Songlines intern Rebbecca Neofitou’s final instalment of her musical adventures in Rio de Janeiro with the London-based samba ensemble, Rhythms of the City
The last week of our trip had a metaphorical cloud over it as people started to leave for London and our time here was coming to a end. However, we had one last boost that meant we could leave on a high.
Mestre Odilon had come to watch us play during a rehearsal and as soon as he entered the door, everyone was more nervous than I had ever seen them before. Mestre Odilon is one of the most important figures in the world of bateria samba today. He was the first to completely organise every instrument of the bateria in meticulous detail so naturally, everyone knew that they were being watched very carefully. To our pleasant surprise, Mestre Odilon liked the way we played and then presented us with the opportunity to play at his samba school, GRES. União da Ilha do Governador before his own bateria took to the stage.
As far as we know, no other UK-based band have been asked to play exclusively by themselves at a samba school before. This was a great honour for us all given how much samba schools are respected within the Brazilian community and we had a large task at hand to make sure we performed a set that respected what they wanted to hear. Given that our niche is playing pop, we were apprehensive to play much within our set in case the audience didn’t like it because they were there to hear samba. However, judging by their amazing dance moves during our renditions of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and ‘I Want You Back’ as well as all the sambas, they thoroughly enjoyed the set we played for them.
After we had finished, Odilon invited us to play within the bateria. Unlike when we played at Mangueira, this was a much more relaxed atmosphere. We were able to jump in and out of the bateria whenever we wanted, whether it was to grab another beer or to have a dance and then jump straight back in. Everyone was so welcoming and made us feel completely at home with them.
Return to London
We are now slowly settling back into our old lives again. However, we have come back a changed band. This trip to Rio has taught each of us so many things and we can now return and pass on the knowledge to the rest of our bloco to make our band even stronger. We did not anticipate how receptive the Brazilian audience were going to be to our music and as a result, there is a general hope within the band that we return to Rio so we can work with the amazing musicians out there again. Through working with Monobloco and Bloco do Sargento Pimenta, we have made life-long friends that we will hopefully see and work with again.
On a more personal note, Rio has left a massive impression on me. Throughout my time there, it seemed as if everyone was a musician – most people were able to play at least one instrument of a pagode band or bateria and could happily give you a break from playing and take over. Unlike in London where a gig has a definite divide between the audience and band, there is a lot more interaction between the two in Rio which probably comes from their nature of being welcoming and sociable.
Even in the language, there is a melody in the way that they speak and every street corner you turn, there is always music playing from inside somewhere, no matter what time of day it is. Samba definitely beats strong within the heart of Rio and is something that the cariocas are very proud and passionate about. I hope to return to Rio soon to see my new friends and get away from the now unsatisfactory weather of London, but mainly to rejoin the music community again – a place of happiness, equality and SAMBA!