When a friend of mine from Uruguay mentioned on social media that he was not only in the country, but performing in my borough, I had to check it out. Little did I know that my friend, candombe drummer and music historian Tatita Marquez, would be just one part of last night’s festivities at Long Island City’s newly-opened Paper Factory Hotel to celebrate the birthday of the hotel’s owner, Gal Sela.
As if to underscore the magnitude of the celebration, the candombe drumming didn’t even begin inside the swanky hotel itself, but on 37th Avenue, right outside the hotel. This was not some provocative maneuver. As I narrated in a piece I wrote for Perceptive Travel a few years back, groups of candombe drum players, or cuerdas, are frequently seen and heard in the streets of Montevideo and other Uruguayan cities. Tatita and crew treated us to a Uruguayan experience, right here in Queens.
The street sign for 37th Avenue is visible above, in case you might be thinking that this happened on Calle Isla de Flores in Montevideo. Also, the cuerdas in Montevideo usually consist of many more than six drummers. Check out A Dialog of Echoes in Uruguay for more background and pictures from Montevideo.
The courtyard was also treated to a set of New Orleans-influenced tunes from a stripped-down lineup of the High and Mighty Brass Band (from Brooklyn).