Nearshore Americas

The Growing Influence of Uruguayan Musicians on the Global Scene

At the 2005 Academy Awards, Uruguayan singer and songwriter Jorge Drexler gained the world’s attention when he received his award for best song for “The Motorcycle Diaries” and took the microphone to give his speech, which consisted of singing the chorus of “Al otro lado del río.” Drexler had not been allowed to perform the song by the producers who chose Carlos Santana and Antonio Banderas to do it instead.

It could have been the 15 minutes of fame for Uruguayan music, but in fact it marked an auspicious beginning of Uruguay’s presence in the global music scene. Since then, many Uruguayan bands and performers have been touring abroad, earning awards and slowly but steadily putting Uruguay on the music world map. In 2012, Uruguayan artists invaded the Latin Grammy Awards ceremony, putting the country in the spotlight of mainstream music for the first time.

Performers in Their Prime

Ruben Negro Rada is one of the heavyweights of Uruguayan music. With over 30 albums, Rada has created many emblematic songs in Uruguayan music. He was a member of pioneering band Totem, which created musical jewels blending rock, Latin and drum-heavy candombe music, and Opa, a band where he played alongside the legendary Fattoruso brothers, local jazz and candombe masters.

At the 2012 Latin Grammy Awards, Rada received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his 40 years of musical creation. In his speech, he stated he shared the award with the whole country, now experiencing an extraordinary musical moment, referring to the other Uruguayan nominees: No Te Va Gustar, Cuarteto de Nos, Jorge Drexler and Max Capote.

El Cuarteto de Nos is the oldest and most referential Uruguayan band. Known for dealing with everyday issues with sarcasm and humor, the band experienced its share of controversy when in 1996 there were attempts to ban its seventh album El Tren Bala. The album included the song El Día que Artigas se Emborrachó (The Day that Artigas Got Drunk), which joked about Uruguay’s national independence hero José Artigas.

In a similar vein, some of the band’s previous songs dealt humorously with the Tupamaros guerrilla movement (Tupamaro from the album Barranca Abajo) and the potential armed conflict between Uruguay and its neighboring countries (El Primer Oriental Desertor  or The First Uruguayan Deserter from the album Otra Navidad en las Trincheras  or Another Christmas in the Trenches). The band even lampooned the Beatles, in an outstanding yet mocking version of Please Mr. Postman called Bo, Cartero (Oy, Postman!).

Last year the band released its 12th album, Porfiado (Stubborn) which earned them two Latin Grammy Awards for Best Rock Song and Best Pop/Rock Album. This album, like its predecessors, Raro (Weird) and Bipolar (Bipolar), has been distributed throughout America and Spain by Warner Music. The video clip for Ya No sé qué Hacer Conmigo (I Don’t Know What to Do with Myself Anymore) from Raro has over 7 million views on YouTube.

Younger Stars

Jaime Roos is another emblematic star in the local constellation. With a career inextricably linked to Uruguay’s long-lasting passion for soccer, Roos is responsible for many unofficial anthems sung to praise the country’s football team such as La Celeste (Light Blue, for the color of the team’s uniforms). In 2010 at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, in which Uruguay reached fourth place and had a real chance of winning the championship, Roos shot 3·Millones (3 Million), a documentary about the team’s performance which appeared in cinemas in Uruguay, Argentina and the United States and included, obviously, many of his songs.

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Billboard magazine placed Uruguayan band Max Capote among the 10 Latin artists that cannot be missed in 2013. Max Capote is the pseudonym of Fabián Acosta, singer and frontman of the band that received a Latin Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Max Capote has since toured the cities of Bologna, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona and Zaragoza, presenting the album Vinilo (Vinyl). Acosta claims that the band longed to, and managed to, capture the essence of music as it can only be experienced when playing vinyl records.

Other Uruguayan bands now regularly touring abroad include No Te Va GustarLa Vela Puerca and Uruguayan-Argentinean ensemble Bajofondo Tango Club.

This story was originally published by NSAM sister publication Global Delivery Report.

Pat Antuña Yarza

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