Feb 25, 2022
8 mins read
Welcome to The Brazilian Way, our first culture newsletter exclusively for our Buy Me a Coffee Community. Here, we aim to bring you an insightful and entertaining overview of several aspects of Brazilian culture.
To start with a bang, our first edition will be all about Carnival, Brazil's most famous national party. In our upcoming issues, we intend to navigate through Brazil's rich popular traditions, music scenes, literature, art, and cinema. All to make you feel more at home in Brazil — or less homesick, in case you are a Brazilian discovering the world.
From March on, this newsletter will be exclusively for Brazilian Insider members of our Buy Me a Coffee community. This edition is a sample of the type of content you'll find at this membership level and we’d greatly appreciate it if you could take a look!
If you like our work and would like to keep receiving updates like this newsletter, please consider becoming a member.
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How to make the greatest show on Earth
Carnival is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a proper glimpse at the Brazilian spirit. The festivities last for five days, ending on Ash Wednesday and taking different shapes throughout the country. But few parties are more glamorous than the breathtaking samba parades, filled with music, dance, and extravagant floats and costumes. But what few people know, is that these samba parades aren't just big televised parties — they are also tightly fought competitions, for which Brazil's "samba schools" prepare a year in advance.
In our latest YouTube video, we did an overview of how the samba parades came to be. But to you, members of our Buy Me a Coffee Community, we'll explain the inner workings of the most beautiful tournament ever, with the details that make all the difference to understand what is going on.
We hope that, once this pandemic is over, you can be part of this amazing experience. And that this newsletter helps you to enjoy it on a deeper level.
What's at stake?
Parade rehearsals start months before the first drums sound in the sambódromo (the venues specially designed for the parade) and they are a lot more organized than they seem.
First, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have organized Carnival championships, with the cities' schools split into two divisions, not unlike football leagues.
🥇 The first division winners are crowned the year's champions
🔙 The schools at the bottom of the first are relegated to the second division
🏆 Or, if you are in the second division, the top placed schools are promoted to the first division.
While Rio de Janeiro holds the most famous parades, São Paulo is where the party actually begins, with top division parades happening on Friday and Saturday nights. The second division then parades on Sunday and Monday. In Rio de Janeiro, it happens the other way round. Those who watch it on the TV get the crème-de-la-crème, as broadcasters exhibit only São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro's premier leagues.
The planning for those four days happens a year in advance, with schools choosing the theme for their parade, preparing all the costumes, creating original songs, and, of course, doing countless rehearsals. It may seem too much, but every single minute of prepping counts. Scroll down to know why.
The anatomy of the parade
Looking at the parade from above, with all the movement, bright colors, and everything flowing seamlessly, it is hard to imagine just how precise the samba schools are able to perform. But, trust us, the parade has a lot more in common with an industrial-scale engineering operation than you might think!
So you can have an idea of size and scope, each samba school can have up to 3,200 members in Rio, while São Paulo has no upper limit for the number of people participating. Now, consider that you have seven schools presenting their spectacles each night and you can start to have a glimpse of what the logistics involve.
But while the sheer number of people does not make it easier, bringing them to the venue is nothing compared to the challenge of maneuvering the massive carnival floats, known as carros alegóricos. Such structures can be 10 meters wide in Rio, and as tall as broadcasting towers allow. Rules require each school to have at least five. Unfortunately, it is quite common to have mechanical issues, which can often ruin a school's chances.
That's because the entire parade is on the clock! Each school has a little over an hour to cross the 500m-long venue in São Paulo. In Rio, the challenge is even bigger, as the Sapucaí sambódromo is 700m long. If they take longer or less time than that to cross it, they lose points.
It can be hard to measure the dimensions when the party is underway, but check out this aerial view of São Paulo's Anhembi for a full picture:
And if you think that this is harsh, here comes the best part: there are nine criteria by which every school is evaluated by several referees. They are:
📝 Storytelling: here, referees evaluate if the parade was a good interpretation of the story they chose to tell
🎤 Samba-enredo: almost the same as storytelling, but applied to the lyrics and tune of their original samba song
⏳ Evolution: plainly speaking, it means ensuring the parade flows well, without visible disruption.
🌈 Harmony: it is the most subjective criterion. Referees pay attention to the singers' interpretation and evaluate if all the members performed accordingly during the entire show
🏰 Floats and props: evaluates the beauty of carros alegóricos and if they helped the audience to understand the story.
🦄 Costumes: they evaluate both the creativity and the finishings — no tears, stains, or dancers without costumes are allowed!
👯 Front commission: they evaluate the performance of a highly choreographed spectacle that opens the parade
💃🕺 Mestre-sala and Porta-bandeira: the couple of dancers who carry the school's flag. They are evaluated according to their dance moves and coordination.
🥁 Drums: the literal heart of a samba school, the drums are evaluated for their musical performance.
The moment of truth
The spectacle may be over once the last school leaves the sambódromo, but not the party. That's because the votes must be counted to finally know who are the year's champions.
In São Paulo, the organizers get together at the Anhembi sambódromo on Tuesday afternoon, while the same happens in Rio on Wednesday. And, honestly, counting the votes can be as exciting as the parade itself.
Both events are broadcasted, including live reactions at school's headquarters. Not unlike the Eurovision Song Contest, the vote counting process is just as exciting as the competition itself.
Check out this video to feel a bit of the energy:
Of course, the champions' party all day long and, later the best schools get together during the Parade of the Champions, which happens a week later.
Our co-founder and Head of Development Laura Quirin has been to the Champion's Parade and recalls her experience as "one of the best experiences I've ever had in my life".
She also notes that, if you stop by Brazil, taking part in the rehearsals that happen during the year is a great way to feel the Carnival's vibe, to see the development of the team, and to enjoy a lot of Brazilian music and food — even if you can't be here during the most festive days of the year.
⭐Pro tip: Did you know that you can also take part in a Carnival parade?
Brazilians or foreigners who are not regular associates of samba schools can enjoy the experience! All you have to do is get in touch with a school and purchase a uniquely-crafted costume. However, bear in mind that you are likely to be positioned at the end of the parade, as strategic spots are saved for members of the community or celebrities.
The couch parade
Once again, due to Covid-19, Carnival will be different this year, with the parades happening in April. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the next four days to have some (responsible) fun or simply relax. We have a few tips for those who wish to enjoy calmer days in Brazil, or abroad:
📸 Worldwide famous photographer Sebastião Salgado has just premiered a new exhibition in São Paulo's Sesc Pompéia, after displaying his most recent work in Paris, Rome, and London. "Amazônia" is a series of over 200 images of the forest, its biodiversity, and its people, accompanied by an original soundtrack composed by French photographer Jean-Michel Jarre. Brazilian-based fans can visit the exhibition until July 10, 2022 and, UK-based fans can enjoy it in London's Science Museum until March 20. Click here to see some of the pictures.
🎶 What about using this time to discover what's new in the Brazilian pop scene? Our brand specialist, Natália Tomé Scalzaretto, recommends listening to Marina Sena. She became famous in 2021 with her single Por Supuesto, from her first solo album De Primeira. Since then, her sweet voice coupled with strong love song lyrics and vibing melodies turned her into one of the bright stars of the Brazilian pop scenario. It's definitely worth a try.
📹 Movie and Carnival fans can enjoy this occasion to revisit 1959s "Black Orpheus". This worldwide famous classic by French director Marcel Camus matches the ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to Brazilian Carnival, in an Academy-Awards-winning combination.
🎬 Now, if you are really into digging deeper into the Carnival vibe, our politics reporter Amanda Audi recommends a classic: 2007 movie "Ó Paí, Ó". The comedy tells the story of the inhabitants of a building in downtown Salvador, who are having fun on the last day of Carnival when one of the neighbors gets bothered by the party and decides to cut their water supply. It is an amazing choice if you want to have a light-hearted holiday!