Imagine, for a moment, a city where it’s legal for queers to marry their partner, where it’s legal to smoke weed on the street, and where a thriving dance-pop underground throbs with the sounds of freaks and weirdos. If Amsterdam is too cold, Portland too rainy, and Mexico City too politically volatile, then there’s just one place for you — Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.
Most Americans that aren’t proficient in Spanish can’t even pronounce the name Uruguay, let along point out the country on a map. So let’s start there. It’s pronounced oo-doo-GWEYE. The last syllable rhymes with why, not with way. Got it? As for where it is on a map, it’s just south of Brazil, the largest country in South America, and just east of Argentina, the second-largest country in South America. It’s relatively small, about the size of Missouri, bordered on its other two sides by the Atlantic Ocean. For the past decade or so Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, had quietly built itself up as one of the world’s best cities for LGBT people. It’s warm, it’s on the ocean, and it’s one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Americas. And the music is amazing.
Homosexuality has been legal in Uruguay since 1934. In the early 2000s the country passed strong laws protecting citizens from discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation. In 2009 the Uruguayan government legalized same-sex adoption, and that same year it passed legislation allowing trans people to legally change the sex on their passports and birth certificates. Gays and lesbians can openly serve in the military, if you’re into that sort of thing, and last year Lonely Planet named Montevideo one of the most gay-friendly places on the planet. The country’s last president legalized recreational marijuana and donated ninety percent of his salary to charity, while current president Tabaré Vázquez made world headlines recently for rescuing a French teenager who was suffering the consequences of a life-threatening peanut allergy.
But back to the music… we picked out a handful of Uruguay’s gay and bi musicians that’ll get your ass shaking and your fingers itching to buy a plane ticket.
Here’s the song “Sambayón” by Dani Umpi, a solo artist with a unique visual style that’s a little Gaga-esque and more than a little inspired by the surrealists. Sambayón is a booze-spiked dessert drink that’s kind of like egg nog – at least, it’s egg-based and boozy – but the video isn’t about holiday cheer. Instead we see Dani Umpi, decked out in a series of outfits ranging from a fat suit to a basketball hookup, taking revenge on a hunky ex and then vamping on the hood of a car.
Umpi’s voice might sound a little cartoonish to listeners accustomed only to English-language pop, but he’s got some gems. Here’s another one, “Mi Charles Manson,” which is pretty much as creepy as the sociopath-referencing title suggests. “Pero esta vez yo no te asesinaré,” he repeats. “But this time I will not murder you!” You don’t see Dani Umpi in the video until the very end of this one, but it’s kind of fun watching three pretty boys dancing around dressed like New York scenesters while performing a lip sync to the song.
The other name to know in Uruguayan queer music is Kevin Royk. Strikingly pretty, Kevin is just as colorful as Dani, but his videos are a little more straightforward and, dare we say, budget constrained. Musically Royk is unstoppably scattered, from clubby dance music to the trap-style “Ni enterada…,” his latest single.
Kevin Royk and Dani Umpi co-hosted a queer music event this fall called Fiesta Sparky. The day-long festival featured a variety of queer and queer-friendly acts ranging from the self-explanatory Tango Queer to groups like Los Portadores de Jip-Jop (Carriers of Hip-Hop), rappers and breakdancers who have a longstanding friendship with Dani Umpi. They’ve even collaborated together on a bunch of different live and recorded ventures, including the catchy song “Johnny Depp/Deep”. The video includes a lot of hunky guys in tight pants grabbing their junk.
Portadores leader Martin Turielli takes a no holds barred approach to spitting fiery rhymes, a sound made all the more magnificent by the fact that he wears braces and looks like Donnie Darko-era Jake Gyllenhaal.
If Spanish isn’t your language, or if you’re just wondering whether there are any Uruguayan Americans that you ought to know about, the answer is yes! There are a few. Well, two. Cobra Starship frontman Gabe Saporta was born in Montevideo, although his parents moved to the United States when he was four years old. The band’s had a few hits over the years, including “You Make Me Feel” from 2011.
Saporta was rumored to be bisexual for a while, although he never outright said that he liked dudes. He’s super queer-friendly, though, and he’s been known to kiss Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz on stage sometimes. Well, once. But Pete’s got a Gabe tattoo on his leg, so that’s something for the fanfic writers.
The other name to know is Martin Serrondeguy. Also born in Montevideo, Serrondeguy moved Chicago about thirty years ago. In the nineties he led crusty Spanish-speaking punk band Los Crudos and later formed the hugely influential and super fun Limp Wrist. It’s definitely not pop, but it’s essential listening for any fan of queer music, Uruguayan or otherwise. Here’s just one of their many similarly-themed songs.
Finally, before you go, just one more Dani Umpi video. Because how can you not love a man that puts on a giant dress to sing Enya covers while accompanied by adorable child DJs. Or, you know, fake child DJs. Whatever is happening, it is amazing and we should all pack our bags and book a flight to Montevideo right now.