By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Now that the holiday season is over and a new year has begun, attention in Brazil turns toward the upcoming Carnival celebrations, which this year will take place from Friday, February 13th through Tuesday, February 17th. Broadcast throughout the world, Rio’s organized samba school parades play a large part in the city’s celebrations and what at first glance might just appear to be a colorful, music-filled parade, is in actuality a serious competition.

The Mestre-sala and Porta-bandeira from Mangueira parading in 2014, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News, Carnival
The Mestre-sala and Porta-bandeira from Mangueira parading in 2014, photo by Marcelo Regua/Riotur.

As with most major competitions, the samba parades feature a unique set of terms that can be confusing to new spectators. The following is a short guide and brief glossary of some of the terms used during the competition:

Escolas de Samba – Samba Schools. Varying in ages and formed in neighborhoods (often poorer neighborhoods) throughout the city and in nearby municipalities including Niterói and São Gonçalo, samba schools parading during the Carnival competition are ranked and separated into divisions. The six major ones are: the Grupo Especial (Special Group) and Série A, as well as Groups B, C, and D.

Only the Grupo Especial and the schools in the Série A (former Access Group) will parade in the Sambódromo. The fifteen schools from the Série A will parade first on Friday, February 13th and then on Saturday, February 14th. The twelve schools from the Special Group will follow on Sunday, February 15th and Monday, February 16th.

The schools in the Special Group this year are (in parading order): Viradouro, Mangueira, Mocidade, Vila Isabel, Salgueiro, Grande Rio, São Clemente, Portela, Beija-Flor, Uniao da Ilha, Imperatriz, and Unidos da Tijuca.

Each year the lowest scoring school from the Special Group is demoted to the Série A, while the highest scoring school from that group moves up into the Special Group.

Scores are earned during the schools’ desfiles (processions) that are allowed to take a maximum of one hour and twenty minutes. Designated judges give scores from 1 to 10 in each of ten categories:

1. Enredo – Theme. Throughout the history of Carnival, schools have chosen a wide range of themes from tributes to beloved Brazilian entertainers, to celebrations of cities and cultures to highlighting the importance of dairy products. What’s important to the judges is that every part of the presentation corresponds with or is representative in some way of that chosen theme.

2. Samba-Enredo – Samba Theme Song. The song tells the story of the plot and ideally should have a good melody as well as interesting lyrics. Many samba-enredos became popular hits.
3. Bateria – Percussion Section. Much more than just snare drums, there are many different types of percussion instruments that make up the bateria, including the surdo, a Brazilian bass drum that many consider the heart of a bateria.
4. Harmonia – Harmony. Schools are judged on their rhythm and singing during the procession.
5. Evolução – Evolution or how the theme progresses during the parade. Judges look for liveliness and continued energy during the procession.
6. Conjunto – Overall Impression. Each school should perform as a group working together to display their theme.
7. Alegorias e Adereços – Float and Props. The first float of each parade usually displays the name of the school and there are designated size limits for each float.

Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Carnival 2015, Carnival Competition, Unidos da Tijuca, Samba Schools, Sambódromo,  Marquês de Sapucaí
Winners of the 2014 Carnival Championship, Unidos da Tijuca’s enredo (theme) paid tribute to Brazilian racing legend Ayrton Senna, photo by Fernando Maia/Riotur.

8. Fantasias – Costumes. Ranging from ornate to barely there the costumes should correspond with the theme and vary depending on the section of the school. It is possible for non-school members to purchase a costume and parade with a school.
9. Comissão de Frente – Front Commission or Vanguard Group. Usually consisting of 10 to 15 people who parade at the front of the school, introducing the theme.
10. Mestre-sala e Porta-bandeira – The Flag Carrying Couple. The porta-bandeira, traditionally a woman, carries the flag while the mestre-sala (master of the room), traditionally a man, parades beside, drawing attention to her and paying tribute to the flag.

As they parade the school feature separate Alas (wings) or sections. Notable procession sections include:
Ala das Baianas – A group consisting of mostly older women who are respected in the school’s community. They usually dress in traditional outfits that originate from the state of Bahia. They also are known to spin while they parade.

Velha Guarda – The Old Guard. Usually, dressed in matching blazers, this is a group of traditionally older members of the school’s community. Founders, former presidents and important former organizational members are usually found among this group.

Other notable members of each school include:
Carnavalesco/a – The Carnival parade designer. This position, usually held by one person but sometimes a team, is the creative force most responsible for the performance. Famous Carnavalescos include Joãosinho Trinta and Rosa Magalhães.

Rainha da Bateria – The queen of the percussion section. A valued member of the community or a celebrity usually occupies this position in the procession.

Important place names to know during the competition include:
Sambódromo or Marquês de Sapucaí – The samba stadium. Designed by famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer and inaugurated in 1984, this landmark of the city celebrated its 30th anniversary last year. The area consists of the ‘Avenue’ where the schools parade with several concrete seating sections for spectators along both sides. The venue also hosts the Ensaios Técnicos (technical practices) which are free to the public. They began in December and will continue through February 8th.
Apotheosis Square – The large square at the end of Sambódromo. Marked by the easily recognizable grand arches it is the finish line at the end of the ‘Avenue’.

In the weeks to come, The Rio Times will also take a closer look at the twelve samba schools vying to be the 2015 Carnival Champion.


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