Love story at the Llamadas: Candombe drumming and amour in Montevideo

As I am writing this, I can hear two lovers whispering to each other. They have waited almost ten years to be reunited. In the meantime, each one of them made a family with somebody else, she moved back to the place she was born in Sweden, he lived in the States for a while, and they both had children.

If I think of all of my closest girlfriends, practically each one of them has a love of their life who is not their present partner, someone who might, in the future, come back and snatch them away from the men they ultimately settled down for. In a way, Ana was lucky: she was able to go back to that most real of love stories before it was too late.

As it came to be, Ana and I attended the second night of the Llamadas in Montevideo this year (this was only a few hours ago), and her true love was drumming with one of the comparsas (candombe drumming groups, complete with dancers and a whole set of tradiotional performers).

In Sweden, Ana had been raised in a community of exiled Uruguayans who strived to preserve all of our country´s customs. So, she had learnt to dance the candombe very well, and she had even been a dancer for one of the comparsas here in Uruguay a couple of times, apart from doing many gigs with a candombe and samba group back in Malmö, her hometown.

Not quite realizing my dream of being a dancer at the llamadas, but getting closer

Ana´s mum was also with us during the parade. The three of us share a passion for candombe, so we were all very excited. As soon as we heard the drums of the first comparsa coming nearer, the world was transformed. There was a communion between the people that can only be explained to those who have once participated in such deep-rooted musical traditions.

Ana (left) and me

We danced, we wore masks like we were in Venice and we cheered for the dancers and the drummers and the mama viejas (a character in a comparsa who represents an old woman who is still dancing the candombe; La Mama Vieja is also a fascinating song by Eduardo Mateo).

Ana´s world was rocked once more when she saw her lover´s comparsa approaching. As it often happens when you have butterflies in your stomach for someone (as one friend would say, sometimes, like in this case, they feel more like dragons), even when there were dozens of drummers, wearing big hats and heavy make-up, Ana was able to spot him immediately, even seeing him from behind.

They all looked the same to me

We followed the drummers dancing like crazy. The llamadas consist of each group playing and dancing and walking for some 10 blocks over a street called Isla de Flores. They start around the corner from my apartment, actually, but our seats were near the end of the line, so, when we followed the drummers as they exited the gates, police closed them behind us and said we couldn´t go back inside.

Ana couldn´t care less, though we had left her mother behind: she was going to be reunited with him, and nothing else mattered.

Reunited at last

This love story between a candombe dancer and a candombe drummer ended at my place last night, from where we could still hear the last groups playing. We did go back for a bit and dance with one of the last comparsas. By the end of the night, Camilo´s drum (that is his name) was sitting by my window, overlooking Mediomundo, and the world seemed full of possibilities.

I admire Ana and Camilo for not having given up on each other, while many other people just settle and forget. If there is anything to be learnt from their story, it is that it is always worth it to fight for your dreams and that true love always finds a way; and sometimes candombe can help a bit.

Post-llamadas sleepover, drum included

If you’ve never heard or seen candombe in action, here is a clip from last year’s Llamadas:

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