Yeay!!! Brazilian Carnival is here! Friday and Saturday was São Paulo's turn to showcase its lavish parades and yesterday and today is Rio's.
It looks fun and straight forward to anyone looking in, but Carnival is a lot more. It's actually a big competition in between the samba schools, which all go to great lengths to make sure they have the biggest allegoric cars, songs, costumes and routines.
Each school usually represents an area of town so they have a loyal following and people are connected to them or members for most of their lives if not the whole of it. It's like supporting your local football team, and as you know, the Brazilian love for the beautiful game verges on obsession. Each school chooses a theme and must tell a story through their song and parade. Each performance is divided in the traditional 'alas' (sections), each telling a piece of the narrative.
First you have 'Comissão de Frente' (Front Commission), this is a group of up to 15 dancers and their job is to introduce the theme through a choreography. Following this group you sometimes have the 'Carro de Frente’ (Front Allegoric Car) marking the beginning of the tale. This is the only section that is mandatory in this particular order, the other 'alas' can move around and occupy different stages of the narrative.
'Ala das Baianas' (Bahiana Ladies) is one of the most important elements of the parade. They make reference to the Brazilian Aunts - ladies in traditional gear. You can still see some of them in the North East of Brazil, one of the first places colonized by the Portuguese. 'Baianas' exude our strong African heritage gained due to the masses of African slaves brought in by our colonizers to work in the sugar cane plantations. This 'ala' is also about remembering where we come from. The costumes are pimped versions of the traditional all white gear and they can weigh up to 30 kilos each! The Baianas rotate their massive gowns around in a beautiful display of sparkles and colours.
'A Bateria' is, of course, the drums band. Samba doesn't exist without drums. They are the guys that provide the music to the party and if you have ever heard a 'bateria' you know just how powerful they can be. In front of them you have 'A Rainha da Bateria' (the Drums' Queen). This is a position coveted by many Brazilian women, therefore a position of honour to the one chosen, and it's always occupied by the most beautiful woman in the school or a celebrity. By default their custom is usually a sparkly bikini and many feathers. While this might seem an easy job, it means dancing for hours in high heels and the chosen queens train for months to keep their stamina through the parade. Somewhere around the 'Bateria' you also have the singers and maestro who conduct the drums and, obviously, sing the 'enredo' - the theme of the story.
'Mestre-Sala and Porta-Bandeira' is the couple displaying the school's flag in what I like to call 'the Brazilian Carnival black-tie attire' which makes reference to the colonial times and how they use to dress back then, albeit in an exaggerated way.
And then you have 'Velha Guarda' (the Old Guard), these are the old boys who have been part of the school for many years. It is, again, a type of honour as it gives credit to those who have participated or contributed in some way to the history of Carnival. They tend to be dressed in smart suits in symbolic colours and panama hats.
Here is a taster of this year's Carnival for you. Ignore the commentary in Portuguese and let your eyes feast. This is 'Gaviões da Fiel' ( São Paulo Samba School) and their theme this year tells the story of ex-Brazilian President Lula from his poor upbringing to his raise to power. Can you spot the different 'alas'?
You have to admit... It's pretty impressive. I know, I'm utterly and completely biased. ^_^
ARCHIVE: Brazilian Carnival 2011