By Vânia Maciel, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The biggest party on Earth may have its roots in humble religious context, but it has developed into a fantastically elaborate competition of Samba schools. The Rio Carnival may also seem like second nature to Cariocas (people from Rio), but to help visitors and expats understand it, a small glossary of terms will help.

Salgueiro's mestre-sala & porta-bandeira
Salgueiro's mestre-sala & porta-bandeira, Carnival 2010, photo by Sfmission/Flickr Creative Commons License.

It is a competition, and the Grupo Especial (Special Group) consists of twelve of the top Samba schools in Rio. They compete at the Sambódromo over the last two days of Carnival, judged on ten criteria.

The criteria in alphabetical order is as follows:
Alegoria – props and floats.
Bateria – a percussion instrument ensemble in a bloco or samba school.
Comissão de frente – the front of a samba school. It is normally formed by fifteen to twenty people who introduce the plot and and salute the public.
Conjunto – (the whole) the criteria evaluating how the samba school is parading as a whole.
Enredo – the plot, where a story is told, or the theme of a samba school parade.
Evolução – (evolution) the fluency of a samba school while parading, its cohesion, speed, and also the spontaneity, creativity, excitement and vibrancy of paraders.
Fantasia – carnival costumes.
Harmonia – (harmony) the interplay between rhythm and singing while a samba school parades.
Mestre-sala – the master of ceremonies, he dances around the porta-bandeira drawing attention to her and the school’s flag. His interaction with her is an evaluation criteria.
Porta-bandeira – the flag carrier, always female, dressed in a court attire.
Samba-enredo – theme song.

Portela bateria 2010
Portela's bateria, carnival 2010, photo by Sfmission/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Outside of the above set of important terms, there are also an entire set of terms that might come up in conversation about Carnival. This is by no means a complete dictionary, just the short list.

Abre-alas – the section opener, first float of a samba school.
Ala – a samba school section, a defined group of samba school components usually wearing the same costumes and performing the same choreography.
Ala das Baianas – a traditional section, a tribute the older ladies of samba schools who had harbored samba school components when samba was marginalized. Traditional dress of women from the state of Bahia.
Avenida – (avenue) referring to Sapucaí Avenue, where Rio’s sambodrome is located, also used to refer to the Sambadrome itself. Sapucaí is also used.
Barracão – samba school industrial workshop where all costumes, props and floats for the parade are made.
Batucada – a spontaneous drum playing gathering. Usually found on many corners around Rio during carnival or other festivities.
Bloco – organized carnival revellers troupe, very informal, can be followed.
Canarvalesco – carnival parade designer.
Cidade do Samba – a government-built industrial carnival complex, it contains all the barracões of the samba schools from the Grupo Especial (Special Group).
Concentração – where the samba school gathers and organizes itself prior to the parade.
Destaque – the VIPs with specially-designed costumes that ride on the floats.
Puxador – (puller) the lead-singer who will sing the theme song in the parade, leading all the other samba school components.
Quadra – samba court.
Rainha da bateria – the queen of the drum ensemble, a position normally taken by a famous actress.
Repique or repinique – a two headed high pitched Brazilian drum.
Sambódromo – Sambadrome, where the samba schools parade.
Surdo – Brazilian bass drum, the heart of a bateria.
Velha guarda – a samba school section formed by its elders, samba school founders, composers, former samba school directors, usually men dressed in suits and panama style hats.


  1. Vania, fantastic job! Many of us who’ve been here a long time don’t know the meanings of some of those terms.


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