Beija-Flor: one of the leading samba schools from Rio

Special thanks to Susanna Melo for writing this blog entry and for help with photographing the event.

Keith’s dream has been to attend carnival in Brazil.  The closest we got to his dream was when Ricardo Coutinho’s brother, Rogerio, took us to his samba school, “Beija-Flor” in Nilopolis, a community in Nova Iguacu (outside Rio).

Ricardo Coutinho (left) and his brother Rogerio at Rogerio's home

Before attending the spectacle, Ricardo and Rogerio gave us a lesson on “escolas de samba” (samba schools that perform during carnival). For example, a samba school always has a theme that tells a story.  Beija-Flor’s theme this year is the city of Sao Luis in the state of Maranhao, known for its rich historical roots. The theme is always reflected in the costumes, floats, dance, and music. A samba school can have as many as 3,000 “passistas” (participants that dance the samba). Such a large number is then divided into smaller “alas” (groups) of around 100 individuals.  One person takes charge of an “ala,” and this usually means overlooking the making of the costumes, which are unique and elaborate, and rehearsing.  Since Rogerio is one of these small group leaders, we were able to see the beginning stages of the costume-making affair in his home, where he has a studio sufficiently large to make and store 100 costumes (see photo)!

A “porta bandeira” (bearer of the school’s flag) and a “mestre sala” (who dances with the flag bearer) lead a samba school throughout the parade. Percussion is a must for the rhythm of the dance and song. The theme song is chosen in a competition in which 50 to 100 composers might participate. Everyone sings this song over and over again throughout the parade. Children, young people, adults and the elderly participate in these samba schools.

Beija-Flor usually wins first or second place in the competitions during Rio’s carnival. Much of its success lies in the fact that 2,500 participants are neighbors and friends in the Nilopolis community; the other 500 participants come from other parts of Brazil or from abroad. Besides Beija-Flor’s carnival activities, it also promotes charity work and opportunities in the community for individuals to study, learn a trade and grow professionally.

The photos show some of the highlights of a samba school: the “porta-bandeira” and “mestre sala,” the percussion group, the “passistas,” and “baianas.” Keith’s dream has been accomplished, but now he wants to be a “passista” himself during the actual carnival parade in Rio. With Ricardo and Rogerio’s help, there is no doubt that Keith will be parading in the Beija-Flor in the near future. And so will I!

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

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About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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