The Samba schools of Rio de Janeiro are an important part of Carnaval in Brazil. Each year 12 schools are selected from hundreds around the city to present their parade (desfile). The Sambodromo, is a giant structure built to showcase the Samba school parade. This event is the crown jewel of the Carnaval celebrations in Rio. Thousands of people from around the world make the journey to Rio each year to bare witness to a truly one of a kind event that is steeped in a rich tradition of Brazilian music and culture.

ismael Silva

The Ismael Silva, one of the first Samba Teachers with his guitar, at the Feast of Our Lady of Penha

The origins of Samba schools began in the neighborhood of Estacio in Rio De Janeiro, which is regarded as the “Cradle of Samba”. It was here on August 12, 1928 where a man named Ismael Silva along with several others musicians formed a group called ‘Deixa Falar’ (Let Them Speak) with the purpose of developing a new rhythm called Samba and parading during Carnival. During this time, groups comprised of blacks and mulattos were discouraged by the police from celebrating in the downtown areas. During the Carnaval celebration of 1929, in defiance of this treatment, Deixa Falar led a small parade through Estacio and nearby Praca Onze (Square 11) which is now regarded as the first Samba school parade.

At this time, the group was not yet referred to as a school, but a ‘Bloco’. The term School was used partially as a joke since the location was across the street from a grade school. The first official ‘Escola de Samba” was created in 1929, when several locals Blocos joined together and formed Estacao Primeira de Mangueira. Mangueira first premiered as a Samba school during Carnival of 1930 and is still around today, competing in the Parade competitions at the Sambodromo. In fact, Mangueira was named the winner of the 2016 Samba Parade.

2016 Samba Enredos

Today’s Samba School parades are a complex production of music, dance, elaborate costumes and gigantic floats each meant to outdo all other schools in order to earn the bragging rights as the champions of that year’s Carnival. The parades include thousands of participants, both in the parade and behind the scenes. Each school chooses a theme (enredo) for that year on which all parts of the parade will be based. From there, the school will compose the Samba – Enredo which will be the song that will represent the theme and be performed during the parade. Once the song is written, all the work goes into preparing the presentation of the parade. This is an incredibly detailed undertaking as costumes and routines need to be coordinated for each section (alas) of the parade. A large school like Mangueira can have up to 65 alas each with around 100 members per section. Each parade lasts around 90 minutes and is judged on 10 different areas of criteria. On the Wednesday following Carnaval, the scores are announced and a winner is crowned.

(Written by Liam Baum)

Mangueira Samba School can be experienced by clicking the link or using Google Cardboard VR Headsets.


Sambadromo can be experienced by clicking the link or using Google Cardboard VR Headsets.


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