Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Monday, January 28, 2008


Fresh on the heels of my Israel-Brazil urban musings, I have to come clean: I'm back in Rio one last time before plunging into full thesis writing mode, and have the great fortune of being here for Carnaval 2008. I'm staying in Rocinha again, where it's been impossible to avoid advertisements for this year's samba enredo (story samba, the performance in the official parade at the Sambódromo) by G.R.E.S. Acadêmicos da Rocinha. This year they've chosen to honor the community's nordestino (northeastern) heritage -- internal migration has pushed many northeasterners out of the region, Brazil's poorest, and into the big cities.

G.R.E.S. Acadêmicos da Rocinha - Rocinha é minha vida, Nordeste é minha historia

It begins with a forró flourish and then dives into the elaborate ways that Rocinha and the Northeast are tied together. It's a pretty good samba even though I don't like forró that much and I'll be interested to see how it fares on Saturday night at the Series A & B parade, when Rocinha will strut its stuff on the big stage.

I may not make it to the Sambódromo that night -- angling for Super Bowl (Super Samba?) Sunday, to see the Grupo Especial heavyweights like Mangueira -- but I did go this past Saturday, just a few days after arriving, to the final dress rehearsal at their quadra, where the samba school practices, at the base of Rocinha.

The pounding drums of the bateria

Portas-bandeira (flag-bearers)

Costumed dancers

This year's queen of the bateria

Her scantily-clad highness segues appropriately into the passistas, the best dancers in the school, who when female, also wear very little (freer hips swing faster?)

The headline act for the evening, meanwhile, was popular sambista Dudu Nobre, one of the official commentators on the parade for the Globo network, as I saw advertised on TV the next day.

Earlier in the day at the Saturday Rocinha fair I picked up a CD (pirated, of course) on which he covers famous sambas enredo from across the last century.

Dudu Nobre - 100 Anos de Liberdade: Realidade ou Ilusão?

This was Mangueira's 1988 samba, commemorating -- and questioning -- the 100th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. A good samba at its best can be a very bold and public statement of politics or social values, although criticism has mounted against escolas de samba in general over the last couple decades, especially since the opening of the Sambódromo in the mid-80s (financed by the Rio government's tourism arm). Every year the tickets get more expensive (i.e. tourists and not locals attending the parades), the routines are more rigidly choreographed, there are more and more professional dancers and musicians, and in short, the spontaneous spirit of samba and the physical presence of the communities that these schools supposedly represent seems to be eroding.

I had a chip on my shoulder about samba when I first came to Rio, captivated as I was by this elusive thing called funk. I've been to enough bailes now that as of last summer I wanted to discover more of the samba world, but didn't find much going on in July and August, as it was just before the rehearsals began. Now, in full Carnaval season, samba is everywhere. That's no reason not to still think critically, but it's plenty of reason to enjoy as the big weekend approaches.

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