I was over at Vane and Sandi's on Saturday after a *lovely* brunch date, lounging on the roof. Our original plan to sunbathe was derailed by uncooperative weather (we could use a trema on that now, couldn't we?) but Vane adapted to the situation by making some margaritas and putting on some of her fabulous music collection. "La murga" by Hector Colon and Willie Colon came on, which I hadn't heard in a while. Hearing it this weekend finally gave me the impetus to look up the word 'murga' and find out more about the style. But first, "La murga de Panama," without Hector Lavoe but with Colon singing himself. Look at all those trombones! No wonder I like salsa like this so much.
I had first heard of la murga while in Buenos Aires in 2001. I saw some young men beating drums and practicing this jumpy dance in the parks in the Constitucion neighborhood, where our little apartment was. Walking around was my favorite activity, and I covered tons of ground there, which was good because I couldn't eat enough of the queso y cebolla empanadas and churrasco . Once I asked a well-dressed older man what the guys were doing, because it was so peculiar, and he told me something to the effect of 'being unproductive and not working.' It was beautiful to watch these guys practice their jumps and leaps, somewhat reminiscent of capoeira. Indeed, sources say that it evolved from African slaves, much like capoeira in Brasil. It was then developed by lower class Spanish and Italian immigrants, much like the tango (originally danced between men, btw), and then, like tango, was coopted (trema anyone?) by the upper classes.
In subsequent conversations-- one with a taxi driver after seeing another group of guys practicing in a poorer neighborhood near Ezeiza-- I learned that la murga was being used by groups of young people who were resisting the neoliberal policies begun by the military dictatorship in the late 70's and continued to that day that made cans of soda cost $2 while teachers made $200 a month. [I was in Bs.As. in early 2001, months before the economy tanked and during the pegamiento, when the peso was pegged to the dollar. In those days, Buenos Aires was one of the world's most expensive cities.)
In some of the videos on youtube of murgueros you can see the banners of HIJOS, a group of children of the desaparecidos, and some take place during the Thursday protests of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, whose children, grandchildren, and relatives were disappeared by the military dictatorship. In any case, la murga has been used in those sorts of public protest, and according to the interwebs, is practiced both in Uruguay and Argentina as a sort of popular street performance during Carnaval. I never saw any murga with the elaborate costumes you'll see in the clip below, but the drumming and kicking is exactly as I remember them. Makes me want to dance! I wonder if there is a murga group in the NY area? [This clip is long, but the first few minutes give you a great idea of the dance]