By Chesney Hearst, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Known for its famous samba composers and traditional presentations, G.R.E.S. Unidos de Vila Isabel will bring this year’s Carnival competition to a close as they enter the Sambódromo as the final school to parade from the Grupo Especial (Special Group) on February 11th.
One of the older schools in competition, Vila Isabel began as a football (soccer) club in the district of Vila Isabel in the Zona Norte (North Zone) of Rio. It then went on to be a bloco before Antonio Fernandes da Silveira best known as “China” registered the school officially as Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba (G.R.E.S) in 1946 and became Vila Isabel’s first president.
Throughout its long history, the school has seen its ups and downs in the completion groups. The currently fourth ranked school has two Carnival Championship titles to its name. Last seeing victory in 2006 when they presented the Enrado (Theme): “Soy loco por ti America” (I’m crazy about you Latin America).
It was an elaborate theme that was reportedly funded in part by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in association with state-owned oil giant PSDVA. Vila Isabel, it is said, received anywhere from US$1 million to US$2 million in financial backing, from Chavez and the country.
The first notable composer to join the school was Martinho da Vila. He aided the school with the composition of the theme “Carnival of Illusions” for the 1967 Carnival completion and wrote the theme, “Four Centuries of Fashion and Costumes” for the school’s procession in 1968. He returned in 1969 and 1970 as a composer for the group.
However, Vila Isabel did not see their first Carnival Championship until 1988 when they presented the theme, “Kizomba, Festa da Raça” (Kizomba, the party race). A theme written again by Martinho da Vila – also famous for composing “Casa de Bamba” and for his role in the Afro-Brazilian political movement – “Kizomba, the party race” dealt with issues of apartheid and Kizomba, a type of dance and music that originates from the country of Angola which is also a former Portuguese colony.
This year with the famous Arlindo Cruz among their group of composers, Vila Isabel will present the theme, “A Vila canta o Brasil, celeiro do mundo – Água no feijão que chegou mais um” (The Vila sings Brazil, world’s breadbasket – Add more water to the beans, one more has arrived). A common saying in Brazil that refers to a need for adding water to beans that are being cooked because more need to be prepared as one more person has arrived to eat. The theme celebrates daily life in the interior of Brazil.
Vila Isabel will be led by famous Carnavalesca (Carnival Designer) Rosa Magalhães who gained major recognition for her work with G.R.E.S. Imperatriz Leopoldinense from 1992 to 2009. There as Carnavalesca she helped the school to win five Carnival Championships. She has also worked with G.R.E.S. União da Ilha and in 2007 she created the opening presentation for the Pan American Games held in Rio de Janeiro that year.
Magalhães also led the school last year as they presented the Enrado (Theme), “Você samba lá … Que eu samba aqui! O canto livre de Angola” (“You dance samba there … and I dance samba here! The free chant from Angola”) again paying homage to African roots and the country of Angola. The presentation earned them third place overall.
Model Sabrina Sato will also return this year as Vila Isabel’s Rainha da Bateria (Queen of the Drums) marking her third year in the position for the school. As the Groupo Especial competition draws nearer, Vila Isabel is hard at work preparing for what they hope will be their third Carnival Championship.
G.R.E.S. Unidos de Vila Isabel
Rehearsals: Saturdays at 10PM
Address: 382 Boulevard Vinte e Oito de Setembro, Vila Isabel, Rio de Janeiro
Phone: (21) 2578-0077