For political satire or for the anthem of a football club: in Brazil there are sambas for all occasions. In many musical subgenres, the carnival period honors the enredo samba (which can be translated as “thematic samba” or “narrative samba”). Each of Rio’s samba schools competes on a different theme in a big annual competition – the parade at the sambadrome on Avenida Marquês de Sapucai took place on 20 and 21 February and the winner will be announced on Saturday 25.

Oh the Estado de São Paulo take advantage of this holiday period to immerse yourself in the reprint of a book written by historian Luis Antonio Simas and writer and essayist Alberto Moussa, Samba de enredo – History and Art (not translated into French). Originally released in 2009, this “extensive study” demonstrates how this particular genre permeates and reflects “not only the trajectory of the carnival, but also the political and social problems of the country.”

Moreover, the newspaper continues, it would be wrong to consider the samba enredo works as mere songs: the music only makes sense in the total spectacle of the parade with its large platforms and dozens of dancers who arrange it. Musa explains that “sauce takes – or not – only on the avenue [Sapucaí]. There has to be a meaning to society.”

“[Le samba enredo] created so that 3000 people can sing it in unison, carrying 20 kg of clothes on the go.

Recent repoliticization

Two authors argue that the samba enredo, having been a mirror of Brazilian society for over a century, went through a crisis in the 1990s that lasted twenty years. The financial difficulties of some schools, which are the standard bearers of the usually popular areas, are pushing them towards advertising partnership systems.

We see stories of gas, yogurt, horse racing and cities that have nothing to do with carnival come to the avenue.”applies O Estado de Sao Paulo. “It was not scary, like time. This attitude leads to disconnection from the community.”, – evaluates Simias in the columns of the newspaper. However, the increased circulation of the book allows us to analyze trends since 2010, when this type of partnership began to decline, the historian continues.

“Today there are very interesting African American anredos telling the story of Brazil from new perspectives and characters from the national novel. You could say things are getting better. And paradoxically, but also in times of crisis. Financial downturn encourages creativity.”

The political upheavals of recent years have caught up with force on Sapukai Avenue: in 2018, before the election of Jair Bolsonaro, many schools took up the pen against the social inequality in the country. The following year, Mangueira’s school took first place, paying tribute to Marielle Franco, the slain Carioca municipal official.

Forgotten independence and unknown figure

This 2023 edition confirms the trend described by Simas, in particular the importance given to new readings of history. Beija-Flor school in Nilopolis, reports About Globo, thus introduced samba called “Bravo Ghent! O grito dos excluídos no bicentenário da independência” (“My brave ones! The Cry of the Excluded from the Bicentennial of Independence”). Accompanied by political slogans about the power of the people, this samba alluded to a change in presidential power, over which the shadow of a coup loomed, analyzes the daily newspaper Rio, and to protect the lands of indigenous peoples. Unidos do Viradouro, for its part, honored Rosa Maria Egipcíaca, “enslaved black woman estimated to have lived sometime between 1719 and 1765”, signal Ecoainformation portal site Wahl.

We know only fragments of the story of this woman, which are considered “Brazil’s first black writer” but rarely mentioned in textbooks, according to Ecoa. By opening a chapel in Rio to serve as a haven for former prostitutes like her or for wives abandoned by their husbands, she established herself as a popular figure. And he had to defend himself against the accusation of a “false saint” at a heresy trial conducted by the Inquisition in Portugal. Viraduuro dedicates these verses to him: “Tears of pain she resisted / Flow in vast Brazil.”