The Music & Dance of Brazil as seen in the Samba Schools
The samba is the most popular dance in Brazilian culture. It comes from African rhythms and movements and is played on African-derived instruments. It became official in 1917 with the recording of “Pelo Telephone” or “On the Telephone”. In the 1920's, with the development of radio, a whole new generation of composers appeared that became responsible for all the great marchinhas and sambas that continue to be used today. The marchinhas are verses that eulogize women and criticize politicians. The lyrics to the marchinhas are published in pamphlets and distributed to the public months before Carnaval so that people can learn the words by heart (www.Ipanema.com).
The first escolas de samba were established in 1928 and 1929. They were made up of blacks and mulattos who wanted to make music and dance in Carnaval. When I first heard that we were going to be visiting a samba school in Rio de Janeiro , I expected that we were going to be learning the samba. I pictured an instructor giving our group samba lessons. But, the samba school is not a typical “school” as one might assume. There are fourteen samba schools in Rio de Janeiro , and each is made up of members from the communities or favelas. There can be more than 4,000 members in any given samba school. The schools meet on a regular basis to rehearse their performance for the Carnaval. The fourteen samba schools in Rio are Sao Clemente, Caprichosos, Unidos da tijuca, Salgueiro, Grande Rio, Mangueira, Portela, Tradicao, Porto da Pedra, Imperatriz , Imperio Serrano, Beija-flor, Viradouro, and Mocidade (Rio Samba Schools).
Carnaval is Rio 's biggest celebration. It lasts for four days in the peak of summer.
During Carnaval, each samba school parades down the “Sombrodrome” in front of thousands of people. The parade takes place over two nights, with seven schools parading each night. It begins at 9 p.m. and goes until the sun comes up. Every school chooses a different theme, and has its own school song that it dances and sings to. These songs are usually accompanied by drums. All the costumes and floats are original, made from scratch each year. In fact, samba schools provide valuable jobs in the community through the construction of floats and costumes
The money used to fund samba schools comes from ticket sales, television rights, and from the members of the schools' own pockets (Rio Samba Schools). The most important individuals are the porta-bandeira (female flag-bearer) and the mestre-sala (the male master of ceremonies, who accompanies her). The puxador de samba or main singer stands on the sound float and sings the theme song while his/her school parades, usually for about 60 to 75 minutes. Judges are strategically placed through the crowd in odd and even sections, to make sure that schools do well through the entire presentation. The top 6 schools earn the honor of marching again the following week in the Winners Parade. “ Brazil isn't a competitive society, but carnival is all about winning,” explains Roberto DaMatta, a sociologist who has written extensively about carnival. “There's no cash prize, but winning puts the group's samba on the radio and attracts lucrative sponsorships (www.theglobeandmail.com).”
Visiting the samba school was a very rewarding experience. When we first arrived at the school, there were venders lining the streets selling cigarettes and beer. There were people everywhere and the energy of the crowd was intense. Once inside, I realized that these samba rehearsals were really more of a big party. There was a group in the front playing music on stage, and a crowd of people on the floor dancing. They do not dress in their costumes, as these are a surprise for the main Carnaval parade. The people in the schools seemed very excited to have us there, and showed an interest in teaching us the steps. Everyone there obviously loves what they are doing, and they are all very dedicated to their craft. It was obvious to all of us that night, that music and dance is a very vital aspect to the Brazilian culture.