A Guide to Understanding the Carnival Competition in Rio

Better understand the competitive aspects of the Carnival parades in Rio's Sambódromo.

By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As Carnival 2014 draws closer, Rio’s top samba schools prepare to parade in the Sambódromo for the Carnival Championship. To many visitors and new spectators, this lavish parade might at first be confusing as it is also a very serious competition with its own rules, ranks and terminology.

Carnival 2013, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

Escola Inocentes de Belford Roxo parading in the Sambódromo during Carnival 2013, photo by Marco Antonio Cavalcanti/Riotur.

The following is a brief glossary of terms used during the competition and a short guide to understanding what all of the singing, dancing, drumming, costumes and float really mean.

Escolas de Samba – Samba Schools. Similar to competitive sports, samba schools are ranked and separated into divisions. The six major ones are: the Grupo Especial (Special Group) and Groups A, B, C, D and E.

Only the Grupo Especial and the schools in the Grupo de Acesso (Access Group) will parade in the Sambódromo. The Grupo de Acesso parades first on Friday, February 28th and Saturday, March 1st, with the Special Group following on Sunday, March 2nd and Monday, March 3rd.

The schools in the Special Group this year are (in parading order); Império da Tijuca, Grande Rio, São Clemente, Mangueira, Salgueiro, Beija-Flor, Mocidade, União da Ilha, Vila Isabel, Imperatriz, Portela and Unidos da Tijuca

During their procession, each school is judged on ten criteria:
1. Enredo – Theme. Long before any costumes are sewn or floats assembled, an enredo or theme is chosen by each school for that year’s parade. Every part of their presentation should correspond with or be representative in some way of that chosen theme.
2. Samba-Enredo – Samba Theme Song. The song tells the story of the plot and should have a good melody and interesting and grammatically correct lyrics.
3. Bateria – Percussion Section. There are many different types of percussion instruments used including the surdo, a Brazilian bass drum that many consider the heart of a bateria.
4. Harmonia – Harmony. Schools are judged on their rhythm and singing during the procession.
5. Evolução – Evolution. The continuing spirit throughout the parade. Judges look for liveliness and continued energy the procession.
6. Conjunto – Overall Impression. Each school should perform as a group working together to display their theme.
7. Alegorias e Adereços – Float and Props. The first float of each parade usually displays the name of the school and each float cannot be larger than eight meters and fifty centimetres wide, and nine meters and eighty centimeters tall.
8. Fantasias – Costumes. The outfits range from huge ornate costumes to much less so, and it is even possible to purchase and parade with a school.
9. Comissão de Frente – Front Commission or Vanguard Group. Usually consisting of ten to fifteen people who parade at the front of the school, introducing the theme.
10. Mestre-sala e Porta-bandeira – The Flag Carrying Couple. The porta-bandeira, traditionally a woman, carries the flag while the mestre-sala (master of the room), traditionally a man, walks with the porta-bandeira, drawing attention to her and paying tribute to the flag.

As they parade the school are separated into Alas (wings) or sections of each school’s parade. One other notable procession sections include:

Ala das Baianas – A group consisting of mostly older women respected in the school’s community. They spin as they parade dressed in traditional outfits from the state of Bahia.
Velha Guarda – The Old Guard. This is a group of traditionally older members of the community including founders, former presidents and important former organizational members of the each school.

Vila Isabel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

2013 Carnival Champions Vila Isabel’s Mestre-sala and Porta-bandeira (flag-bearing couple), photo by Eliane Carvalho/Riotur.

Other important members of the samba school include:
Carnavalesco – The Carnival parade designer. This position, usually held by one person but sometimes a team, is the creative force most responsible for the performance.
Rainha da Bateria – The queen of the percussion section. A valued member of the community or a celebrity will occupy this position in the procession. Television personality Sabrina Sato will hold the position this year for 2013 Carnival champions Vila Isabel.

Additionally, these place names will enable better understanding of the competition:
Apotheosis Square – The large square at the end of Sambódromo. Marked by the easily recognizable grand arches it is the finish line at the end of the ‘Avenue’.
Barracão – Industrial workshop. This is where the samba schools store and make their costumes, props and floats for the parade.
Cidade do SambaCity of Samba. The complex that houses the barracões (translates as large tents) of the Grupo Especial of samba schools.
Quadra – Samba court or practice hall. Each school has their own quadra and holds practices there during the lead up to Carnival. Many hold events welcoming the public to take part.
SambódromoThe samba stadium. Designed by famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer and inaugurated in 1984, it consists of the ‘Avenue’ where the schools parade with several concrete seating sections for spectators along both sides.
Sapucaí or Avenida – Sapucaí Avenue. The location of Rio’s Sambódromo, where the Carnival competition will take place.

One Response to "A Guide to Understanding the Carnival Competition in Rio"

  1. Pingback: G.R.E.S. Imperatriz Leopoldinense Samba School in Carnival 2014 | The Rio Times | Brazil News

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