The forty days of Lent leading up to Easter, during which abstinence from any form of celebration, luxury, rich food and alcohol is observed by the followers of the Catholic religion and several Christian religions as well. This period of Lent is in significance to the forty days that Jesus spent wandering in the wilderness. In the ancient days people used to have large parties to consume all the good food and drink before they entered the Lenten period. This is believed to be the origin of Carnival. It is celebrated in many countries around the world and it is believed that the tradition of wearing costumes began in Italy, where “Carnevale” means “to put away the meat”. This tradition spread from Italy to other Catholic countries in Europe, including Spain, Portugal and France.
Many of the countries that were colonized by the Europeans adopted many of the cultural practices of the colonizing country. Portugal’s colonization of Brazil, combined with the African culture that was brought in by the slaves gave rise to the Carnival celebrations that are practiced today in Brazil, the highlight of which is the Rio Carnival. The presence of the Samba form of dance and music that forms a large part of the Carnival celebrations has its roots in African culture.
Documents of history indicate that the first Rio Carnival was celebrated as early as 1723. At the time Portuguese immigrants are supposed to have introduced something called Entrudo, where people would go out into the streets and get everybody wet with water and limes. In the mid 19th century a Portuguese shoemaker introduced the concept of parading in the streets, while playing musical instruments. Between the 1850’s and the 1870’s the celebrations became more structured and participants began dressing up in various costumes. The early 1900’s saw the emergence of organized competitions, with 1907 being the first year that cars paraded during Carnival. This is believed to be how the idea of having floats in the parades first originated.
The early 1920’s saw the emergence of Samba schools and the end of the decade saw the first parade with a Samba school. In 1939 Brazilian media company ‘O Globo’ became the sponsors for the event. The parades were halted for a while during World War II, but then resumed again in 1947, and the form has stayed more or less the same till date. 1971 was the first year that saw a time limit integrated into each school’s parade at the Rio Carnival, while 1972 was the first year that an album consisting of the schools’ theme songs was released.
This dance, music and rhythmic form is said to have originated in the Brazilian state of Bahia, in the late 19th century, amidst the African community that came as slaves to the country under the Portuguese regime. The word is though to have originated from the Angolan word “semba” meaning navel.
Samba was brought to Rio in the 1920’s when a lot of the Bahian community migrated to Rio. According to history, certain “Tias” or aunts of this community who kept the African culture alive were responsible for promoting the spread of Samba in Rio de Janeiro. They included Tia Ciata, Tia Monica, Tia Amelia and Tia Veridiana amongst others. At the home of Tia Ciata, which is said to have been at the place where today’s Sambodromo is located, several composers of the emerging music form used to meet, practice the style and create compositions. It is here that the Samba that we see at the modern Rio Carnival first originated.
For a long time Samba was considered a music form belonging to the working and lower classes. It was only in the 1960’s and 1970’s that it became an appreciated dance and music style in the middle and upper classes as well.
Samba schools originated when the new music style of Samba of the early 1900’s was combined with the drum ensembles or “batuques”, also of the Bahian community. In fact, several composers were the founding members of the Samba schools, many of which are in existence even today. These schools gave the often impoverished communities where they were created a sense of belonging and pride, something that is often the case even today. The first Samba school was Deixa Falar which was founded in 1926 and paraded for the first time in 1930. Mangueira which today is the oldest existing Samba school was started in 1928.
The first Samba song called Pelo Telefone was composed at the home of Tia Ciata in 1917, by Donga and Mauro de Almeida. From then on Samba music and songs have taken on a variety of forms beginning with the Samba-canção of the 1930’s which is a slow and rhythmic form, with much emphasis on melody. The 1930’s also saw the emergence of the partido alto in the Samba parades, and the Samba enredo or the performance of Samba songs by Samba schools at Carnival. This happened in conjunction with the founding of first Samba schools. Samba was influenced by the foxtrot and the bolero in the 1940’s and 1950’s, while the latter also saw the emergence of bossa nova. After the political changes of the 1960’s, Samba saw a return to its original roots, as opposed to the bossa nova style which had its roots in jazz. The 60’s and 70’s also saw the emergence of Samba-funk, with heavy American influences. The 80’s and 90’s brought the pagode form to the forefront.
The Samba songs and dances at the parades have always lent towards the Samba-enredo form with a heavy emphasis on percussion music, with some influences borrowed from the changing styles over the years.
Samba dance forms have been practiced at Carnival celebrations for over 100 years, with styles ranging from Baion to Marcha.
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