On Your Marquês
(from January 12, 2011)
I had been back in Rio de Janeiro for a whopping total of 5 days when I found myself at the corner of Rua Benedicto Hipólito and Rua Marquês de Sapucaí, sporting my prized official Rocinha bateria shirt and warming up with 200 other drummers getting ready to run through our parade in front of THOUSANDS of people!! Life moves fast in Rio – go hard or go home, I say!
Let me give you a bit of background on this. If you’re from pretty much anywhere else in the world, even if music is a significant part of life in your culture, you would still be awe-struck by how huge a deal music is in Brazil. It is on par with professional sports. Brazilians go crazy for samba at the same level as they do for futebol (soccer).
There is a competition every October in which the composers associated with their particular samba schools write a song hoping it will become the official Samba Enredo for the season; the night the winning song is chosen is a momentous event (and of course a raucous party!). I have yet to witness this in person, but I can easily imagine it.
Following that week or so in October after all the official Enredos are chosen, they are then broadcast ad-nauseum on the radio non-stop until Carnaval time, so that everyone throughout the streets and hills can sing along en-masse to all of them … (for all you bashful Northern types, there is no such thing as “I can’t sing” or “I can’t dance” in Rio).
Everyone has their favourite samba school, just like they have their favourite futebol team (which is usually Flamengo, but that’s another topic for someone else’s blog) … so of course they also have the shirts and flags to show off their fanatical support, and it goes without saying that they know their school’s Samba Enredo like the back of their hand.
An “ensaio técnico” (technical rehearsal) is when the samba school runs through the whole parade in the official purpose-built samba parade stadium called the Sambódromo (which seats over 75 000 people). Ensaios happen every weekend night for about 2 months leading up to the Carnaval, and there are 3 schools parading each of these nights:
*** UPDATE ***
I found this video, taken by Denilson, one of the other tamborim players … it’s the best one I’ve seen of this rehearsal, a real insider’s look at the bateria in action, and he catches almost all of our “paradinhas” or special breaks:
Just to set the scene, ensaio técnicos in the Sambódromo are like exhibition sports games. These rehearsals are not just for the bateria, but for EVERYONE involved in that school’s parade; probably more than 3000 drummers, dancers, baianas, porta-bandeiras … (don’t worry, I will describe this in great detail in a future post).
The floodlights were drenching the avenue with that deluge of brightness only reserved for the world cup or a prison breakout … and the bleachers were PACKED with wild samba fans!! Needless to say, I was flying on adrenaline!
This night was extra special because it was the very first ensaio técnico of the season; a total of 24 samba schools will parade in the Sambódromo during carnaval; 12 in “Grupo Especial” and 12 in “Grupo de Acesso”. Each school in Grupo de Acesso gets only ONE big rehearsal at the Sambódromo, whereas each school in Grupo Especial gets 2 … we were the VERY FIRST school to kick off the season, and since Rocinha is in Grupo Acesso we only got to do that one ensaio técnico … so let’s say I was very fortunate to get here when I did and not a day later, to have been able to just barely grab onto Rocinha’s bateria’s tails and have the chance to be a part of such a powerful and thrilling experience!
From my perspective in the bateria, this could easily have been just as exciting as the carnaval itself. I found the following video on YouTube of footage from the ensaio – you can see yours truly in the tamborim section from 7:01 – 7:16 and my friend JR on caixa directly afterward, but even if you don’t have time/patience to watch the whole thing from the beginning, do start the video from 6:29 because the Rainha da Bateria (drum corps queen) and the cuicas are fabulous!