SchoolDeixa Falar was the first Samba school which was established in 1928. The members of Deixa Falar happened to meet together next to a children’s school in the Estacio district of Rio, hence the name Samba school came into usage.
Some of the early Samba schools in Brazil were Paraiso School of Samba, founded by Esteves and Enrique Da Silva. Portela, Mocidade and Mangueira Samba schools are the oldest schools and top the list of most famous Samba schools in Rio. Many of these Samba schools trace back their lineage to UK with an affinity to London School of Samba, thus making a great impact on Brighton School of Samba.
The most famous Samba schools of Rio are Imperatriz, Portela, Beija-Flor, Uniao da Ilha, Salgueiro, Grande Rio, Porto da Pedra, Vila Isabel, Sao Clemente, Mocidade, Mangueira and Unidos da Tijuca. These schools practice extensively to vie for the championship spot. The Samba parade is a very organized event where every individual is assigned a particular role to play. Each school performs to a particular theme, and judges award points during the Sambadrome competition which determines the schools score and their place in the following year’s parade competition. Schools with high score perform in the elite group, while other schools with low scores perform in the lower groups.
Competitions are spread out during the entire period of Carnival according to Access or Gold Group. Small Samba schools compete for a place in the large groups and the best 6 Samba schools perform at the Champions Parade.
Samba Schools usually function in two physical locations. The Samba halls have percussion bands playing live Samba music, these halls function as dance clubs as well as the main administrative centre where the school’s president has his office. The other location is the production unit where costumes and floats are designed and produced. However since 2005 all of Rio’s Samba schools of Special Group have a common production location which is called the ‘Samba City’. So it is one of the locations you can visit to see the production process of huge floats, costumes and other paraphernalia related to the Rio Carnival.
Samba Schools do not teach you Samba dance form, they neither are teaching institutes not they offer any classes. However if you wish to learn Samba, then make sure you attend their Samba nights to learn just by watching others dance.
Rio de Janeiro has more than 70 Samba schools and all the Samba schools are seen parading during the 4 days of Carnival. The schools choose their own themes, based on which they compose the music and lyrics, prepare their costumes and floats and practice all year round to win the parade competition.
Each Samba school comes up with their own distinct colored flag and styles that are reflected in their performance. Samba schools open their Samba halls to offer Samba nights to tourists and locals. The Samba nights are very casual with lots of fun, dance and drinks. This is where you can learn the school’s Samba song, since it will be repeated over and over in preparation for the finale. The Samba schools raise money by selling tickets to host Samba nights, they also receive funds and sponsorships from business groups.
‘Samba’, ‘Samba Reggae’ and ‘Experimental’ are the three categories of music played by Cidade Brilhante’s Bateria and Compositores. Samba Reggae a unique style borrowed from Salvador in Bahia state. Experimental are rhythms with western influence like a hip-hop rhythm in a Samba style. Each Samba school strives to develop unique musical style that embodies the spirit of Samba.
Bateria workshops are held once a week for those who want to learn Samba percussion and drumming. These workshops welcome any age group with or without any experience. Separate weekly sessions are held for beginners, while intermediate players can participate in the main rehearsals. Bateria workshops do not need any advance booking, you can just walk into any session or join as a member to attend the workshops every week, and this will give you a chance to play on the parade with the Samba school.
If you are passionate about Samba and dance then don’t miss the dance workshops. You can again just walk-in to catch up the techniques of dancing and learn the art of fast-stepping Samba which is called ‘Samba no pe’. If you register yourself for the weekly classes then you get to perform with the Samba school in the parade.
Rio Carnival is the biggest attraction with tourists flocking to Rio every year to indulge in a week long dancing and partying. The Carnival is celebrated in every state in Brazil, but the Carnival in Rio is the biggest and best. All the elements of Carnival is best experienced at Sambadrome where 12 best Samba Schools challenge each other for the champion’s title.
On Friday leading to the first day of lent, the mayor of Rio crowns the ‘Fat King’ known as King Momo and once King Momo signals, the Carnival in Brazil gets rolling. The enthusiasm soon catches up in the bars, streets, and clubs and all over Brazil and finally culminates in the grand parade at Sambadrome.
Samba schools are divided into various sections called wings or ‘Alas’, each wing consists of over 100 members wearing the same costume. Floats separate the wing sections and the floats are motorized or pushed by men. The main attractions of the floats are the special effects and Samba dancers on top of the floats. Each wing choreographs their own dance that contributes to the overall
score and the dancers are ever exuberant, singing their school song throughout the entire parade. You are sure to find celebrities participating in the actual parade, sometimes dancing and singing on the floats. Star performers or Destaques wear the most lavish costumes and dance to the Samba music.
A group of over 12 dancers is called ‘vanguard commission’; they are the ones leading the parade of their Samba school wearing elaborate costumes. Their task is to introduce their school to the audiences, put up a good show and set the tone for their school performance. Vanguard commission usually consists of celebrities to infuse energy and enthusiasm among the crowd.
Porta Bandeira and Mestre Sala is the first couple who comes dancing down the parade with the school’s flag in their hand. While the flag bearer moves along, her escorts dance around her gracefully. There are several flag bearers representing their school, but the first ones have to make an impression upon the judges.
A group of older women representing the soul of Samba schools are called baianas. They present a spectacular performance in their traditional Bahia costumes. The Baianas are an exclusive lot with a separate wing dedicated to them. The costumes are not available for others and neither anybody else can join the women during their performance.
All the Samba schools parade with great enthusiasm and the spectators are treated to a fantastic night of entertainment. The judges watch the performances carefully and award scores to each Samba school, however considering the enthusiasm, hard work and year- long practice, every school is a champion. The Carnival in Brazil gets bigger and better year after year, and the 2014 Rio Carnival surely promises an extravagant entertainment. Book your tickets to Brazil now and make the most of the 2014 Carnival.
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Koko is BookersInternational spokesparrot.