Thousands of people crowd a large arena and dance the night away to loud music while drinking caiparinas (the local favorite) and practicing for what is perhaps Brazil 's most well known tradition, Carnival. Sound like fun? It is. Welcome to Brazil , the birthplace of Samba! Although the Samba schools will eventually end up competing with one another at Carnival, all are invited to attend the practices, and it is an experience which is absolutely unforgettable. Samba music and dance have greatly affected Brazilian culture since the 1830s, as well as bringing about the creation of Samba schools and Carnival.
Samba music comes from a variety of sources. Its original roots are with certain dances that came with African slaves, mainly from Angola , Congo , and West African regions. It originates from earlier Brazilian music, called Choro (www.geocities.com). The music has a percussive rhythm and several different instruments are used to create the sound. The heavier ones include the Surda de Primeira and the Caixa de Guerra, while the lighter ones include the Pandeiro and the Tamborium. The Surda de Primeira is the bass drum, while the Caixa de Guerra gives force and sustains the rhythm. The Pandeiro gives Samba its soft sounds, and the Tamborium provides the sharper sounds, the spice ( ). Samba music and dance are extremely important to the people of Brazil , especially those who follow the Candomble religion. To them, the word Samba means worship and prayer, and in the Candomble religion, worship and prayer means dance and music. The word Samba is said to have come from the word “semba” meaning pelvic movements, and the dance is surely based off this idea ( ).
Samba schools prepare their dances and practice weekly for months before Carnival. Each practice entertains thousands of people, some watching, some joining in. In 1928, the first two Samba schools were founded. Each Samba school is located in a neighborhood, and the first one to be officially called a “school” was really a dance club. The founders, who were teachers at a nearby school, joked that, “We also teach, but here we learn the Samba!” ( ).The third school opened a year later, Mangueira, which we visited. Many more followed. The actual movements are a step-dance technique, while at the same time, pelvic thrusts and hand claps are included. At the time of the final performance, the dancers will have prepared elaborate costumes, masks and floats as well. A typical Samba school can have as many as 4000 members ( ). All together, fourteen schools compete against each other.
Carnival is a pre-Lent celebration, tied to the religious calendar, and occurring the week before Lent begins, while ending on Ash Wednesday. Schools, businesses, and streets close down for Brazilians to watch and participate in the almost week-long party. Streamers and elaborate decorations are strung across town, and although Carnival happens in many cities, the most well known is the one which takes place in Brazil's most famous city, Rio de Janeiro. The main parade takes place along the Passarela do Samba on a Sunday or Monday evening ( ). Street Samba is preformed, and if you are lucky enough to have tickets, you can attend the judged Samba show, performed in the Sambodrome. Each school performs for 60-75 minutes, and there are seven performances a night. The best six teams are placed, and win prizes according to their ranking. Elaborate, care-free, colorful, and captivating, Carnival is a true reflection of Brazilian culture and tradition.
If you cannot attend Carnival, Samba school is the next best thing. It is here where the influence of the deep-rooted Samba music and dance becomes truly apparent. Everyone has a good time, while still practicing for the most important Brazilian celebration of the year. It is loud, crowded, and hot, but most importantly a lot of fun. As Samba composer John Krich once said, "Without samba, there is an emptiness that would never be filled. It's a pill for our sickness, a medicine for the heart. There is no substitute. Whether you're happy or sad, you remember a big passion and that makes you suffer. Instead of fighting in the streets, or hitting one another, we make a samba. Take away the samba and we're nobody” ( ).