To understand how this rhythm, which is so strongly rooted in Uruguayan culture evolved, one would need to turn back the pages of African and South American history to look at how this contagious rhythm anchored at the shores of Montevideo. The text that follows are excerpts from books and articles written about candombe, as well as the viewpoint of individuals who have been close to this scene.
Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, was founded by the Spanish in a process that was begun in 1724 and completed in 1730. African slaves were first introduced to the city in 1750. The roots of this population were not homogeneous, but rather a multi-ethnic swath of Africa that was culturally quite varied. 71% were sourced from the Bantu area, from Eastern and Equatorial Africa, while the rest came from non-Bantu Western Africa: Guinea, Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and the Gold Coast (what is today Ghana).
The Bantu area is an enormous cultural region of Africa with an extremely complex mosaic of ethnicities, consisting of over 450 groups with a linguistic heritage that overwhelms man's migratory limits: more than 20 linguistic groups and 70 dialects.
Candombe is what survives of the ancestral heritage of Bantu roots, brought by the blacks arriving at the Río de la Plata. The term is generic for all black dances: synonymous with and evoking the rituals of that race. Its musical spirit sums up the sorrows of the unfortunate slaves, who were hastily transplanted to South America to be sold and subjected to brutal work. These were pained souls, harboring an inconsolable nostalgia for their homeland. During colonial times, the newly arrived Africans called their drums tangó, and used this term to refer to the place where they gathered to perform their candombe dances; by extension, the dances themselves were also called tangós. With the word tangó, they defined the place, the instrument, and the dance of the blacks.
At the dawn of the 19th Century, Montevideo's Establishment was deeply troubled by the existence of the candombes, which they indistinctly called tambo or tangó. They banned them and harshly punished their participants, considering the dances a threat to public morals. In 1808 the citizens of Montevideo requested that the governor repress these dances even more severely and "prohibit the tangós of the blacks."
In Africa, Tambor and the person playing it are defined by the same word, Tambor.
"Kalunga kalungangue O-je o-je Imbambue."
The African poet Amos Totuola writes:
When the Tambor
Began to play the Tambor
Those who had been
Dead for years
Came forth to witness
How the Tambor played the Tambor.
It was the voice of the old "tatas" of candombe from the middle of the last Century, bellowing in the halls of black clandestine gatherings, sons and grandsons of those brought over in the holds of the slave ships. From 1751 to 1810, Montevideo received large contingents of Africans aboard vessels flying English and Spanish flags. While their culture was quickly repressed by the Spanish, their need for expression, their liberation, was maintained through their Tambor.
The Tambor of candombe is the presence of ancestral Africa in Uruguay.