By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Well known for their sambas de enredo (Carnival theme songs) G.R.E.S. Unidos de Vila Isabel will enter the famed Sambódromo in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, February 15th as the fourth samba school to compete in the Grupo Especial (Special Group) for the 2015 Carnival championship.
Also known simply as Vila Isabel, they are one of the older schools in the competition. Established in 1946, Vila Isabel began as a football (soccer) club located in the neighborhood of the same name in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone).
Symbolized by the colors blue and white, the team gradually became a bloco. Then in 1946, it was Antonio Fernandes da Silveira who officially registered the school as Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba (G.R.E.S).
Keeping the colors blue and white to represent the school, da Silveira, best known as “China,” became Vila Isabel’s first president. He maintained that position until 1958.
The next notable moment in the school’s history was the arrival of Martinho da Vila to the school’s group of samba-enredo composers in 1965. With his help, the school revolutionized the composition of sambas-enredo, introducing both lyrics and variations on typical samba melodies.
With the presentation of “Kizomba, Festa da Raça” (Kizomba, the party race), a theme written by da Vila, the school earned their first Carnival victory in 1988. “Kizomba, the party race” dealt with issues of apartheid and Kizomba, which is a type of dance and music that originates from Angola, which like Brazil, is a former Portuguese colony.
Vila Isabel won again in 2006 with the enredo, “Soy loco por ti America” (I’m crazy about you Latin America), an elaborate, if not controversial theme that was reportedly funded in part by then Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in association with state-owned oil giant PSDVA.
The school’s third and most recent victory came in 2013 after their presentation of the enredo, “A Vila canta o Brasil, celeiro do mundo – Água no feijão que chegou mais um” (Vila sings Brazil, world’s breadbasket – Add more water to the beans, one more has arrived).
Led by famous carnavalesca (carnival designer) Rosa Magalhães the parade was filled with brightly colored costumes and elaborate floats that celebrated life in the interior regions of Brazil. Adding to the almost perfect procession, famous Brazilian composer Arlindo Cruz helped with that year’s samba-enredo.
This year led by carnavalesco Max Lopes, the school will present “O Maestro Brasileiro está na terra de Noel… a partitura é azul e branco da nossa Vila Isabel” (The Brazilian Maestro is in the land of Noel… the score is the blue and white of our Vila Isabel). The theme is an homage to famous Brazilian singer-songwriter, guitarist and mandolinist, Noel Rosa.
Considered one of the greatest Música Popular Brasileira (MPB) and samba musicians in Brazilian history, Rosa was born in the Vila Isabel neighborhood. Although he died in 1934 before the school was established, he left such a mark on the school and the community that there is a statue of him in front of Vila Isabel’s quadra (practice hall) and the members of the community are sometimes referred to as “povo de Noel” (Noel’s people).
Vila Isabel’s 2015 Carnival parade promises to be a touching tribute to a man who greatly influenced both the school and Brazilian music. To learn more about upcoming practices and events leading up to Vila Isabel’s 2015 parade procession, see the school’s official website here.
G.R.E.S. Unidos de Vila Isabel
Boulevard Vinte e Oito de Setembro,382 – Vila Isabel
Tel: (21) 2578-0077