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Africanisation of Carnival
by Lélia Coelho Frota

Always on the frontier with the religious, the day of the 31st of December separated Christmas from Carnival celebrations, according to the researcher of Brazilian Popular Music known as Jotta Efegê. From the 24th of December to Kings' day - January the 6th - groups of little shepherdesses or "ranchos" (groups) used to go out paying visits to the ´Lapinhas de Belém`, existing in churches and private houses. They came from neighbourhoods like Vila Isabel, Estácio and São Cristóvão, in Rio de Janeiro, and many would go in procession to the city centre, a tradition kept until the 40's. These religious "ranchos" turned into carnival "ranchos" such as "Ameno Reseda" and "Flor de Abacate", both founded in the first decade of our century.

The Carnival "ranchos" assumed the allegoric procession of the "pastoris" (shepherdesses' processions). "Zé-Pereiras' rumble" disappeared and the frank Africanism of "cucumbis" and "afoxés" was updated. The "rancho" incorporated the "blocos" (blocks) already existing and started to have a plot ("enredo"), characters and "alas" (subdivisions of samba schools), besides a conceptual uniformity. They also paraded with floats designed by well-known artists.

Hilário Jovino Ferreira, known as Lalau de Ouro, was an important name in Rio's Carnival. In 1872 he moved from Salvador (Bahia) to Rio de Janeiro and founded numerous "ranchos" and "blocos". Also from Bahia, the famous aunt Ciata or Assiata - Hilária Batista de Almeida - influenced in the collective shape that Rio's samba was taking. Having been initiated to the "saints" in Bahia, aunt Ciata was known in Rio as Little-Mother of Terreiro de João Alaba (João Alaba's shrine) which Hilário Jovino also frequented. She was a very good cook and used to gather in her house people like the composers Pixinguinha, Donga, Heitor dos Prazeres, João da Baiana, Sinhô and Mauro de Almeida. Aunt Ciata's shrine was considered the headquarters of samba. It was there that "Pelo Telefone" (By the telephone) was born, the first recorded samba, in 1917, opening the gates of the market to the new genre.

Aunt Ciata took her little stall of African titbits to the Penha Festival, traditional Portuguese pilgrimage. There, members of the "Old Guard" (Velha Guarda) launched their songs for the Carnival. Journalists used to attend Penha's samba, originating the phenomenon of the relationship between the original group with the most different of the cities neighbourhoods and social spheres, bringing together slum and asphalt.

Due to the popularity of the new genre the appearance of the Schools of Samba by the late 20's was a natural occurrence. The first school of samba to be known of, "Deixa eu falar" (let me speak), was born in the neighbourhood of Estácio, from the social network established at aunt Ciata's house. Cartola and his group founded "Mangueira", with its basis in the slum's "blocos". In 1932 Paulo da Portela and Antônio Rufino, founders of "blocos", inaugurated "Portela", called "Vai como pode" (it goes as is possible) to start with. "Salgueiro" and "Império Serrano" gave continuity to the interactive process between "ranchos", great societies, "rodas de samba" (samba circles) and "blocos". In going downhill from the shanty towns into the city, the samba incorporated also musical forms of other social groups, constantly transforming and renovating itself, absorbing experiences through its strong original afro nucleus.

The meeting between social classes and religious and ethnic groups materialised "a relational role in its social and political truth, a role that can be interpreted as the most powerful moment of a synthesis of the system which goes unnoticed by the working world", as written by the anthropologist Roberto da Matta. In reality the school of samba absorbed, in synthesis, the model of parade of the "ranchos", "enredo", "alas" (subdivisions of a school of samba) and "personagens" (characters). It was the samba, with its swaying rhythms, evolutions ("evoluções") and a larger number of extras, that differentiated the two kinds of groups. Obviously the structure of Rio's samba schools has become more and more complex and organized since they turned into a spectacle for millions. Specialists in the history of samba in Rio such as Hiram Araújo and Amauri Jório say that the main quality in a "sambista" (samba dancer or musician) is the love for the school. It is at the school where he integrates himself as a dancer, instrument player, singer, composer or director. Also fundamental is the subdivision's ("alas") role.

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