By Vânia Maciel, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The city is starting to rumble as drummers are getting on beat and Carnival energy spreads through the air. Technical rehearsals at the Sambodrome have started this past Sunday, and again in parading order, we look at G.R.E.S. Unidos de Vila Isabel samba school or Vila Isabel which was named after its birth place.

G.R.E.S. Unidos de Vila Isabel
G.R.E.S. Unidos de Vila Isabel samba school in 2010 Carnival, photo by CMC for

Vila Isabel a.k.a. Vila is a borough traditionally known for its abolitionist ideas during the eighteenth century, as well as samba and rodas de choro (choro music gatherings in bars) gatherings.

It was also the birth place of big names in Brazilian popular music and samba, like Pixinguinha, Aldir Blanc, Martinho da Vila, and the most famous Noel Rosa who wrote in Feitiço da Vila (Vila spell): “São Paulo produces coffee, Minas (Minas Gerais) milk and the Vila produces samba.” So much so that in 1964 many of Brazilian samba classics had theirs scores immortalized in its black and white cut stone side-walks.

Unidos da Vila was born in 1946, and after some coming and goings between samba school groups and a restructuring process started in 1983, they established a secure position within Carioca Carnival’s elite in 1988 wining with the theme-plot Kizomba, Festa da Raça (Kizomba race party).

This year Vila Isabel brings to the Sambodrome the theme, Mitos e Histórias Entrelaçadas pelos Fios de Cabelo (Myths and History Waved by Hair Strands), which is being designed by Rosa Magalhães, a veteran with five Carnival championships under her belt and one Emmy for the opening show of the 2007 Pan American Games.

Unidos de Vila Isabel
Unidos de Vila Isabel in 2010, photo by CMC for

Hair, as surprising as it may seem, has carried many symbolic meanings throughout history in different cultures, being it in mythology, fairy tales, or religion when sometimes it took the form of tonsure. Sanson and Dalilah, Rapunzel, Shiva are some iconic examples, and historically in Louis XIV courts elaborate wigs were a symbol of wealth as well as means to please the king.

The plethora of hair symbolism and its different settings throughout time and place shall give Magalhães – who has been very economical with information about what she is going to show in the parade – plenty inspiration to present an extraordinary performance sambaing down the Sapucaí.

Vila Isabel samba school have also started street rehearsals on its home neighborhood, starting from the bar Petisco da Vila on Wednesday and Sundays from 8PM, free for all. Saturdays the works are held at their quadra (court) with an usually low entrance fee of R$10 although this might change and it is better to consult their Agenda on their website at or phone (21) 2578-0077.

The quadra is located on Boulevard Vinte e Oito de Setembro, nº 382 – Vila Isabel – Rio de Janeiro – RJ – CEP 20551-031, and it is easily accessible from Zona Sul by cab or buses.


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