Rio City Hall is planning to invest over 8 million Reals in work to improve and rebuild the quadras of some of Rio's most famous samba schools and blocos.
The money is going to three samba schools, Imperio Serrano, Imperatriz, and Uniao da Ilha and also to the venerable bloco Cacique de Ramos. In return, these groups will open their quadras to cultural and leisure facilities for their local communities.
Uniao da Ilha is in particular need. Just last year there was a court action by the neighbours to restrict noise. The quadra is a huge open space, floored in concrete, with high walls and a tin roof. Samba school rehearsals of 100 plus drummers and very loud sound systems usually get going around 11pm - they can't start much earlier because of the heat. Uniao da Ilha is now the first Rio de Janeiro samba schooll to be landed with a court injunction limiting the hours and days per week of noise emission. The Rio prefetura is granting them 5.5 million reals to completely rebuild their quadra into something soundproof. There is to be a big leisure area where they are planning children’s activities, plus a medical centre, lecture hall and various educational courses.
The richest samba schools are doing this already, with their own money, or that of their patrons. Every samba school aspires to benefitting their community - this is part of the reason why samba schools exist.
Uniao da Ilha and Imperio Serrano are both famous old schools that have suffered from lack of investment for years. Imperatriz had some very successful years a decade ago, but their quadra is one of the smallest of the special group. Cacique de Ramos is one of the oldest blocos in Rio. Their quadra, when I last visited it, consisted of a couple of small houses and a large dirt yard.
I'd love to see some of this government grant spilling down to the smaller samba schools of the lower groups, which recieve very little at all and which make do with very basic conditions indeed.
Keeping 300 - odd ritmistas (drummers) together in Rio carnival baterias requires strict discipline. But sometimes there is room for a little high spirits.
I took this video at a technical rehearsal of Imperatriz, in the sambodromo, before carnaval 2010. The bateria is in position for the parade to start, and the puxador has started singing the song. Theres always a run through of the song without the bateria, before the drums start. A bunch of enthusiastic ritmistas dances to the front of the bateria and encircles thier rainha, the regal Luiza Brunet. The Mestre da Bateria decides to let them have their fun before blowing his whistle and ushering them back into position.
Imperatriz’ samba enredo has been voted the most popular of the Grupo Especial songs for Rio Carnival by a specially selected panel of judges in O Dia, the Rio de Janeiro newspaper. I agree; nice melody, good lyrics and, crucially, easy to sing.
Imperatriz’s theme for carnival 2010 is ‘Brazil of all the gods', and you can see a preview of their costumes for carnival 2010 here. Imperatriz’s carnavalesco (artistic designer) is Max Lopez. The official Grupo Especial CD is released on 7th December; you can buy it here.