The Uruguay music scene has a mixture of rock, pop, tango, folklore, candombe, milonga, carnival sounds. Prepare to be surprised by the creativity and quality of the music emanating from this nation of just three million souls.
Jaime Roos – Contraseña (Password)
Jaime is a Uruguayan institution. In a small country like Uruguay, few musicians are able to make a good living from music. Jaime is one of a handful. Forgive him his moustache. He is hugely popular in Uruguay and neighbouring Argentina. This is my favourite album of his, made entirely of versions of songs by other Uruguayan artists. “Amor profundo” (Deep Love) by Mandrake Wolf became a huge hit. What’s particularly Uruguayan is the use of carnival harmonies (known as murga). The video was shot in Montevideo’s Old City (Ciudad Vieja). On the album, personally I adore Ney Peraza’s guitar on “Tablas“. A few years ago Roos branched into cinema, producing a much-loved documentary of a trip his photographer son and he made to South Africa to support Uruguay in the 2010 World Cup.
Eduardo Mateo – Mateo Solo Bien Se Lame (Mateo does it best on his own)
Mateo was a hugely influential songwriter, singer and guitarrist emerging in the 1960s. A master of rhythm he insisted that the nascent rock scene in Uruguay include local candombe-rhythms that were looked down on at the time, leading to the creation of a new rhythm known as candombe-beat. A wildly unpredictable, addictive character who had periods of homelessness, he died penniless before reaching his 50th birthday.
Unfortunately this album has been taken down from YouTube, so I’ve included a different video clip above. But you can buy Mateo solo bien se lame online.
Ana Prada – Soy Pecadora (I’m a Sinner)
I’ve already written about Ana Prada and have to include her here. Ana is the modern face of Uruguayan folk music. Her second album is more urban, acoustic with electronic bases, though she continued using folklore rhythms –milonga, valsecito, chamame– as well as reggae. If you are lucky you might get to see Ana play when you are in Montevideo.
El Club de Tobi – Tobismo (Tobism)
A classical string quartet, El Club de Tobi started out in 1996 playing on Sarandi, the pedestrian street running through Montevideo’s Old City, and underground venues. They play their own arrangements of pop and rock from the River Plate area (Montevideo and Buenos Aires) as well as classics by Hendrix, The Beatles and Bob Marley. Tobismo won the 2011 Graffiti Prize, the equivalent of the Uruguayan Grammys in the Instrumental category.
El Principe – El Recital (The Show)
Gustavo Pena, known as El Principe (The Prince), also struggled to make a living from music and died in his late 40s just as he was starting to gain popularity and audiences to grow. El Recital was recorded live in 2002 with the Club de Tobi. His daughter Eli-U Pena keeps his memory and music alive today interpreting his songs in her uniquely charismatic style. His poetic lyrics are notable for their positive messages. Like Mateo, El Principe has become a cult musician for musicians in this part of the world.
Seeing bands while you are here in Uruguay
There are so many other bands, songwriters, singers, musicians that could be included. I mean, there’s no tango here! Let alone a ton of other great stuff….
The Guru’Guay Guide to Montevideo includes a dedicated chapter on bands you must see live* when you are in Uruguay and another chapter on where to see those bands play (including how to reserve seats in Spanish).
* For suggestions of live music when you are in Montevideo, visit my Guru’guay Facebook page most days.
[Article updated: January 10 2017]
Photo: Jaime Roos performing in Salto by Cristian Menghi