occurred. Candombe rhythms are produced by drum ensembles, known as cuerdas, which include dozens of drummers and feature three drum sizes: tambor repique, tambor chico and tambor piano, known as tambores de candombe.

Popular candombe musicians include Hugo Fattoruso and Rubén Rada. Fattoruso has been a longtime part of both the Uruguayan and Latin American music scene, including as a member of rock band Los Shakers, and swing band The Hot Blowers, as well as Brazilian Milton Nascimento and the Latin jazz and Acid Jazz group Opa.It was in the 70's the USA's most important band according to the magazine Down Beat.

The Afro-Uruguayan rhythm Candombe has played a significant role in Uruguayan culture for over 200 years. The rhythm is created by the use of three drums (tambores); tambor piano, tambor chico and tambor repique. The piano is the largest in size and the lowest in pitch of the three tambores. The rhythmic base of Candombe, its function similar to that of the upright or electric bass. The chico (small) is the smallest in size and highest in pitch of the three tambores, serving as the rhythmic pendulum. The tambor repique (ricochet) embellishes Candombe's rhythm with improvised phrases. Each of the three tambores is played with an open hand (mano) and a stick (palo) in the other. At a minimum, one of each of the three tambores must be present.

The purest form of Candombe takes place each Sunday night on the streets of Montevideo, where many drummers assemble, playing their drums under the moon lit sky. Isla de Flores is the main street that joins Cuareim and Ansina, Candombe's two main social groups. For over a century spontaneous cuerdas have paraded on this street, and continue to do so today (Isla de Flores is also known by its second name, Carlos Gardel). As the cuerda slowly makes its way through the narrow streets of Montevideo, this contagious rhythm takes with it all in its path, surrounded on all sides by the neighborhood people moving their bodies to the rhythm of Candombe. At intervals the cuerda will pause, and by setting a fire, will heat their drums' skins for tuning purposes.


The milonga was a South American style of song that was popular in the 1870s. The milonga was derived from an earlier style of singing known as the payada de contrapunto.

The song was set to a lively 2/4 tempo, and often included musical improvisation. Over time, dance steps and other musical influences were added, eventually giving rise to the tango. Milonga music is still used for dancing, but the milonga dancing of today is derivative of tango.


Murga is a kind of Montevidean musical theater for Carnival celebrations. A traditional murga group comprises a chorus and three percussionists and this is the type of murga performed on stages at Carnival. The singers perform in harmony using up to five vocal parts. Vocal production tends to be nasal and loud with little variation in volume. The percussion instruments, derived from the European military band, are the bombo (a shallow bass drum worn at the waist and played horizontally), redoblante (snare drum) and platillos (cymbals). The two most important pieces of the performance are the opening song (saludo) and the exit song (retirada or despedida). These get played on the radio during the

Popular music

Canto popular

Canto popular (popular song), which arose around 1975, eschewed contemporary instrumentation, including electric instruments, allowing only native styles and rhythms. This can be compared to Spanish-language singer-songwriter developments like nueva canción, nueva trova and tropicalismo. Daniel Viglietti was by far the most important Uruguayan exponent of canto popular; his song "A Desalambrar" became an international popular classic. Canto popular peaked in about 1977.

Uruguayan artists involved in canto popular included Los Eduardos, Los Que Iban Cantando, Universo, Carlos Benavides, Carlos Maria Fossatti, Eduardo Darnauchans, Anibal Sampayo, Marcos Velázquez, Alfredo Zitarrosa, José Carbajal (Uruguayan musician) ("El Sabalero"), Los Olimareños and Hector Numa Moraes.

Candombe beat

Candombe beat began in the late 60s with El Kinto, a band featuring Ruben Rada and Eduardo Mateo. Emerging at the same time as Los Shakers they forged their own identity with very little Western influence. The beat of candombe formed the rhythm, bossa nova played a large role in its chords and structure, as did traditional Uruguayan folk music.[2] Mateo and Rada would both go on to have successful solo careers, and the music's influence would play a large role in Popular Music and Uruguayan rock. Totem(banda) was the most important group of Candombe Beat in the early 70's. One of the later exponents of candombe beat was Jaime Roos whose popularity in Uruguay began in the 70s and has continued through to the 21st century.

Uruguayan rock

Rock and roll first broke into Uruguayan audiences with the arrival of British band The Beatles in the early 1960s. A wave of bands appeared in Montevideo, including Los Shakers, Los Mockers, Los Iracundos and Los Malditos, who became major figures in the so-called Uruguayan Invasion of Argentina.[3] With the coming of the military dictatorship in 1973, the Uruguayan rock scene effectively died; since the mid-1980s it has resurged. Since the beginning of the 2000s Uruguayan rock has achieved a great popularity. Bands like La Vela Puerca, No Te Va Gustar, La Trampa or Buitres have a massive following. A rock Festival in the city of Durazno, attracts more than 100,000 people every year.

Classical music

Well-known modern composers of European classical music include Eduardo Fabini, Hector Tosar, Coriún Aharonián, León Biriotti, Renée Pietrafesa Bonnet . The modern conductors Gisele Ben-Dor, Jose Serebier and Carlos Kalmar are also renowned in their field. Abel Carlevaro, a classical guitar virtuoso performer is worldwide known for having established a new school of instrumental technique.

There are several classical orchestras performing countrywide. The SODRE(Acronym for "Official Service for broadcasting Radio, TV, and Performing Arts"), is the main institution generating cultural activities for the whole country. Created on year 1929, it manages a Symphonic Orchestra, a Chamber Music and Ballet ensembles, and a Choir, among others. Capitol's City Hall (Intendencia) has several Orchestras performing Classical as well as popular music, like the Orquesta Filarmónica de Montevideo and others.

Musical festivals

Music festivals in Uruguay include the Fiesta X every November and the Liceal Festival (

Music labels


  1. ^ City Sounds: Montevideo, R. Slater Sounds and Colours
  2. ^ In a Nutshell: Candombe, R. Slater Sounds and Colours
  3. ^ The Uruguayan Invasion

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