By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Parading third on the first night of the Grupo Especial (Special Group) during the 2014 Carnival competition will be the famously irreverent samba school G.R.E.S. São Clemente. Well known for their satirical portrayals of Brazilian society through their Enredos (Themes), this year they will present “Favela”, a theme focusing on the neighborhoods from which the school and its members originated.
“We climb to the favela to show all of its richness, creativity and listlessness,” the school says of the 2014 theme. “We unmask its architecture, from its origins to today, the characters and manners. In its alleys and shacks there are emotions, contradictions, and of course, lots of spontaneity.”
Climb is used as more than a metaphor as there are 788 steps that lead to Santa Marta, the area in Botafogo where São Clemente is based. There São Clemente remains the sole samba school in the Special Group from Rio’s Zona Sul (South Zone) and proudly displays a silhouette of the famous Rio landmark, Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf) on the flag, surrounded with their colors black and yellow.
This year’s samba Enredo (samba theme song played throughout the parade), composed by Ricardo Góes, Serginho Machado, Grey, Anderson, FM and Flavinho Segal with Ronaldo Soares, bounces along with hopeful lyrics about favelas and those who live within them, full of love, pride and the desire and faith to endure.
“The musicality that comes from Santa Marta and goes into São Clemente is fantastic,” Roberto Gomes, director of Carnival told G1. “[They have produced] several writers of sambas, multiple drummers and multiple generations.”
Founded in 1951 São Clemente knows endurance well. They began as a football (soccer) club in the neighborhood of Botafogo. The members, legend has it, creatively turned two empty grape barrels them into percussion instruments to pass time while waiting for a bus to arrive.
It was later, after the group became “bloco de sujo” (dirty bloco), an unsanctioned improvisational group that parades through the streets during Carnival in makeshift costumes, that São Clemente first began to use ironic themes to bring attention to social issues and policies that affected their community.
After successfully petitioning to become an official representative for Zona Sul in 1961, the then Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba (G.R.E.S.) São Clemente moved, for four decades, between Carnival’s competitive groups.
It was their return to socially conscious themes in the 80s including; “Don´t run, don´t kill, don’t die: the devil is free in the streets” the 1984 theme which dealt with rising violence Rio and 1985’s “Let’s abide in a house!”, a look at Brazil’s housing shortage and 1987’s “Masters of Asphalt” which focused on the lost children in Rio’s streets and featured real-life street children in the parade, that gained the school attention and moving them slowly toward the Special Group in 1990.
In the 90s and 2000s they again moved up and down between groups, parading seven times in the Special Group. São Clemente’s 2010 theme, “Shock and Order at the Party”, which dealt with Rio’s Shock and Order operations, again earned the school a place in the Special Group where they have remained since, placing 10th last year with the theme “Horário nobre.”
This year in place of one Carnavalesco (Carnival designer), the school will be lead by a collective including, Max Lopes, Roberto Gomes, Tiago Martins, Bruno, Muqueca and Ricardo Gomes. Although São Clemente has yet to win a Carnival Championship in its long history, they are hard at work to make this year’s event the one.
For additional practice and to give the public sneak peaks, the school currently holds Samba do Rush events with Marquynhos Sensação and special guests on January 27th and February 3rd, 10th, 17th and 24th. See more at their web site here.
G.R.E.S. São Clemente
Quadra (Practice Hall)
Avenida Presidente Vargas, 3102