|The judges . . . they look harmless enough|
Percussionists — these guys are LOUD. They are responsible for maintaining the rhythmic pulse of the samba at all times during the parade. I'm still not sure I hear all the subtle differences myself, but each samba school has a unique, identifiable percussive sound depending on the number of drums and the way they're hit. Take Mangueira's percussionists. They are known as Surdo Um — surdo is a large drum — because they hit only on the second beat, with no answering surdo on the downbeat, like all the other schools. When Mangueira's percussionists begin, the crowd goes wild. And I get goose bumps.
Harmony — in order to score high in this category, the music, rhythm and singing must all meld seamlessly with the choreography and dancing of the participants. Points can be lost if the judges catch any of the participants not singing. And here lies one of the annual controversies: to allow or not to allow foreigners to participate in the parade. As non-speakers of Portuguese they can't sing the samba, and as non-dancers of samba they don't get the rhythm. So that group of hulking, blond Swedes jumping up and down alongside the group of Americans energetically waving their pointer fingers in the air, Broadway-style, inevitably end up costing the schools precious points. On the other hand, foreigners pay upwards of $1,200 for a costume and a space in the parade, so . . . what's a fraction of a point here or there?
The standard-bearer and master of ceremonies couple — this elegant and graceful couple carries and protects the school's flag while dancing an intricate "minuet-samba." They might have the biggest responsibility of anyone in the school, because they mustn't under any circumstances let that flag touch the ground, or even dip below the standard-bearer's shoulders, for 80 long minutes. And that is one heavy flag (99 pounds/45 kilos!). But they make it look so easy, and they're lots of fun to watch.
|Down she goes!|
In 2004, the samba school Grande Rio paraded with a censored float. Underneath the plastic? Various depictions of the Kama Sutra.