RioTur/Raphael Davi


party and protest: rio’s carnival was black as fuck

March 15, 2019
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Usually, when Rio de Janeiro’s carnival parade rolls around every year, Western media only transmits images of semi-nude, bikini-clad white women. But this year was different. People across the world saw images of Candomblé Orishas, Black “baiana” women, and Brazilians protesting the murder of a Black councilwoman.

Yes, this year’s carnival parades were Black as fuck and relentless in their criticism of Brazilian society. But this isn’t unusual. This just means that some Samba Schools are returning to their roots. It is also simply a reflection of these Brazilian times in which Blackness is being celebrated.

Here’s the short history of Rio de Janeiro’s samba school parade that Western (white) media fails to acknowledge: It was started in the 1920s by Black folks who were likely grandchildren of enslaved Blacks. While white Brazilians were sequestering themselves in fancy balls and playing dirty games in the street during carnival, Black Brazilians began to organize themselves in dedication to the music they had recently created: Samba. Blacks in the favelas created community carnival groups, called them samba schools and even dedicated them to certain Orishas. Each school adopted its own colors. Mangueira chose green and pink. Portela chose blue and white. Salgueiro chose white and red. By the 1940s their parade was the must-see parade during carnival.

When white Brazilians understood the social influence of the samba schools, they began to exert monetary influence over the schools. Today whites almost always hold the most powerful leadership positions in samba schools. But that story is for another day.

Despite their white leadership, samba schools have always embraced Black themes. For decades, carnival was the only way that Afro-Brazilians learned about their own history — Black history wasn’t taught in schools. Carnival was an extension of Black oral history tradition. So when Salguiero paid homage to Zumbi das Palmares (leader of Brazil’s first maroon society) in 1960, Zumbi became a name known to everyone.

Given that the carnival parade is the most watched event on Brazilian TV, the parade is an opportunity for schools to make strategic cultural and political criticisms. This year, samba schools of all levels featured “Blackness” in their parades. Some chose to build their parades around living Black legends like actor Antonio Pitanga, actress Ruth Souza or writer Conceição Evaristo. Others chose to retell history. The winning school, Mangueira created a carnival parade that told the history of Brazil through its oppressed — Blacks, indigenous and poor — and paid homage slain councilwoman Marielle Franco.

Check out some powerful photos from the carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro.

Salgueiro paid homage to the Candomble warrior of justice, Xangô, in their Carnaval parade. Justice is a foreign word in Brazil, since very few people achieve it in the unequal society. So this choice in theme was a sly jab at the state of Brazilian society.


RioTur/Gabriel Nascimento

Unidos da Tijuca : La représentation de l’esclavage dans le défilé de samba de Rio de Janeiro est un spectacle tout à fait normal et usuel.

Unidos da Tijuca: The representation of slavery in Rio de Janeiro’s samba parade is a normal sight.

RioTur/Gabriel Nasciment

Imperio Serrano, longtemps considéré comme l’école de samba « la plus Noire » de Rio de Janeiro, a rendu hommage à Dona Ivone Lara, une légende de la samba. Ces femmes portaient des robes avec l’image de Dona Ivone Lara imprimée sur le tissu.

Imperio Serrano, long considered the “Blackest” samba school in Rio de Janeiro, paid homage to Dona Ivone Lara, a samba legend. These women wore dresses with Dona Ivone Lara’s image imprinted on the fabric.


Chaque école de samba rend hommage aux Baiana, ces femmes noires pratiquantes qui ont émigré de Salvador à Rio de Janeiro à la fin du XIXe siècle. Sur cette photo, les baianas de Mangueira portent des imprimés d’inspiration africaine pour illustrer la place influente de l’Afrique dans leur culture au Brésil.

Every samba school pays homage to the Baiana, the candomble practicing Black women who migrated from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro at the end of the 19th century. In this photo, Mangueira’s baianas wear African-inspired prints to show the influence of Africa in Brazil.

RioTur/ Gabriel Nascimento

L’école de samba de l’Estacio de Sa a choisi le thème du Jésus Noir cette année. Les églises et les foyers à travers le Brésil ont toujours un Jésus aux yeux bleus et blancs, alors voir un Jésus noir dans un défilé scolaire de samba était en soi une protestation.

The Estacio de Sa samba school chose Black Jesus as its theme this year. Churches and homes across Brazil always feature a white, blue-eyed Jesus so to see a Black Jesus in a samba school parade was in itself a protest.

RioTuR/Gabriel Nascimento

Antonio Pitanga est un acteur brésilien légendaire. Unidos do Porto da Pedra lui a rendu hommage dans leur défilé.

Antonio Pitanga is a legendary Brazilian actor. Unidos do Porto da Pedra paid homage to him in their parade.

RioTur/Raphael Davi

L’école de samba de Portela a rendu hommage à Clara Nunes, une chanteuse de samba blanche qui pratiquait le candomble. Ces femmes noires représentent le Candomble Orisha Yansa. Yansa représente le feu.

Portela samba school paid homage to Clara Nunes, a white samba singer who practiced Candomble. These Black women represent the Candomble Orisha Yansa. Yansa represents fire.

RioTur/ Fernando Grilli

Elza Soares, la célèbre chanteuse de samba qui soutient toujours les Noirs, les LGBTQ et les communautés indigènes a fait une apparition dans l’école de samba Mocidade de Padre Miguel.

Elza Soares, the famed samba singer who always supports Blacks, LGBTQ and indigenous communities made an appearance in the Mocidade de Padre Miguel samba school.