By Bruno de Nicola

Salgueiro Samba night, photo by Anderson Borde.
Salgueiro Samba night, photo by Anderson Borde.

RIO DE JANEIRO – Samba school season is officially open. As the schools start preparing for their big week in February 2010, Gringos get the chance to attend a preview of the Sambodrome Carnival nights and shake their tail feathers.

All the themes for the parade have been chosen and each Samba school is now in the process selecting a soundtrack for their eighty minutes on the catwalk.

A R$2.5 Million parade with 3,000 people and numerous costumes and floats is quite an event to organize, especially if you have your eye on winning the most important Carnival contest in the world. Even though Carnival is in February, Samba schools start preparing for the occasion around the end of August.

Preparations begin with a theme selection when the school and art directors of each school choose the enredo, a lead in every aspect of the parade. Most of the time, enredos take national culture or history as their starting point or a relevant social-political condition of the country, such as last year’s: “Japanese Immigration in Brazil” or “Machado de Assis and Guimarães Rosa, two great Brazilian writers”.

Step two is extremely important to the whole process, as the Samba enredo must be chosen. They are the official soundtracks to each school’s parade and the songs that back each school’s show playing in a constant loop during those eighty minutes. They are also selected through a very articulate contest that lasts a few weeks. Each competing author plays their composition for the school’s jury, and after a first preliminary phase, the best options battle in a final clash.

Obviously, the more people the Sambistas manage to bring to the selection night, the better chances to win. So most of the time, as in many situations in life, popularity wins out.

At this time of the year, the schools are going through the selection process, and indirectly offering their audience a chance to take part in a great party, as they make their important decision. Each Saturday, until the middle of October, musical competitions will be the main attraction in the Samba School quadras (dance halls). Passion, sweat and frenetic rhythms are the trademark of these few weeks, as loud drum beats and shaking bodies will spice up anyone’s October.

Rio de Janeiro has many schools. However, just twelve of these are in the major league of the Sambodrome Carnival contest. The Gringo Times, for geographical and safety reasons, recommends the following schools to all those who wish to participate in the Samba enredo selection nights: the Salgueiro Samba School in Tijuca (the 2009 Sambodrome Champion), and the Mangueira Samba School in São Cristovão, which has become, over the years, a sort of hangout for the Carioca middle class, and certainly the best school for infrastructure and organization.

Entrances from R$15 to R$20.

Because of the very loud and hypnotic drum beat, ear plugs are recommended.

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