It’s that time again, when the inhabitants of Brazil (and many foreign guests) collectively lose their inhibitions and devote several days to dancing, playing music, drinking and wearing as little clothing and as many feathers as possible. That’s right, we’re talking Carnival. Of course, carnival is a global, Afro-diasporic phenomenon, from Trinidad to Toronto and Curaçao to Cologne, but Brazil goes legendarily hard, and has long been known for its unique Carnival traditions. Some people have said (including Tom Jobim and Luis Bonfá in the famous film Orfeu Negro) that many Brazilians literally live all year for February, waiting for their chance to blow off steam and truly celebrate life despite hardships and poverty.
And of course, no music is more closely associated with carnival than samba. Afropop Worldwide has produced two Hip-Deep shows about Rio and samba “Rio 1: Samba at the Dawn of Modern Brazil” and “Rio 2: Samba Strikes Back,” but we never tire of the sound, and we figured it might be good to check out the year’s newest festival tunes.
This year, like every year since the early 19th century, the beat of Rio is set by the samba schools: massive organizations composed of thousands of performers, musicians and administrators. Each year, composers vie to have their samba de enredo (song samba) featured by one of the “Special Group” of major Samba Schools, who compete in the Sambadromo for the best parade. These sambas de enredo are written on the theme that the director of that Samba School has chosen to build the entire parade around that year. For example Império Da Tijuca (who won the lower-ranked “Access Group” competition last year, and as a result, will compete in the “Special Group” this year) will focus on the African cultural roots of Brazilian drumming, with a samba enredo called “Batuk”:
And the 2013 winner of the 2013 “Special Group” parade, Vila Isabel, is presenting “Retratos de um Brasil Plural,” ‘Portraits of a Plural Brazil,’ focusing on preserving rural life and natural resources:
Actually, all the sambas de enredo are pretty jammin’ this year! Lot’s of serious drumming, quick cavaquinho (a small lute-like instrument) licks, and joyful group vocals over fast-moving chords. You can listen to all the theme songs and read lyrics from this year, and many years past, here.
Bahia has a less developed carnival celebration than Rio, but the Blocos Afros and Afoxé groups rock Salvador for real. Even a cursory listen to one of the top hits (so far) of Bahia carnival reveals a totally different musical aesthetic from Rio’s slick sambas:
Soaring female vocals, distorted electric guitars, small band, complex musical breaks. A totally different musical language! Then there are the blocos afros, like the world-famous Olodum:
Well, we wish we were going to dig into all the best new music! Maybe next year…
Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.