In order to understand samba, the symbol of Brazil and the Brazilian Carnival, you need to know some facts about the Brazilian history. During the 17th century West African slaves were brought in Bahia, Salvador to replace the indigenous prisoners working on plantations. They kept the African religion and culture alive through song and dance. Although they were converted to Catholicism, spiritual elements were preserved, which led to the creation of Candomble. After slavery was abolished by the king Dom Pedro II, a part of the black population migrated south towards Rio de Janeiro. At the end of the 19th century they were established near Praza Onze, only a few blocks away from my hostel.
On the street where I go to the supermarket, Tia Ciata, the mother of samba, held parties. The first samba song, Pelo Telefono, was composed by several musicians during one of these parties. The Candomble that used percussion mixed with the Portuguese music that used string instruments.
The style`s fame grew until it conquered the white middle class, even though at first it was discriminated because of its black roots. Samba became internationally famous thanks to Carmen Miranda, supported by the Vargas government and the US Good Neighbor Policy. Afterwards it became the symbol of the Brazilian Carnival. Because samba was born in the area where I live, the Sambodromo where the carnaval parade takes place is located in this neighborhood. Also, the first samba school was created here. Now there are 22 schools in Rio.
On Friday I visited this school. Every week they rehearse for the main event of the year. Every school has a queen and a king of samba. Each school sends representatives and two of them become the royal couple of the Carnaval. The queen is a always a gorgeous girl, while the king is a symbol of excess. The entire community participates to the school, either in the band, either dancing or making sure that everything goes well. Every year all the schools from Rio march during the parade and they are rewarded grades based on several criteria.
People of all ages are a part of the ritual. At first the elder dance in a circle, wearing clothes similar to Tia Ciata`s. Then a group of women wearing white dresses dance in the middle of the circle. They go out of the ring and are followed by the young members, wearing red glittery costumes. After a while the queen dances in the middle of the group. In the meantime the orchestra formed of tens of people playing percussion instruments and only a few playing strings creates a crazy rhythm.
I think that the most surprising fact is that they weren`t dancing for the crowd, they were dancing for themselves, smiling as always. It was a very intense night and I think that every person who comes to Brazil should try to visit a samba school. Even though there are samba schools all over the world, I doubt that many countries can defeat Brazil`s enthusiasm and joy of dancing.
Today is the National Day of Samba. People gather either at Roda do Samba where they sing and dance in a circle, either they go to Oswaldo Cruz (1 hour away by train) for a massive street party. Unfortunately I am working tonight and I won`t be able to attend this parties, so no stories about these events. maybe next year!