Carnival is the ultimate expression of what it is to be Brazilian. It is a joyous celebration of all that is Brazilian in a festival that is awaited by everyone, in which people can be – at least for a few days – whoever they want to be.
Carnival is time to get rid of all worries. Enjoy the holiday, party hard, listen to loud music, and dance until the feet hurt. In most of the Brazilian cities it is really like this; even the scalding sun doesn´t stop people from celebrating.
For the Escolas de Samba (Samba Schools), however, it is not yet time to rest. Until the last grade is given by the last judge and the champion is chosen, there is still a lot of stress on the way. After all, Carnaval (Portuguese word for Carnival) is not only about having fun: there is a lot of hard work into it.
The Escolas de Samba are not literally schools, but associations in which hundreds of people rehearse during the year to compete on the Carnival parades in February.
The Escolas de Samba Parades are organized following some principles:
1. There are two days of parades, and each School has 80 minutes to go through the whole avenue and show everyone what they´ve got. The thousands of spectators are everywhere around the avenue in hope of watching the greatest spectacle they´ve ever seen.
2. The Rio de Janeiro parades – the most famous in Brazil – happen in the Sambódromo da Marquês de Sapucaí, an avenue specially planned for this, which is about 700 meters long and became Brazil´s most famous stage for celebrations.
3. The Escolas de Samba have some components that are always part of the parades. Among them are:
- Enredo: the theme of the parade. The themes vary according to what the schools want: they can be about forests or Japan, Mermaids or Brazilian colonization. Bottom line: the schools choose a theme and tell a story – it doesn´t matter what the theme is, as long as the story is good.
- Samba-enredo: the song that is played during the parade. It should explain the theme, should have a nice melody and get into everyone´s minds. It repeats during the 80 minutes of the parade and by the end of it every one already knows it by heart.
- Comissão de frente: the group of people that leads the whole Escola de Samba and introduce them to the audience.
- Alegorias: cars that have a big colorful structure over them and that carry people, called the destaques (spotlights). The carros alegóricos (allegoric cars) are usually carried by hidden people, so that the risk of it not working during the parade is smaller.
- Mestre-sala and porta-bandeira: a couple that dance in a graceful manner, with a special performance in front of the judges. The porta-bandeira is the woman that carries the flag of the samba school.
- Bateria: the drum section, which consists of hundreds of people playing a variety of drums, that keep the rhythm for the parade. Leading it there is always the Rainha da Bateria, the Queen of the Drums, usually famous Brazilian actresses.
- Performer: the man who sings the samba during the parade.
4. The judges evaluate the schools for their performances, song, costumes and many other categories – and each person that is part of the Escola de Samba is important. So whatever happens, everyone must keep singing, dancing and smiling. Not just for themselves, but for the good of the entire school.
After one year of hard work and rehearsals, each Escola de Samba tries to be more extravagant than the other – all of them seeking for perfection. In the Brazilian Carnival Parades, the plane becomes glamorous, the work becomes fun and the world´s biggest party becomes a competition.
* The front image was originally posted to Flickr by $ergio Luiz at http://flickr.com/photos/35699605@N00/399791856