Kizomba da Vila Isabel – festival of blackness and samba

Cleber Souza, Roda de samba, 2021.


Commentary on the recently released book by Carlos Fernando Cunha, Nathalia Sarro and Vinícius Natal

“Valeu Zumbi: \ The strong cry of Palmares \ That ran across lands, skies and seas \ Influencing abolition \ Zumbi valeu \ Today the Village is Kizomba \ It's batuque, singing and dancing \ Jongo and maracatu \ Kizomba” (Rodolpho, Jonas and Luiz Carlos da Vila).

It is not new that sectors of society debate and fight for closer relations between the University (especially the public one) and the external public, an issue that should not even raise debate because it is so obvious, after all the tripod that supports the University is teaching, research and extension.

Attentive to this debate and aware of the role that must be played by a public University, a group of university professors decided to show that although samba is not taught in school, the university should open its doors to the masters of this rhythm forged in backyards, tents and hills. It was with this spirit that the Acervo Universitário do Samba project emerged in the corridors of UERJ, today coordinated by professor Andressa Lacerda and with editorial supervision by professor Luiz Ricardo Leitão, the extension project linked to the Center for Educational Technology at UERJ (CTE-UERJ) and the University's Directorate of Social Communication (Commons) has brought to the public reference works to think about samba and carnival, especially Rio.[I].

Since the launch of the first volume in 2015, the biography of the composer Aluísio Machado, written by Luiz Ricardo Leitão, the project has become a reference for those who seek to understand the development of this festival which, despite the hardships, can still be considered one of the most democratic and popular in the country. With the launch of Kizomba in Vila Isabel: festival of blackness and samba, written by Carlos Fernando Cunha, Nathalia Sarro and Vinícius Natal, the reader will have the opportunity to follow the process of building a carnival parade, from the conception of the plot to the day on which the envelopes are opened with the judges' review of the of the parade.

The reader who pores over the pages that portray this true kizomba, you will have the opportunity to follow the conception of the “epic 1988 Vila Isabel parade, certainly one of the most notable expressions of cultural resistance in Rio samba. The surprising and victorious procession is a milestone not only in the history of our festivities, but also within the community of Morro dos Macacos and the bustling land of Noel”.

Over the course of ten chapters – questions, the reader will go through the roots of Vila Isabel, learning about the trajectory of the neighborhood created in the mid-1946th century and the school founded in XNUMX, also going through the construction and idealization of the plot; allegories, fantasy and props; the composition of the plot samba, a timeless carnival classic; passing through the drums, the heart of the school, until reaching the old guard and the baianas, the mainstay of any group.

The book is accompanied by the documentary Kizomba: 30 years of a black cry in Sapucaí, directed by historian and filmmaker Nathalia Sarro, produced by the Cultural Department of GRES Unidos de Vila Isabel and which was launched in 2018 to celebrate three decades of this symbolic parade.

According to the publication's editors, “in times of profound ethnic, religious and social intolerance, in addition to spurious manifestations of racism in Brazil and abroad, it is always opportune to revisit the procession held in the year of the centenary of the alleged abolition of slavery”.[ii] For the authors of the work, “the Kizomba It didn't mark time just because it was a parade considered, by many, as one of the best that passed through Sapucaí. Furthermore, its political component, in dialogue with the 1988 Constitution, is admirable in the midst of a process of reinvention of national politics”.

According to singer and composer Martinho da Vila, one of the creators of the plot, kizomba “it is a word from Kimbundu that means the meeting of people who identify with each other at a celebration party”, according to the poet from Vila de Noel, “the ritual of kizomba singing, dancing, food and drink are inherent parts, as well as conversations in meetings and lectures that aim to meditate on common problems”.[iii]

Also according to the trio of authors, “it is worth noting that the book does not just have the intention of telling, in a reflective way and from the voices of those who marched that year, what the historic championship was like. Much more than this purpose, he also has the idea of ​​showing how a keen look at a parade can awaken us to deep reflections on blackness, samba as a project of the Brazilian nation and its social disparities and, finally, underground memories present in drawers and heads of the Vila-Isabelense samba singers”.[iv]

The authors' link with the school is a crucial point for the development of the narrative, with the profusion of academic work on the universe of samba and schools, what could be something auspicious sometimes becomes problematic, especially when the researcher is not there. present in the daily life of those places, thus failing to see the contradictions and disputes – positive and negative – that occur in those spaces. In the work in question we do not have this problem, since the trio of authors have links with the school and the neighborhood, which makes it possible to construct a narrative that encompasses all the nuances involved in the construction of a parade.

Historian and professor Vinícius Natal, grandson of Dona Ivanísia, the school's renowned composer, began attending the school's drum rehearsals, Noel's swingueira at the age of 14, there, according to him: “he learned to be a samba player, a rhythmist and a citizen through the baton by Master Mug[v] and for the affectionate affection of Tia Cirene and Tia Beta”, today Vinícius continues to work at the school as a teacher.

Historian, filmmaker and journalist Nathalia Sarro, despite not coming from a lineage of samba singers, was raised and still lives in the Noel neighborhood. Just like Vinícius Natal, Nathalia Sarro strengthened her ties with the club at the age of 14 when her mother took her to the school court to watch the samba competition. According to Nathalia Sarro, “Vila Isabel won my heart right away, a new world appeared for me there at that moment. In 2005, I discovered my place in the world, almost around the corner from home. The place where life makes more sense, and happiness takes over the entire body.” A member of the association's Cultural Department since 2014, she currently holds the position of director of the group.

Finally we have the singer, composer, teacher and researcher Carlos Fernando Cunha, who despite being the son of a man from Porto and a woman from Mangueirense was captivated by Vila at the age of thirteen when he watched the school from the land of Noel parading on the samba catwalk on television. However, it would be “from 1997 onwards, after working for a bit of time, that he would become part of the swingueira, first on the tambourine, then on the snare, until reaching the snare drum”, to this day Carlos Fernando remains firm and strong parading in the Vila Isabel association.

In the view of the authors of the work, the point that united the trio's trajectory, culminating in the commented work, “was the craft in History and the concern with the memory of part of our identity, samba and a differentiated and attentive look at the history of Villa Isabel. If there was a narrative that privileged the achievements of Baron de Drummond and the construction of a neighborhood designed on a French model, why don't we talk, for example, about the black families descending from enslaved people who, in the post-abolition period, were responsible for occupying the local hills? There is, therefore, a white privilege when telling the history of the neighborhood. For this, the Kizomba awakened us and piqued our curiosity. Where were the people who built that space and who were they, why were they silenced?”

By reading Kizomba in Vila Isabel: festival of blackness and samba, the reader will be invited to travel through the epic parade of Unidos de Vila Isabel in the 1988 carnival, with a plot written by Martinho da Vila and the unforgettable samba of the trio composed by Luiz Carlos da Vila,[vi] Jonas and Rodolpho.[vii]

In a statement given to the Cultural Department of GRES Unidos de Vila Isabel and reproduced in the book, Jonas states that after receiving the synopsis he realized that Vila was a very black school. For the authors, “despite an official history that insisted on singling Vila Isabel solely as a neighborhood that flirted with a European style and heir to a French civilizational intent,[viii] the history of black slavery was there. Ancestry sewed the streets and alleys. Morro dos Macacos and its divisions had also been quilombos, and this needed to be valued”.

Jonas also reveals that the samba of his partnership was not the school president's favorite, but had the full sympathy of Martinho da Vila who, when he traveled and was unable to follow the qualifiers, left his vote with the association's board, thus ensuring that the samba was not cut. The composer also tells the book's authors that the intention of their partnership “to exalt Princess Isabel and place her in the role of heroine of abolition, but rather to exalt Zumbi, the black struggle and its characters as protagonists”.

Before the publication of the work that crowns the trajectory of the parade that took place in 1988, the Cultural Department produced a documentary[ix] and journalist and historian Nathalia Sarro, co-author of the work, published the text Kizomba – 30 years of a black cry in Sapucaí. A plural and democratic record.[X] Considered by experts and lovers of revelry as one of the most emblematic parades of Rio's carnival, the plot that would crown the association from the land of Noel and Morro dos Macacos as champion was developed based on a lot of struggle and sweat from the school's members.

In addition to making “the black man the great victor of that carnival”, Kizomba consecrated the management of Lícia Caniné, Ruça, a PCB activist who would occupy the school's management in the power vacuum left with the departure of the banker of the animal, Captain Guimarães[xi] who would leave school taking financial capital with him. However, if the banker took the money with him, the artistic and intellectual capital remained at the school. Thus, composing themselves “with straw, fiber and joy on the asphalt of Av. Marquês de Sapucaí” the “trajectory of thousands of former slaves and their descendants” was told.

As director of the school's Cultural Department, and also one of those responsible for the documentary Kizomba: 30 years of a black cry in Sapucaí, Nathalia Sarro talks about the work in the department, bringing to light the difficulties still faced by researchers when the task is to recount the memory of the associations. “Cultural departments in general, not just Vila, face enormous difficulties in carrying out, institutionalizing, maintaining and carrying out this work. Boards often adopt a rescue speech, but do not actually commit to it. It is believed that the most direct objective of any recreational group is to raise the flag in Sapucaí or Intendente Magalhães and that carnival is also composed of ephemerality. However, this urgency structurally compromises its configuration and empties several meanings constructed over the years. We need to understand why this phenomenon happens and why it becomes so difficult to work on memory in these spaces.”

With the launch of Kizomba in Vila Isabel: festival of blackness and samba, the Acervo Universitário do Samba project continues to fulfill its mission of presenting great samba names to the public, as well as notable moments from Rio's carnival. As Nathalia Sarro rightly highlighted: “May the legacy of Kizomba continue to be eternal, which is Kizomba continue to build us. The pagoda is the popular party!”

* Daniel Costa He has a degree in History from Unifesp and is a member of the GRRC Kolombolo Diá Piratininga.


Carlos Fernando Cunha, Nathalia Sarro, Vinícius Natal. Kizomba in Vila Isabel: festival of blackness and samba. Rio de Janeiro, Mórula Editorial / Other Expressions, 2023, 368 pages. []


[I]  For more information on previous volumes see:

[ii] For the composer and intellectual Nei Lopes, who signs the preface of the work, “the Kizomba da Vila” represented, above all, a great ritual offering celebrated by Samba, Rio de Janeiro and Brazil in honor of those who the Belgian anthropologist Jan Vansina called the forgotten ancestors.”

[iii] The explanation given by Martinho can be found in the synopsis produced by Unidos de Vila Isabel for the 1988 parade and was reproduced in full in the commented publication. See pages. 30 – 43.

[iv] The trio of authors explains to the reader that during “the listening process carried out in interviews with former samba players, when asked about the most impactful moment, they all responded with a single word: Kizomba. Adjectives such as “fantastic” and “exciting” were repeated in each statement, often followed by tears in the eyes. This fact caught our attention, understanding that it was the construction of a kind of urban myth that reigned over the soul of the school”.

[v] According to the authors after Osmar Mariano, the Vila Isabel drums have the figures of Masters Ernesto and Mug “who are mainly responsible for its development, for its consolidation in terms of defining its instrument sections and rhythmic characteristics. Mug was the main driver of this process. He directed the drums for decades and was champion with Vila Isabel in 1979 (Group B), 1988, 2004 (Access Group), 2016 and 2013.”

[vi] It is important to highlight that the artistic surname “da Vila” carried by Luiz Carlos comes from his experiences in the Leopoldina region, especially the neighborhoods of Ramos and Vila da Penha, although his trajectory was marked by his relationship with the school and neighborhood of Vila Isabel.

[vii] It is worth remembering that in the same year that Vila Isabel brought the samba by Luiz Carlos da Vila, Jonas and Rodolpho to Marquês de Sapucaí, Mangueira came with the samba “One hundred years of freedom – reality or illusion?”. The samba composed by Hélio Turco, Jurandir and Alvinho would give runner-up to green and pink and its chorus is still considered one of the best of all times in Rio carnival.

[viii] The Vila Isabel neighborhood was inspired by the French model of urbanization, but as the authors themselves warn: “It is important to emphasize that the history of Vila Isabel goes beyond the construction of abolitionist streets under a European standard, but is also marked for the occupation of its hills and slopes by the children and grandchildren of enslaved people”.

[ix] The documentary Kizomba: 30 years of a black cry in Sapucaí was held in the wake of the celebrations for the thirty years of the aforementioned parade. After premiering in a session at the Rio Art Museum, the documentary was shown in theaters such as the Odeon, festivals and numerous public and private schools in the State of Rio.

[X] Nathalia Sarro's text was published in the book Samba, democracy and society. For a comment on the publication see:

[xi] According to journalists Aloy Jupiara and Chico Otávio, authors of the book The basements of misdemeanor. Jogo do bicho and military dictatorship: the story of the alliance that professionalized organized crime, Captain Guimarães was the third president of Liesa, replacing Castor de Andrade and Anísio Abraão David. Years after Ruça left the Vila presidency, he returned to exert influence over the school. In more than one period he even placed representatives in the management. He might not appear on the court, but in meetings at his house plots were decided and sambas were chosen. Another case involving Guimarães is narrated by journalist Leonardo Bruno, “The dispute was tense. Not only because of the quality of the works, but because behind the scenes at the school they witnessed a silent war between two game leaders. Captain Guimarães, recently arrived in Vila, threatened the reign of Waldemir Garcia, known as Miro, honorary president of the blue and white club, where he had been since the 1960s. Traditionally, it was Miro who chose the Vila's winning samba. But opinions, in the 1985 contest, were conflicting: Miro preferred Pedrinho da Flor's samba, while Guimarães wanted David Corrêa to win. The divergence almost ended in blood. Guimarães managed to impose his desire and Miro decided to permanently move away from Vila Isabel. The way out for the Garcia family was to take refuge in a nearby school: Salgueiro, which would be run by him for the next twenty years.”

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