By Vania Maciel, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Besides the glitz and the glamor, samba is a serious business and as the end of the year approaches, the city’s samba schools are getting into full gear with preparations for the epic parade contested every Carnival. Rehearsals have already begun in earnest at their respective samba courts or quadras and this month many are deciding which Samba-enredo (theme tune) is going to be sung at the Sambódromo in Sapucaí Avenue.
Every year, each school chooses a theme to be enacted through the costumes, props, allegories, floats, and the crucial Samba-enredo, the samba sung by all participants (and the crowd) during the procession. Soon after the year’s plot is decided, each Samba School’s many song writers begin work on music and lyrics for an internal samba contest which takes place over up to two months.
This is always hotly-disputed and akin to a political election which takes on a cheerful tone laced with plenty of beer and feijoada to please the punters. Normally the winner is chosen by taking into consideration how much excitement and fluency it brings to the rehearsal and how easily it can be sung by all.
Throughout October, many schools will be voting on which Samba will represent them during the parade, marking the start of rehearsals for Carnival and making a visit to a Samba School from now on much more interesting. Additionally, Carnival and Bateria Queens are chosen, baterias (drum orchestras) pieced together, ‘muse pageants’ are held and Mestre-sala (room master) and Porta-bandeiras (flag carriers) begin presentations around this time.
The latter is a spectacle in itself, with the Mestre-sala courting the Porta-bandeira in a samba choreography reminiscent of minuets danced by Brazilian courts of old days, and in elegant swirls they flow around the court presenting the flag, synonymous with each Samba School’s very pride and joy. Both dancers hold a prominent position in a school’s organization and their hearts, because in the main Carnival contest at the Sapucaí, their dance is judged against a set of rules and the quality of their presentation generates points towards the final score.
October is the best time to catch some of the notorious Samba-enredo finals, where song-writers and supporters alike put all their effort into winning, heating up the samba and generating a unique, unmissable euphoria among all participants. Being held this month are Beija-Flor’s final on October 14th, Porto da Pedra and Portela on the 15th, Vila Isabel, Grande Rio and Unidos da Tijuca, on the 16th, Mocidade de Padre Miguel, União da Ilha on the 17th and finally Imperatriz Leopoldinense on October 18th.
Most of them have their quadras around Rio’s suburbs, but there are few with courts in Centro and more easily accessible areas of the North Zone. Main rehearsals are normally held on Saturdays with Sundays reserved for family feijoadas and children’s rehearsals.
Unidos da Tijuca, the winner of carnival 2010, has its court Santo Cristo around Rio’s main harbor, São Clemente in Presidente Vargas Avenue in Centro, and other reachable ones include Mangueira, in Mangueira, Salgueiro in Andaraí, and Unidos de Vila Isabel in Bouvelard Vinte e Oito de Setembro, Vila Isabel. However, it is always advisable to get a taxi going in and out around those areas at night time, and preferably to be accompanied of a Brazilian friend or guide.
Samba Schools are the genre’s original cradle and rehearsals, an unmissable chance of experiencing true samba spirit on its roots. More information can be found on the Samba Schools or LIESA (Samba Schools Independent League) sites, all written in Portuguese.