Carnival is synonymous with Rio. I thought it was a public celebration of crazy costumes, people dressing up with lots drinking and partying in the streets to celebrate wildly before giving it all up for lent. Well, there is a whole lot of that going on…30 blocks worth to be exact, but Carnival is actually a once a year, high intensity competition between samba schools. Think of competitive football teams that culminate in the Super Bowl and you get the idea.
Samba City is a permanent place that was constructed by the city to house the top samba schools and to hold the annual competition. Hundreds of samba schools compete throughout the year for a warehouse space, but only the top 14 are granted, which they can keep for one year. If you don’t place in the top 14 in the competition, you’re out, and another samba schools moves in.
It’s not really a school, it’s a social club, a place for people to belong, with a common purpose towards a goal. It began as something to do for the freed slaves who had no where to go, no place to live, couldn’t get hired, who were pushed out of the city, and moved into the hills into the slum area known as the favelas. Over 25% of Rio’s residents still live in the favelas.
The roots of samba began with these people, who brought their music and dance as a way to unify the people of the city.
Each samba school has 1hr +15 minutes to parade. It goes on for two evenings, Sunday and Monday from 9pm-6am. It’s story telling…divided into chapters, and each float is a chapter. Each samba school must have six floats. In front of each float will be dancers, explaining the floats behind them. They pick a theme, develop the storyline, write the music, then design and make the costumes and dances to tell the story, for which they will be judged on all of those aspects.
Getting ready for Carnival is a year long process. There are 300 full-time employees who work for one samba club to help bring it all to fruition.
This year, this samba school developed 35 costumes to help tell their story with their six floats.
Once the design in approved, they start making 100 of each costume! Each is handmade on location in the warehouse. Do the math…that means there are 3500 participants for this one salsa club’s competition! Can you imagine the coordination that has to happen to bring this all together!? It’s such a massive scale! Here’s are a few of the amazing costumes…
Brazil is the single country with the largest Catholic community in the world. They celebrate with all things festive, before having to sacrifice. They certainly know how to party!
So get your bleacher seat tickets for the greatest show ever to watch the samba schools parade down the half mile long stretch in the Sambadrome.
Once the competition is over, the top 14 samba schools are chosen, awarded the warehouse space in Samba City, and the process starts all over again for the next year. I’m sure this would be a totally fun and crazy event and I might have to put going to this event on my bucket list, but whether I could stay up and sit in bleacher seats from 9pm – 6am won’t happen without a big nap first!