Filed Under:

Carnaval In Uruguay: Choir Competitions In The Streets

Uruguay boasts that it has the longest Carnival celebration not just in Latin America, but the world. The 40-day celebration is dotted with makeshift stages all around the capital city of Montevideo for performances of choral music called murga. Murga is both entertainment and a sociopolitical commentary that survived the military dictatorship of the 1970s.

Murga songs like "Los Curtidores de Hongos," which tells the story of the oldest murga choir in Uruguay, feature a guttural, forceful tone of singing that has been with the style from the beginning. Eduardo Rabelino, director of the Museum of Carnaval in Montevideo, says murga began in the working class. Street salesmen would sing in the same tone that they'd shout out on the streets.

Some were born of labor unions, Rabelino says. Six or seven street musicians who'd get together to have a good time and sing about what was happening in society. The tradition came to Uruguay via Cadíz, Spain more than 100 years ago, where they have a similar choral music called chirigota. Today, a murga choir is made up of 13 voices singing complex harmonies, accompanied by three percussionists plus a choral director.

The performers wear elaborate, circus-like costumes and makeup, and compete every Carnaval. Now some choirs even have sponsors and CDs. But they still parody the talk of the town that year — be it corrupt politicians, a spike in violence or that annoying recording you get when you call for a taxi.

Daniel Angel Carluccio, the director of Los Curtidores de Hongos, says the riskiest time for murga was during Uruguay's military dictatorship of the '70s and early '80s. Carluccio had just joined a group then. He says when choirs wanted to criticize the government they had to use metaphors to avoid being censored. Murga choirs formed a bond with the public during that time.

At today's Carnavals, you can see that bond at the tablados, the makeshift stages that are set up all over Montevideo.

Agarrate Catalina is one of the younger murga choirs and last year's competition winner. The name is a popular saying that basically means "Watch out, something's about to happen." In just one song, they'll go from making fun of hippie culture to criticizing their former president.

"Murga attacks everything," says Yamandú Cardozo, the director of Agarrate Catalina.

Dozens of young murga choirs have formed since the '90s. Groups enunciate better now. There are female singers and different instruments. But Cardozo says it's important to preserve certain elements of how murga has always been.

Of the people who sing murga, Cardozo says the majority of them make a living doing something else — they work in a factory or an office. They are artists for a month and a half, and then go back to their daily lives. So, he says, that's why murga doesn't represent the masses — they are the masses.

When it's time for the music to begin, says Cardozo, it's just 13 guys singing their hearts out, in front of their people.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Once Outlaws, Young Lords Find A Museum Home For Radical Roots

Inspired by the Black Panthers, the Young Lords were formed in New York City by a group of Puerto Rican youth in 1969. Their history is now on display in a new exhibition.
NPR

Europe's Taste For Caviar Is Putting Pressure On A Great Lakes Fish

Scientists say lake herring, a key fish in Lake Superior's food web, is suffering because of mild winters and Europe's appetite for roe. Some say the species may be at risk of "collapse."
WAMU 88.5

A Congressional Attempt To Speed The Development Of Lifesaving Treatments

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act in a rare bi-partisan effort. The bill is meant to speed the development of lifesaving treatments, but critics warn it may also allow ineffective or even harmful drugs onto the market.

NPR

Some Google Street View Cars Now Track Pollution Levels

Google's already tested three of the pollution-sensor equipped cars in Denver, and is currently trying them out in the Bay Area.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.