Dance to the Music
To say you can find some culture in Brazil is like saying you can find some Yankee haters at a Red Sox game. It is everywhere. From a county with slightly similar beginnings to our own you find a people who have developed a culture, praised it, and kept alive as the spirit of their existence. From every reach of Brazil , whether it's the Amazon Rainforest or all the way down to Iguacu Falls travelers can find culture far beyond what can be found here in the United States .
The history of the United States and Brazil all come from the same beginnings in a way, both being colonized by European powers. The difference in their history starts when they both became independent countries. When England was colonizing the United States the idea was to expand England 's already vast empire. They wanted to come up with as much land as possible and be the most powerful in the world. For Portugal colonizing Brazil , the motivations were different. Rio de Janeiro , for instance, was just a stop on the trading route to India most of the time until the Portuguese realized how many natural resources Brazil had to offer. With all of these resources at the fingertips Portugal they decided to colonize, but only for the reason of exportation, not making a new country.
So what does this have to do with culture you may ask? Well, when Portugal came they brought slaves and enslaved many indigenous tribes. This turned Brazil into the melting pot that it is today. Unlike America 's melting pot, however, most Brazilians have the same culture and it is this where communities come together and do something that many Americans forget to do; enjoy life.
My cultural experience began the second we got off of our transport from the airport our first day in Rio . After taking a bus tour through much of the city still exhausted from our many hours of travel to Brazil we finally got to our hotel on the Copacabana. As we entered I noticed a small crowd gathering in the median of the two streets, which parallel the Copacabana. I thought nothing of it until I checked into my room walked out of the balcony and heard a large drum ensemble. As I sat and watched, I noticed that people were starting to congregate around the group. Looking closer and listening you could see a rather run down truck, filled with speakers to amplify a singer's voice and some other backup instrumentals. What I also started to notice was the fact that everyone around was dancing. This was my first introduction to Samba. And it was just the tip of the iceberg.
As the time I spent in Rio went on I learned more and more about samba, and the meaning it has in the communities there. One of our day trips took us on a tour of the shantytowns, or "Favelas" as they are called. These are comparable to our slums or ghettos. What I learned this day absolutely blew my mind. Carnival, the world's most legendary multi-day festival and party, is what these people look forward to all year long, and it's these inhabitants of the Favelas that make Carnival go 'round. While Carnival could be another article in itself I'll give you the quick version. Four day pre-Lenten festival where people dress up in elaborate costumes, dance 24-hours, and get sinning out of their system before lent arrives. Ok, that is the crudest explanation that does no justice but at least you can get an idea. These people I refer to are those who mostly live in the Favelas and each different Favela is like its' own community. In these communities is what they call Samba Schools and each community has their own. It becomes highly competitive when Carnival time comes around because Carnival is also a competition for these samba schools. Right about now my guess is that you have no idea what these samba schools really are because I had the complete wrong idea until I actually went to one.
These aren't your standard schools for teaching. These are entire community centers where people unite every Saturday night to practice their dancing and mingle with their friends. The music is led by none-other-than a group similar to the one playing on the Copacabana mentioned above. This made the atmosphere absolutely electric and made me wish I knew how to Samba. The respect shown to everyone around was something like I have never seen. There was a group of elderly women who are the most respected and are all wearing the same dresses. They are the most respected in the building. Elsewhere you have many people from the Favelas dancing around people who happen to have more wealth. Even on the second level you have some of Rio 's elite in what are basically luxury boxes lining the outside of the dance floor. What is just as amazing is the fact that the party really doesn't even start until about 1 or 2am and doesn't end until sunrise. A large surprise came right when we were leaving around 1am . In this mostly concrete building the roof started to retract like it was one of our modern day ballparks.
I've been to just about every cultural kind of event that can be seen in the United States whether it's symphony, visual arts, sports or anything else you can consider culture. Never once was I as amazed with the way things turned out. I stood in awe of this samba school and of the culture and my eyes were opened to something that only a few Americans have had exposure to. This was a common way of life for the rich, poor, black, white, and all of them were better people because of it. And so am I.