Young people dance to a new beat in Uruguay

Painting of Candombe by urban artists on a wall in a street of Montevideo © Andreas Sellanes

Afro-Uruguayans are among dis-advantaged groups in the country with access to cultural wealth hindered by poverty and lack of infrastructure. For 200 years, this community has been identified with the rhythmic music of dances and percussion performed during carnival. Using this channel, the Monte¬video City Council engaged partners to reach out to 150 young people living in the Maracana Norte community, changing many lives in the process.

Through a cultural centre offering workshops in music and dance, project activities were organized by the academic institution FLACSO-Uruguay (Latin-American Faculty of Social Sciences), the NGO Peace and Justice Service of Uruguay, as well as the comparsa ‘The Clinic’ – a music and dance group.

Project Coordinator Malena Lucero recalled that in the beginning, young people were reluctant to come to the cultural centre. But as the activities offered became more enjoyable, participation grew.

Workshops at the cultural centre taught: percussion skills, drum repair and assembly techniques. It also covered African and candombe dance and helped some of the participants to form a comparsa. This music and dance group has now played in three carnival parades. But the centre was much more than a training venue; it provided a safe space for young people to interact with each other and engage in creative activities.

Comparsa member Sergio Silva explains how participating in the band has changed his outlook. “I saw myself changing my physical appearance, talking to my neighbors, helping my friends, ceasing to use drugs, and going back to work,” he said. “This programme completely changed my life.”

And Sergio was not the only one. About half of the young people involved with the comparsa band have found jobs or returned to school.

Blanca Lemos, Coordinator of the Cultural Centre and central figure in the comparsa’s creation, said: “So many people’s lives have been changed, creating a community pulsating with energy and confidence. People have started to see things from a positive standpoint.”

The project received positive media coverage and was commended by Uruguay’s first lady, Senator Lucia Topolansky.

FLACSO also held a workshop with government and civil society on local social issues, which will be repeated periodically. A learning guide and concept paper on using comparsa for social empowerment were produced as well.

The positive identity created by learning new music skills and having their own cultural expressions have helped improve Maracana Norte population’s self-esteem and group cohesion. Community members said they felt joy and pride in seeing their “old dream” of forming a comparsa come true, and the entire neighborhood celebrated during the parades.

Back to top