Brazil is not a quiet country, and that’s one of the things I love best about it. There is noise everywhere, from hawking vendors trying to sell their skewers of iced pineapple and jostling shoppers lining up for the freshest pão francês at the bakery, to motorcycles honking their horns continually as they whiz between lanes of traffic and the endless trilling of colourful birds in the palm trees lining the streets.
This endless barrage of noise makes Canada seem taciturn by comparison, with its obedient traffic, quietly polite shoppers, and snow-muffled landscape.
But the loveliest sound of all in Brazil is its music, which erupts in surprising places, filling public spaces with melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that give me goosebumps. The samba and the bossa nova which originated here in Rio de Janeiro are stunningly beautiful forms of music that, in my slightly biased opinion, rival even classical music for their complexity (and that’s coming from someone who has studied and played classical violin for 20+ years).
You can imagine my excitement when Veridiana invited me and Jason to see a samba school rehearsal last Saturday night. Rio is famous for its samba schools that fill the city streets with wild, furious, and spine-tingling dancing, drumming, and singing during the four-day-long Carnaval each February. Competition between the groups is fierce, and they begin holding public rehearsals in the weeks leading up to Carnaval.
The award-winning school that we went to see was Salgueiro, and it was the loudest show I’ve ever seen in my life. The entire school consists of 4,500 people, of which only a fraction were at the rehearsal, so I can’t even imagine how much louder it would be with everyone playing. In typical Brazilian fashion, the 10 p.m. show didn’t get going strong until 1 a.m.
(For some reason, WordPress isn’t letting me upload videos, which is frustrating. Photos will have to suffice.)
Another evening this week, we experienced a calmer form of samba – a small ensemble of musicians sitting in a bar in Lapa, the seriously cool, artsy, and bohemian neighbourhood where I think I may have lived in a previous life.
We sat in the crowded bar with our kids (apparently it’s normal to have kids out in public places until 10 p.m.), eating delicious fried cassava, roasted sausages and salted beef, and listening to the fantastic samba that pretty much epitomized Rio in my mind. This is how I’d always pictured it, and this is how it actually was in that moment, which I found to be very thrilling.
We only have 5 more days in Rio, and then it’s off to Recife in the northeast. There, I’m looking forward to hearing the danceable forró, African maracatú, and pre-Carnaval frevo that fills the streets. It’s an entirely different scene from Rio’s samba-dominated one, but just as wonderful.