Flamboyant carnivals with dazzling costumes. Elaborate parade floats and endless samba are Brazil's trademark. In neighboring Uruguay, late-summer festivals evoke similar mass appeal but with a very distinct style. While Uruguayan music seems to me most notable internationally through the tangos of Carlos Gardel, center stage on the streets of Montevideo during carnival time belongs to the rhythmic drumming of "La Murga" or "El Candombe."
After heating, stretching and cooling leather coverings over carved wooden drum shells or "tambores," small bands of "Murgistas" take to the streets in the early hours for the traditional call to the carnival. Rich, melodic beating continues for hours as they walk slowly from street to street, gathering adults and children along their journey to one of hundreds of local meeting grounds where great entertainment, outstanding food and the spirit of communal brotherhood are celebrated round-the-clock.
Carlos Perez-Franco captured the flavor and essence of this important local tradition as well as the political and social impact in three series: "El Candombe y Las Tamborileras," "Carnaval Uruguayo" and "La Musica."
"Engulfed in rapid lifestyles with omnipresent pressures to 'succeed,' some often forget to appreciate the world in which we live, obscuring the positive qualities that define our society and provide our daily pleasures," states Carlos Perez-Franco, with particular reference to his native Montevideo. After thirty years outside of Uruguay, and supporting his belief that artists draw best from their immediate surroundings, Perez-Franco has encountered no shortage of inspiration for an urban series that investigates both Latin American and European architectural and cultural influences that have contributed to Uruguay's social character through various generations.
"While some tend to devalue the reality around us in search for some higher order of insight or profound revelation, I'm intrigued by the unique inter-relationships and traverses within that which is experienced every day. I don't need to invent anything, it's there for all of us to explore and cherish."
Some have called Uruguay, a small nation nestled between Argentina and Brazil, a "Euro-styled urban center with a large farm attached." Most prevalent in the country's interior region are cattle and sheep ranches, the source for three of Uruguay's major exports: beef, leather and wool. These farms are also the domain of the "gaucho" and a way of life which has remained largely unaltered throughout a century otherwise characterized by agro-industrial modernization and technological change.
The gauchos remain simple and pure. Up at daybreak, retiring as the sun sets, they rely on rudimentary equipment and their beloved equine transport, with Mother Nature called upon to provide a balanced diet for their prized livestock. By shunning artificial fortifiers and growth stimulants, Uruguayan beef has remained top-rated worldwide, as are leather products hand-crafted by family members for personal use and income supplementation. Gaucho folklore speaks of rural fairs and festivals, livestock competitions, stampedes, massive open-pit barbecues for entire communities, folk music played on home made instruments and the traditional leather and sheepskin garb..... a romanticized characterization of a tough breed who remain true to themselves through grit, sweat and adherence to an honorable set of values and priorities.
From the largest urban centers to the smallest towns, the unity and cohesion of human developments with the environments that surround them is determined primarily by the attitudes, desires and actions of the residents themselves. Economics surely plays a role, but affluence alone does not guarantee safety, health or pleasure. Where and how we choose to live is a reflection of our values and priorities, the quality of such being determined by our respect and appreciation of nature and communal space as well as our own.
Without preference or preconception, Carlos Perez Franco investigates this theme worldwide to determine whether "quality of life" is a dream, a reality or an oxymoron.