The Samba Schools
The year 1928 brought something new to the Brazilian carnival:
the emergence of the Samba Schools. The historical landmark was the foundation of the "Deixa Falar" school by the Estácio Sambistas. Inspired by the popularization of Samba, the revelers wanted to create something different from the Great Carnival Societies - clubs with events focused on the upper classes - and the Cordões and Ranchos - which were created by and for the lower classes.
The first parade and competition of Samba Schools took place in 1932 at the Praça Onze in Rio de Janeiro. Nineteen schools competed with their original sambas and the traditional Escola Primeiro de Mangueira was the great winner.
What made the Samba School parades stand out from other carnival forms was the presence of a plot, and the popular appeal - since the instruments used for samba, such as those of percussion, surdo, and tambourine, could be played by anyone with a slight notion of rhythm. The presence of a "Wing of Baianas" and the absence of wind instruments were also mandatory. Slowly, the parades of the samba artists grew to the point of becoming the trademark of the Carioca carnival, known internationally for their themed samba songs, costumes, and dancers.
Today, the parades take place annually during four days at the Marquês de Sapucaí Sambadrome. Two days are dedicated to the schools of the Access Group (less famous and with less capital) and two to the Special Group (more traditional and prestigious), in addition to a parade of the champions on Saturday. With the schools of the Special Group participating with around 3,500 to 4,500 people and 7 to 9 cars, one can see how massive the parades are.
The schools are evaluated under certain criteria for the various elements, such as:
1. Vanguard Commission
Group of 10-15 people opening for each school, leading the group, greeting jurors and audience.
2. Allegories and Props
Allegorical cars/floats and the people and components they feature. Design and realisation are being judged.
The speed and pace at which the school makes its way down the Sambadrome. Gaps in the flow and constant speed change, for example, are penalized.
Integration of the rhythm of the drums with the singing, especially the voice of the main performer.
Judged by design and achievement. It is important to be within the theme and that the meaning of different costume elements is clear to the public.
The story with beginning, middle and end that every school must tell. The theme is also evaluated in terms of design and realization.
7. Themed Samba
Judged by the music and lyrics, it's the song that tells the story behind the school's parade. Schools choose a themed samba through internal competitions in the second semester of the year.
8. Mestre-Sala and Porta Bandeira
Flag-bearer and her Escort. Couple whose dance and costumes are judged by the commission. They perform their dance in front of the jurors' booth.
9. Drums' Section
Group that includes around 250 percussion players responsible for the rhythm of the parade.
10. Other elements
They are not judged individually, but they include: conductor of drums, court of drums (King, Queen, Princess, etc), Wing of Passistas, Wing of Baianas, Wing of the "Old Guard", lead singer, carnavalesco and directors.
The winning schools of the Access Group partake on the Special Group parade the following year.
Unlike many parades and international marches - whereby the work of putting together the performances is mostly done by hired professionals - every detail of the Carnaval Parades is made by members of the Samba Schools, who spend the whole year dedicated to putting together one of the biggest shows on Earth. Their work goes far beyond designing a parade: most schools are very active in their communities, leading projects in the realm of social and cultural integration.