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The Soundtrack Of The World's Biggest Street Party

The Soundtrack Of The World's Biggest Street Party

Posted by Laura Zúñiga on March 21, 2014

It's a Saturday night at the Mangueira Samba School in Rio de Janeiro, where students are getting ready for Carnival. Millions of people will be dancing to the rhythms of Brazil's most popular music: samba.

Osvaldo Martins, one of the school's organizers, has put together a competition for the best samba-enredo, or samba story. Standing at the edge of the throbbing crowd, he explains that each group vying for a spot in the Carnival parade has to tell a story, kind of like a moving opera.

"And just like an opera, the parade has a plot for the story being told," he says. "With that story in mind, a visual artist will take that plot and will 'carnivalize' it: create the fantasies, the costumes and the floats."

The Mangueira Samba School isn't really a school, but a community organization that spends most of each year preparing for Carnival. There are more than 40 samba schools across Rio, each of which has three to five thousand members. Here at Mangueira, dancers crowd the floor of this warehouse-like building. Four singers are perched on a balcony, and on stage, what looks like about a hundred drummers pound out a parade rhythm.

A samba can be fast or slow; it can propel a parade or insinuate sensuality behind a song. It's the child of African rhythms brought to Brazil by slaves, born in Rio in the late 1800s. The first recorded song to be called a samba was "Pelo Telefone," from 1917.

 

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