Uruguay celebrates the longest Carnival competition in the world. But don’t expect a street Carnival like in Brazil. The Uruguayan Carnival competition is held in the evenings on small stages known as “tablados” dotted throughout Montevideo. Starting at the end of January, local Carnival groups compete for more than forty days in five different categories for the annual Carnival title.
Murga: Uruguay’s favourite musical carnival genre
It’s pretty safe to say that today Uruguay’s most popular Carnival category is murga. Murga is a uniquely Uruguayan musical theatre genre, with very distant roots in Cadiz, Spain.
Murga groups are made up of seventeen members: thirteen singers, a director and three percussionists playing cymbals, snare drum and bass drum.
Costumes and make-up will remind you of Venetian Carnival and the murgas’ very particular singing technique guarantees goose bumps!
Murga: Social critique – it’s not just the spectacle
The murga takes to the stage to criticise and make fun of society, politics and important events that have happened during the previous year in largely a cappella song. This critique is a crucial and well-loved part of every show.
Many visitors who can’t understand the lyrics are just dying to know exactly what the murgas are singing about and to understand the jokes that have the audience rolling.
And noone can watch a murga without asking themselves about the background of the groups they are seeing – many of whom were part of the social resistance during the dictatorship of the 70s and 80s.
Even if you speak Spanish there is such a lot of Uruguayan slang flying around and so many references that only someone who’s spent the last year in Uruguay following the news and media closely would get. So going with a knowledgeable guide is a great idea when you visit your first murga show.
Visit a neighbourhood murga rehearsal
If you arrive before Carnival starts, don’t worry, there’s still chance for a unique experience. Going to check out a murga rehearsal, like hundreds of locals do every evening before Carnival starts.
Rehearsals take place in local clubs and sports centres. Some are in the open air in public parks. It’s a relaxed atmosphere – at this point the murga groups are not wearing make-up or costumes.
In general, this is a very good opportunity to catch a glimpse of a typical Uruguayan cultural event. Most locals love to come to the rehearsals with their families and bring their mate. Mate, pronounced MAH-tay, is a caffeine-based tea that locals drink with a metal straw from a gourd – the tradition is also popular in Argentina and in the south of Brazil – however, most Uruguayos take it to the extreme and take their mate and thermos flask everywhere they go.
Find out more about Uruguay and Carnival
The Guru’Guay Guide to Montevideo –140 pages on the city–has a whole chapter on carnival and is a must-read
40% of Roman Catholics live in Latin America but as usual Uruguay does its own thing. There’s complete separation of church and state for almost 100 years.
Murga is an instantly recognisable musical style associated with carnival. It’s a uniquely Uruguayan phenomenon, with very distant roots in Cadiz, Spain.
Virtually unknown to people outside of Uruguay, carnival in the capital Montevideo is one of the most authentic in the world. Start planning now for 2021.
This year the Government of Montevideo is urging Yemanjá sea goddess worshippers to avoid congregating–and to donate to local soup kitchens instead.
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The host of this brand new travel show fell in love with Montevideo. The wine, soccer, carnival, food… so many things to do.
Montevideo has the world’s longest carnival starting January thru early March. We’ve got the links you need in English about where to go and what to see.
Bringing together more than 80 foodie initiatives and live music over one weekend, Degusto takes place in May and October each year in Carrasco, Montevideo.
It’s a good idea to know when public holidays in Uruguay are as most shops close. Public transport is also limited but to a lesser extent.
Traditional food, handmade goods, and South American cowboys riding wild horses. It’s the Semana Criolla – Montevideo’s Easter gaucho festival.
Carnival starts late January till early March. Yes, it’s the world’s longest carnival. The parades and shows you must not miss, where to buy tickets, etc.