Visiting Samba City

By Martin Kocandrle, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – Samba City may seem like a reference to Rio, due to its popularity as a destination for samba music and Carnival, but it actually refers to the building complex where the dreams of samba schools are made into reality.

View of the Samba City complex, photo by Martin Kocandrle.

View of the Samba City complex, photo by Martin Kocandrle.

Samba City is the nerve center of the top samba schools that participate in the Sambodrome parade; where the production and construction of the elaborate costumes and floats takes place.

Visiting Samba City allows a sneak peak of the planning and hard work that goes into the creation of the props that proliferate the Sambodrome parade.

Traditionally samba schools constructed costumes and floats in their respective neighborhoods. As the competition became more intense and the parades more elaborate, the various props developed into grandiose designs. Since the schools that participated were often located some distance outside of Rio, it became cumbersome to transport them to the Sambodrome. In 2003 mayor Cesar Maia established a central location to assist the samba schools in the logistics of their artistic vision.

The massive warehouses that occupy the land where Samba City is now located, were once the trading grounds for newly arriving slaves to Brazil. It is here where the first steps and sounds of samba were born. The choice of location symbolizes more than the mainstream acceptance of samba into Brazilian culture, it is also recognition of the sordid history that gave rise to this unique form of self-expression and cultural identity.

The scale of Carnival as an industry becomes obvious as one enters the Samba City. The size of the complex and the surrounding warehouses that harbor the creative energy of Rio’s top 12 samba schools.

Each school is provided its own unique space to do as it pleases until the day of Carnival. To maintain the spirit of competition the school with the lowest score in that year’s competition must cede its space in Samba City to the winning school in a lower league.

Workers preparing one of the floats for next week's Carnival, photo by Martin Kocandrle.

Workers preparing one of the floats for next week's Carnival, photo by Martin Kocandrle.

Until the weekend of the parade, what happens within the complex walls stays within those walls, visitors are permitted to speak with workers and peruse the workstations, but the taking of photos and videos is strictly forbidden.

Despite the air of secrecy visitors are welcome at the Samba City, and granted access to the production process on numerous levels. If inclined to stroll around, unsupervised guests can explore the ground level of each school, or observe from above on a catwalk that surrounds the entire complex.

Guests have the option of taking a guided tour that incorporates a greater degree of participation with the production process. On the tour guests are: introduced to the various instruments of Samba, allowed to preview the sewing of costumes, the construction of the floats involved, and given mini samba lessons.

On Thursdays there is a “pocketshow”, which is a mini performance of the Sambodrome parade, complete with food costumes and live music. It costs R$195 to attend or R$95 if you are a resident or student. The pocketshows are on hiatus during Carnival and resume on the 4th of March.

General admission to Samba City is R$5 or R$2 with proof of residency or students. It is located in Rio’s dock district at Rua Rivadávia Correa nº 60, Gamboa. To make reservations you can call (55-21) 2213-2503 / 2213-2546 or email reservas@cdsrj.com.br

For further information consult the official website of the Samba City.

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