The Samba parade conducted at the Sambodromo is made up of competing schools and each school’s routine is made up of a number of elements, which form the basis on which the individual school’s performance is judged.
Besides the schools that take part, the parade has a number of other crucial players. The Carnival King or “Rei Momo”, inaugurates the Carnival celebrations, when the key of the city is handed over to him. A number of women compete for the title of Carnival Queen, a beautiful, confident and superior Samba dancer, who is supposed to more than anything else, embody the spirit of Carnival.
The many facets of a Samba school parade
Each school’s Samba show is made up of thousands of performers, so it is essential that each person knows exactly what their part is and carries it out in a timely manner to ensure the overall success of the school’s parade.
Once the theme for the year is chosen, the role of the Carnival Designer or “Carnavalesco” begins. He is responsible for ensuring that the design of every costume, float and accessory is magnificent and representative of the theme. He oversees the rehearsals and choreography and is responsible for the direction and production of the entire performance.
The participants of the parade are split into various groups, each having a particular role. These are called the Wings or “Alas” of the parade and can be composed of between 20 and 100 people. Each Ala will wear a particular costume and perform the same role.
The Front Commission
The wing that opens the school’s parade is known as the Vanguard Commission or the Front Commission and their performances are very skillfully put together, as this is the first impression the school gives to the audience and judges. Each wing has its own president whose responsibility it is to make sure that the costumes are produced on time and as per the instructions of the Carnavalesco. He is also in charge of the sales of the particular wing’s costumes.
The Flag Bearer and Her Escort
The Flag Bearer or “Porta-bandeira” who carries the school’s flag and her symbolically appointed protector or “Mestre-sala” are usually the most highly skilled dancers.
The Queen and the School Godmother
The Queen or “Rainha” of the Samba school leads the procession in her elaborate costume. Sometimes schools have a Godmother or “Madrinha” who has been with the school for a long period of time. Some schools have even had a godmother as old as 72 years in the samba parade.
In between the wings are usually 8 and 10 floats, which are highly decorated according to the theme and often carry special guests.
The school’s “Bateria” is its 250 – 300 strong percussion band, mainly composed of drummers that are like the pounding heart of the school. This group is led by the Queen of the Drummers, a beautiful Samba dancer, who brings in the percussionists, and is supposed to inspire them to perform well. The Sound Truck carries the Vocalists – usually led by a powerful lead male vocal – who sing the Samba school’s theme song over powerful mikes.
The Samba Dancers or “Passistas” are amongst the best dancers of the school and this group usually numbers no more than 20, as it is extremely difficult to do justice to the fast paced Samba while participating in a slow moving parade.
The Sambodromo has an area reserved for each school to warm up before the parade begins. Known as the “concentração”, this is where the pre-show excitement of the performers is palpable. The atmosphere is one of joy mixed with eager anticipation.
The Samba Song
The Samba song is practiced for many months by the school, before it is performed at the Rio Carnival. The song must be representative of the theme that the Samba school has chosen for the year and during the competition the song is judged on this, its lyrics and melody. By Christmas time or around 2 months before Carnival celebrations the school brings out a record of its theme song for sale.
In the specially designed Sambodromo around 70000 spectators watch the show from bleachers, cabins or enclosed boxes and cheer for their favorite school. If you book in advance and buy the required Samba costume, you could participate in one of the school’s parades instead of merely being a spectator. The incident is sure to be a once in a life time experience.
The judges who are located along the Sambodromo Avenue, judge the schools in categories that number 10, ranging from the Samba song to the flag bearer’s performance.