Carnival in Uruguay: A Vibrant 40-day Celebration

Carnival In Uruguay 

Did you know Montevideo throws the world’s longest Carnival party? It’s a huge event in Uruguay, their biggest celebration of the year. It lasts for a whopping 40 days, typically from the third week in January through mid-March, with fanfare ranging from community block parties to satirical musical performances called “Murgas”.  

As guests of the Azamara Quest in February, we were treated to an “AzAmazing” performance at the historic Teatro Solis in Montevideo. It was a polished production contrasting the country’s two traditional Carnival music and dance styles, Murga and Candombe. The quality of the production, with its elaborate costumes, dramatic lighting, exceptional musical direction, and outstanding professional performances, blew us away.

The story of Candombe, Uruguay’s hottest rhythm

Candombe’s history in Uruguay is a powerful story of resilience, cultural expression, and eventually, national pride. Its roots can be traced back to the arrival of enslaved Africans in Montevideo around the 1740s. These people brought their rich musical traditions and religious practices with them, which included drumming and dance rituals that celebrated their heritage and honored their deities.

Under the brutal system of slavery, these African expressions were often seen as a threat by authorities. Enslaved people were forced to practice their traditions in secret, gathering at night or in hidden spaces like “senzalas” (slave quarters). The drumming rhythms of Candombe, with their deep bass tones and complex call-and-response patterns, became a form of communication and a way to keep their spirits alive.

By the late 1800s, Candombe found a natural home in the vibrant celebrations of Carnival in Uruguay. “Llamadas” (meaning “calls” in Spanish) became the heart of Candombe’s Carnival presence. These are lively parades featuring drummers and dancers in vibrant costumes, moving to the infectious rhythms. Over time, Candombe transformed from a hidden tradition into a defining feature of Uruguayan culture, especially in Montevideo’s neighborhoods with a strong Afro-descendant population. 

The 20th century witnessed Candombe’s influence expand beyond Carnival in Uruguay. Its infectious rhythms began to be incorporated into popular music genres, creating exciting new fusions like candombe rock and jazz candombe. This broader influence helped solidify Candombe’s place in Uruguayan music and national identity.

In 2009, UNESCO’s recognition of Candombe as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity further solidified its importance. This prestigious designation highlighted Candombe’s unique cultural significance and the vital role it plays in Uruguayan society.

Murga: Spanish Seeds are sown in Uruguay                          (18th – Early 19th Century):

As satirical musical theater with roots in Europe flourished, Spanish soldiers and migrants brought these traditions to Uruguay sometime in the 18th or early 19th century. Unlike in Spain, however, Murga in Uruguay took on a distinct life of its own.

By the mid-19th century, Murga had become a fixture at Carnival in Uruguay celebrations. These early Murgas were known for their raucous humor, often using improvisation and social satire to poke fun at current events and local figures. Performances were often held outdoors, with singers accompanying themselves on simple instruments like guitars and tambourines.

The late 19th century saw Murga begin to evolve into a more structured form. Larger groups with designated roles like choirs, directors, and percussionists emerged. However, this period also saw increased government censorship, with authorities wary of Murga’s sharp social commentary.  Despite censorship, Murga’s popularity continued to grow, reaching its golden age in the mid-20th century. This period produced some of Uruguay’s most iconic Murga groups, known for their sharp wit and biting social commentary. Notably, during the repressive military dictatorship of the 1970s, Murga became a powerful tool for dissent. Murgas cleverly used humor and allegory to criticize the regime, providing a much-needed voice for those who couldn’t speak freely.

Modern Murga: Innovation and continued social relevance (Late 20th Century – Present):

After the dictatorship ended in 1985, Murga continued to thrive. New themes and influences emerged, with groups incorporating elements of rock, hip-hop, and other genres. Today, Murga remains a vibrant and evolving art form. It continues to be a platform for social commentary, but also explores a wider range of themes, from personal stories to environmental concerns.


Now, Murga and Candombe are both rockstars on every stage at Carnival in Uruguay.

Candombe today remains a powerful symbol of resistance, cultural pride, and community spirit in Uruguay. It’s a vibrant tradition that continues to evolve, captivating audiences worldwide with its unique blend of music, dance, and history.

Murga’s rich history and enduring relevance make it a cornerstone of Uruguayan culture. It’s a testament to the power of satire, humor, and artistic expression in a society that values free speech and social critique.

How is Carnival in Uruguay different than in Rio de Janeiro? Read