The big parades of the major samba shools of Rio de Janeiro are all viewable on youtube. These days youtube is also showing the more precarious parades of the lower groups in years gone by, and some of these are amazing, for all the wrong reasons. There have been schools that have had to parade without any drummers. Here's Unidos de Campinho, parading in the sambodromo in 1992.
In fact, the drummers were there, but the lorry carrying the instruments hadn't arrived. The bateria (drummers AND drums) is such an important part of the parade that it has its own separate judges. No drums, no marks. The commentary tells us that the instruments turned up eventually, but right till the end of this clip there are no drums to power the dancers, just a cavaquinho and a singer. A particular shame as the song itself was lovely that year. You can see all of the dancers doing their best to participate with energy, but it must have been hard.
This sort of thing tends to happen to samba schools in severe financial and organisational trouble. The following year Unidos do Campinho failed to parade at all due to financial problems, and soon the samba school was completely disbanded.
The video commentator tells us that it happened once to Mocidade Independente do Padre Miguel, when the bateria was being led by the great Mestre Andre. The truck carrying the drums suffered an accident on the way to the parade ground in the Rio Branco. Alternative transport couldn't be organised in time. But Mocidade Independente have continued on to be one of the great samba schools of the special group in today's Rio carnival.
A few months ago I posted up a link to video of some of the samba schools in Rio carnival's lower leagues. Some much better quality video is now beginning to appear on youtube.
These schools are parading in Intendente Margalhes, a street miles away from the Sambodromo. They have very few resources and little cash to stage their desfile but I find these Samba school parades extremely impressive, and also rather moving. Also certainly not little by any normal standards, just small compared to the super - escolas of the top leagues. They parade on the same night as the big, famous samba schools over in the Sambodromo, but I think I prefer these.
One day I hope to be able to go to Intendente Margalhes and watch these unsung jewels of carnival, live.
Beija Flor's parade in 2010 will be about Roberto Carlos, the singer and composer.
Not just a big show
Its easy to believe that the Rio de Janeiro samba schools are opulent wealthy organisations concerned with putting on a big show for the television cameras. But only a small proportion of Rio's samba schools are in the Special Group. Thre are six groups altogether, and the three lowest groups parade way out of town, in conditions very different from those you see on television.
I think the work of the schools in the lower leagues has much more relevance to the kind of parades that we non Brazilians aspire to. Street parades, family atmosphere, little money - Read more about them here.
As well as more information, I've posted up some photos and also a link to some community TV footage of one of the samba schools in the lowest group, RJ4, so you can see for yourself.