With an air of sadness and jealousy, the Songlines team wished our intern Rebbecca Neofitou well as she packed up her pandeiro and headed off to Rio de Janeiro along with the Rhythms of the City samba ensemble. Rebbecca has very kindly offered to update us with weekly insights into life in the South American sun, and the musical experiences they encounter along the way
Rhythms of the City, or Ritmos da Cidade as we are known in Portuguese, is one of the leading samba baterias in London, if not the UK. As a group, it has been run for over a decade by band leader Barak Schmool but this is only my second year in the band, so when I heard the whole band were going to Rio de Janeiro to play samba, I could not believe my luck.
Within less than 24 hours of landing, we had a gig lined up in front of our first Brazilian audience at Bailão do Castelo, a bar with outside seating. After the gig we found ourselves in the hot and sweaty rehearsal hall of the Mangueira samba school at 3am playing in front of an adoring 1,000-strong crowd with the world famous Mangueira bateria. Most rehearsals take place in the evening simply to avoid the 30ºC heat of the day.
Rehearsals for Mangueira, as well as other samba schools, are starting to become very serious now because Carnaval is in just two months, so an invitation to join the bateria was an exciting moment for us all. The precision and speed at which they played meant we really had to work to keep up the pace. One of great things about samba schools is that anyone of any age can learn the music, so there were old and young playing the same instruments next to one another as equals.
A visit to the Sambadrome was a must and we managed to catch the first technical rehearsal in preparation for Carnaval. Each samba school is allocated a day where they can practice parading and people can come to watch the rehearsal from the sidelines. That day the Rocinha and Estacio de Sa schools were rehearsing. In the distance from the Sambadrome you could see the lights in the hills of the favelas where most of the musicians come from and return to after rehearsal. One of the reasons samba is so prominent is because of its significance to the communities. In places like Mangueira, the rehearsal hall is their main source of entertainment and when people perform in carnaval, they do it for passion, not money.
Over the last couple of days we have been rehearsing with two bands, Sargento Pimenta and super-mega-stars, Monobloco. Rhythms of the City have a very good relationship with them after they came to London earlier this year. As a result we secured two upcoming gigs with them at Circo Voador in Lapa, which look promising.
Most of the music I had been involved with so far had been on a larger scale but one evening, a few of us went to a square in Laranjeiras where the Brazilians hang out talking and drinking cold beers on a hot musky night. We sat down and formed a make shift pagode band with guitar, pandeiro, flute, shaker and an agogo made from two empty beer bottles. We weren’t the only band there but our English accents drew a few people and this was my first real sense of the open Brazilian culture. They were pleased to hear non-Brazilians playing their music and we all ended up playing and singing together into the early hours of the morning…