By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Canadian musician and assistant director to the ‘Escola de Música da Rocinha’ (Rocinha Music School) chamber orchestra, Vanessa Rodrigues, will be joining the ‘bateria’ (drum section) of samba school Feitiço do Rio, who will be making history this Saturday, March 9th.
The performance will parade to the drum of one of the only female ‘mestre de baterias’ (master of the drums) ever in the history of Carnival. The mestre, Thaís Rodrigues, also happens to be a former student of Escola de Música da Rocinha.
“I will be participating in the bateria of samba school Feitiço do Rio, who are parading in the E series on the last Saturday (March 9th) of Carnival at Intendente Magalhães, where the schools outside the Grupo Especial and Série A (Access Group) parade.” Vanessa Rodrigues comments.
“This is special because Thaís Rodrigues will be leading our bateria, and she is the only female mestre in all the leagues of the samba schools.” she continues, “Thaís is also a former student of the music school in Rocinha where I work.”
Though they never actually worked together at the Escola de Música da Rocinha, which this year is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, the two musicians met during the 2011 parade for another samba school, Acadêmicos da Rocinha.
Vanessa Rodrigues continues, “I was playing ‘tamborim’ (small Brazilian drum). She was playing ‘surdo de terceira’ (larger Brazilian drum) and helping run the section. This is one of the most complicated drum parts in the entire bateria. I was amazed by her then and I still am now.”
While Vanessa Rodrigues first participated in a samba parade in 2011, Thaís Rodrigues entered the world of samba in 2003, when she visited the Acadêmicos da Rocinha during a practice session and fell in love with percussion.
She also participated in the very first incarnation of ‘Chorando a Toa’ in 2004, a ‘choro’ (Brazilian style of music similar to samba) group made up of Rocinha students that were so successful they were invited to tour Germany.
In addition to directing the drum section of Feitiço do Rio, Thaís Rodrigues has also been parading with the Unidos da Tijuca samba school since 2011, where she plays surdo de terceira. This year she will also parade with Paraíso de Tuiuti, and direct Acadêmicos da Rocinha.
When asked about the significance of her position, Thaís Rodrigues replies, “I feel happy and privileged to be in an environment that was once completely male, but today I’m sure that with every year this barrier will keep being broken.”
She also comments on the potential female mestre de baterias of the future, “If any girl wants to be mestre de bateria someday, she must have dedication and love for what she does. Love is the essence of everything. Without it we are nothing. Do not lose focus and do not let anyone think you can’t do it. Nothing is impossible!”
Thaís Rodrigues has no doubts that there are plenty of women out there who will one day be where she is, “Of course there will be other drummers out there and directors too! I know girls who are super talented and have everything needed to be leading lights in this area.”
With all the excitement of the upcoming parade and full of compliments for her mestre, Vanessa Rodrigues adds, “Thaís is a very serious musician and music teacher. I feel like she deserves an honourary master’s degree somehow.”
She concludes, “She has everything it takes to be a bateria mestre and more, she can play the hell out of every single instrument, she’s strong, her sense of rhythm is rock solid and swings like only Brazilians can.”
Adding, “She understands how to put the whole bateria together and make it click with the ‘samba enredo song’ (the song to which the samba school parades), and direct it. This is a feat similar to arranging and conducting a live Broadway theater orchestra.”