Nostalgia night - a Uruguayan phenomenom

Blast from the past

Uruguay's Nostalgia Night is a national excuse for a huge party

Keen on Kim Wilde? Ready for some REO Speedwagon? Or would you rather stretch your limbs to a high-volume rendition of YMCA?

If your answer is "all of the above" then think about grabbing a piece of Uruguay's unique Nostalgia Night celebrations.

The roots of Nostalgia Night go back to the late 1970s. A disco in town looking for an original wheeze to attract custom on the night before Uruguay's Independence Day holiday decided to play nothing but oldies (in this context, music from the fifties and sixties). At the time, Uruguay was living through the dark days of dictatorship. Legend has it that the disco was packed out.

Since then Nostalgia Night has become a massive popular and commercial success. Every 24 August local radio stations – whose output year-round is dominated by hits from the 1980s as it is – ensure that every tune they play is at least twenty years old. Function rooms throughout the country prepare elaborate parties. Fancy dress is de rigueur: think John Travolta's white dancing suit, think big hair, think leg warmers.

This is the biggest night out in the year by some distance and a godsend for stressed parents and older folks. "Middle-aged Uruguayans don't have so many possibilities to hit the dance floor and let their hair down," says Montevideo translator Jorge Meyerheim. "It's basically just weddings and fiestas de quince (the Latin tradition of offering a party to girls when they turn fifteen). So it's not difficult to understand why they grab the chance to have fun on the night before a public holiday when everyone is off work."

Local websites list the entertainment on offer this year. Neighbourhood parties in working-class boliches (dance halls) charge as little as US$5 a head for a ticket. One or two make "good security" a prominent feature of their offer – a sign of the times perhaps. But others are more elaborate affairs (full barbecue! imported whisky!) with unlimited food and drink and, of course, live music – often a Beatles tribute band. For these, expect to pay US$180 and more per couple.

At the beginning of this new decade, the Cantegril Country Club in Punta del Este is daring to promise "the best tracks from the 1990s". But they are in a minority – for now.

Are Uruguayans more prone to nostalgia than other Latin Americans? After all, Brazil has no equivalent celebration, nor has Argentina. Perhaps the experience of young people growing up in the 1970s and 1980s has something to do with it. Unusually, this was a generation with less optimism than that of their parents. For the latter the relative prosperity and wellbeing of the 1950s (the tail-end of the mythical "Switzerland of South America" period) amounted to a golden age. Meanwhile, shanty towns were mushrooming on the fringes of Montevideo. The middle classes had to ditch their trips abroad. Were those youngsters encouraged by their parents – nurtured, even – to look back? Economically, of course, today's Uruguay is on a roll. But is nostalgia an old habit that's hard to kick?

It's something to ponder as you walk home from your party in the chilly dawn of 25 August with Smoke On The Water ringing in your ears.

Factfile: You can find a list (in Spanish) of Nostalgia Night events at

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