By Ciara Long, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One of the oldest samba schools to compete in the Grupo Especial (Special Group) parade competition, Unidos da Tijuca will perform on Monday, February 27th in the Sambódromo. The school, which formed in 1931 and competes under a yellow-and-blue flag with a peacock at its centre, will present an homage to the U.S.’s 20th century musical innovation.
Unidos da Tijuca will transport spectators this year through a range of musical styles and genres with their historic U.S. roots in an enredo (plot) called ‘Música na alma, inspiração de uma nação’ (Music in the soul, the inspiration of a nation).
The samba school’s Carnavalescos (Carnival designers) Mauro Quintaes, Marcus Paulo, Hélcio Paim and Annik Salmon, when hearing of a real-life meeting between American jazz legend Louis Armstrong and Brazilian instrumentalist Pixinguinha, imagined a conversation between the two telling the story of American music.
The story starts with the singing of slaves in U.S. cotton plantations, with songs for working and songs of praise. Following slaves as they migrated to the cities after abolition, the music develops and jazz, blues, country, rock and soul are born.
Unidos da Tijuca will also pay homage to legendary Broadway-style performances, country music and the rock and roll revolution of the 1960s, where music became a tool for protest and cultural upheaval. As the enredo progresses, it will incorporate more modern genres including rap, hip-hop and dance music.
Central to the enredo, however, will be Unidos da Tijuca’s nod to Beyoncé as the reigning U.S. musical queen. The school will pay tribute to the artist with no less than 150 male and female dancers, who will don fifteen-inch heels to perform a mix of samba and stiletto (a dance style blending steps from jazz, vogue and hip hop).
“We are mixing samba and [Beyoncé’s own] steps to create a Brazilian Beyoncé,” choreographer Fábio Costa told G1. Costa also said that diversity among performers ended up becoming a key characteristic of this year’s performance, despite the school’s initial thoughts when holding auditions.
“Initially the carnivalescos of Unidos da Tijuca commission wanted a wing with a hundred men. Then, they were thinking of tall, thin people,” he said. “But we had such good candidates that the wing had 150 people and ten more reserves, and opened the range of body types. That is, we have men, women, short, fat, thin, black, white.”
The school will be the fourth to perform on the second and final night of the Grupo Especial competition, scheduled to pass through the Sambódromo at approximately 2:15 AM on the night of Monday, February 27th.
Unidos da Tijuca was crowned the Grupo Especial vice-champion for the fourth time last year since 2000, when it began its current streak in the top league of the competition. It has also won the Grupo Especial competition three times since, in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Be sure to stay with The Rio Times to learn more about the other competing schools, winners and additional events during this year’s Carnival.