samba and carnival



Samba, on its way to hegemony, would dominate Carnival, which, until 1917, was danced and paraded to the sound of other genres.

The advent of samba

The cultural industry and mass society gained a powerful boost thanks to transformations of all kinds, but above all technological and social, which, triggered by the impact of the First World War (1914-1918), knew an unprecedented acceleration in the subsequent years of peace .

It is in a climate of popular cultural fermentation that the musical genres that would come to identify various nationalities throughout the XNUMXth century were created: North American jazz, Brazilian samba, Argentinean-Uruguayan tango and so on. All of them are born in port metropolises and even in their port areas. They are similar in their ability to merge disparate influences and ethnic profiles that were previously free of contact, or even conflicting.

Nothing is more distant than the slave masters' ballroom dancing and African festivities, or Cuban music and military bands playing on the bandstands in the squares. However, the ports are melting pots: sailors and merchants bring from abroad the new tune, the unpublished rhythm, the choreography never tried. Amalgamated with the native models in the bars and brothels of the harbor, they will result in another aesthetic form, which is neither the outside nor the inside, but a precipitate that remains at the bottom of this crucible. They are commonly hybrid or syncretic.

The elements at play in the humus of these national popular music genres are invariably the same. A large port, a pollination place for different music and different origins. The ongoing modernization process, leading to changes in the city's panorama and customs. A powerful urban popular culture in the making, served by an incipient and informal entertainment industry, eager for material to serve a basic form of sociability like dance.

New technological vehicles, in this case the disc, the phonograph and the radio, the latter not by chance named Broadcast, which broadened their reach and publicized them. A class merger, or an unevenness[I], which occurs when a creation expands its sphere of action beyond the class that originated it, resulted in a type of art coming from the fringes of society (marginals, prostitutes, ruffians, in the most flagrant cases ex-slaves) being absorbed or appropriated by dominant groups, guaranteeing it a virtually egalitarian horizon, or ideally democratic.

In Brazil, Mário de Andrade observed that Ernesto Nazareth abhorred that his compositions were called maxixes, which they resembled, due to the bad reputation of this ballroom dance. But the composer demanded that they be called tangos, which they didn’t even resemble: “I’ve been imagining that this was the susceptibility of someone who doesn’t know that tango itself originated in the revelries of the Montevideo port between the changueira seafarers and the white, mulatto and abuna women, professional girls”.[ii]

This is how, among countless others and in different quarters, jazz – the most important of all – was born in New Orleans, samba in Rio de Janeiro, fado in Lisbon, tango in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, and rebétiko in Piraeus, port of Athens. The first recorded samba and the first jazz record even share the same year: 1917.

Everything happens as if the new genre – popular song that defines a national cultural identity –, instead of continuing to evolve to get lost in the fragmentary and elusive anonymity of folkloric practices, was immediately stabilized on the record, thus becoming a commodity that would extraordinarily dynamize the nascent market.

The concept of authorship, unknown in folklore, would be extended to the new genre. Its social function would also be adapted to the needs of an urban sociability, developed in a big city and, therefore, concomitant to a mass culture. In the case of Brazil, with notable mediations coined, as will be seen later, by the presence of a huge contingent of former slaves flocking to the then capital of the country, Rio de Janeiro, and gradually imposing their customs, their merriment, their music.

Samba, on its way to hegemony, would dominate Carnival, which, until 1917, when it was already the biggest party in Rio de Janeiro, was danced and paraded to the sound of other genres, whether waltzes, choros or dubados. Henceforth, such a perfect fusion of samba and Carnival leaves little room for anyone to imagine what Carnival would be like without samba.

And, without samba, how could there be samba schools?


What's in a name?

The headquarters of the samba schools in Rio de Janeiro are located either in the central hills or in the proletarian suburbs. Each neighborhood has its own samba school, and this identification is so important that, as a general rule, the toponym usually appears in the name of the school, each one demarcating its territory: Estação Primeira de Mangueira; Beija-Flor from Nilópolis; Pilares Caprichosos; Cartolinhas de Caxias; Academics from Engenho da Rainha; Union of Ilha do Governador; Independent Youth of Padre Miguel; Academicians of Salgueiro; Portela, which is located on the road of the same name; Império Serrano, located in Morro da Serrinha, in Madureira; Imperatriz Leopoldinense (here, suburban railroad, named after the consort of Emperor Pedro I). The latter is on the edge of the line of that name, but in the neighborhood of Ramos, as it replaced the old block Recreio de Ramos.

This creates surprising verbal arrangements that are an integral part of its charm. As they are also required by a police ordinance from 1935[iii] putting the label Grêmio Recreativo ahead, end up with the sumptuous name of, for example, Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Estação Primeira de Mangueira, Mangueira being the hill where the favela is located, while “Estação Primeira” alludes to the Estrada station. of Ferro Central do Brasil. Or Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Educativa Império da Tijuca. They thus become an important element of suburban identities, struggling to assert themselves in the indifference of the metropolis that dissolves individualities, being incomparable in the regimentation of local pride, that is, of parochialism.

The malicious and challenging titles, which used to predominate, were gradually abandoned due to the attempt, which turned out to be successful, to acquire respectability, to lose the stigma of marginality and crime that clung to the mestizo population. It is enough to observe that the primitive onomastics, such as Leave Falar (the first samba school, which brought together several blocks that were previously independent and ended up not succeeding), Vai Como Pode (which would become one of the superschools, Portela), Primeiro Nós – a block that was one of the forerunners of Império Serrano –, Para o Ano Sai Melhor, Vizinha Faladeira, Quem Fala de Nós Come Mosca, came in most cases to be replaced or supplanted. Even the venerable Mangueira, the oldest of those existing today and a bastion of tradition, left the Arengueiros block.

The current anecdote about the origin of the title of Em Cima da Hora is illustrative of the various itineraries taken, sometimes totally random, before a decision is taken. After a noisy and endless dispute over the choice of name, one of the founders, having to work very early, seeing that it was already three o'clock in the morning and nothing was in sight, warned that it was just in time. Eureka! It was a real baptism, and so the school's emblem became a clock whose hands show a 3 and a 12.[iv]

When these associations officially began to be called samba schools, in 1935, the year in which the parade was taken over by the city of Rio, the new label came to embody certain aspirations. Malice and challenge are discarded in favor of something circumspect and organizational: the newly invented category (school) is a whole platform. To obliterate the memory of the blocks and rows of rioters, who used to turn revelry into a fight, nothing is more appropriate than the innocence of the term, which carried a pedagogical connotation. In the formulation of seasoned sambistas, commenting on the reasons for acquiring the new title: “With that, appearances were saved”.[v]

But traces of this provocative attitude remain in the cognomens of the most renowned sambistas. Now it is the instrument in which they are experts to characterize them: Paulinho da Viola, famous composer from Porto; Nelson Cavaquinho, no less famous composer from Mangueirense; Mano Décio da Viola, also from Império Serrano. Now it constitutes the ethnic mark: Sebastião Molequinho, Neguinho da Beija-Flor, Manuel Macaco, Sagui, Meia-noite, Doce de Leite, Manuel Mulatinho. Others would appear later, especially singers, such as Black-Out, Chocolate, Noite Ilustrada, Jamelão – named after a small purple fruit –, a brilliant professional of old age who became a veritable institution, as for several decades he has been the “puller ” of the Mangueira parade, singing the samba-enredo on the avenue. Now it constitutes the satire that mocks the color of the skin through an antonym, as in the case of Alvaiade and Brancura – the latter, notable for wearing exclusively starched 120 linen suits, dazzling with whiteness, which made a beautiful contrast with his dark complexion.

Sometimes they are allusions to appearance or behavior, generally rascals: Manuel Bambambã (from the Kimbundu mbamba-mbamba, which means bully, good at fighting), who closed the rear of his school, Portela, preventing it from being attacked from behind when crossing territories of other schools,[vi] Pingo, Buruca Calça Larga, Carlos Cachaça (illustrious composer from Mangueirense), Boquinha, Jurandir Doidinho, Antenor Gargalhada, Casadinho, Geraldo Babão, Cartola, author of incomparable sambas. Or the links with a certain suburb, as in the case of Martinho da Vila, one of the greatest composers – who started at Aprendizes in Boca do Mato, close to Serra dos Pretos Forros, the Rio de Janeiro suburb where he and the other members of the school lived –, and Carlinhos Maracanã, Portuguese and bicheiro, who was president of Portela for 23 years.

Why did João da Gente get the nickname Gogó de Ouro? For being a great repentista and "taking verses" for the second part of the school's samba, at the time when only the first part was composed beforehand, the second being free and improvised at the moment. It is more debatable why Zeca Taboca came to be called Brinco. In homage to Noel Rosa, the greatest of all composers of popular music, Noel Rosa de Oliveira was baptized, reputed author of sambas-enredo. And yet, among others, the great Pixinguinha, a musical genius as a composer and virtuoso of the seven instruments, Furunga, Cadeado, Baiaco, or Bide (Alcebíades Barcelos, from Estácio de Sá and from Leave Falar, shoe factory worker, introducer of tambourine and inventor of the surdo, extraordinary composer and percussionist, requested for recordings for decades), Hugo Mocorongo, Mestre Fuleiro, Vinte-e-Oito, Sete, Pituca, Mário Upa, Bicho Novo, Gemeu, Carlinhos Bem-Te-Vi, Espírito -do-Mal, Amor (name of war of Getúlio Marinho), Brilhozinho, Caboré.

The catalog ends with two of the greatest and legendary customers of the samba circle at Tia Ciata's house and, as such, members of the collective that composed the much-disputed award of being the first recorded samba, over the phone. Bearers of beautiful names: João da Baiana and Heitor dos Prazeres – and the latter, oddly enough, is a civil name and not a nickname.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reading and rereading (Sesc\Ouro over Blue).

Excerpts from the book Walnice Nogueira Galvão. To the sound of samba – a reading of the carioca carnival. São Paulo, Perseu Abramo Foundation, 2009.


[I] For the notion of “unevenness”, see the debate between Mário de Andrade and Roger Bastide, especially “A modinha e Lalo” and “O desnivelamento da modinha”, in Andrade, Mário de, Music, sweet music. São Paulo, Martins, 1963; and Mello e Souza, Gilda de, The tupi and the lute, São Paulo, Two Cities, 1979.

[ii] Andrade, op. cit., P. 125.

[iii] Jório, Amaury and Araújo, Hiram. Samba schools in parade – Life, passion and luck. Rio de Janeiro, Polygraphic, 1969, p. 28.

[iv] Araújo, Hiram (org.). memory of carnival. Rio de Janeiro, Riotur, 1991, p. 261.

[v] Jório and Araújo, op. cit., P. 141.

[vi] According to the testimony of the sambista Candeia, in Cabral, Sérgio, The samba schools of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Lumiar, 1996.



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