Ever since I went to Brazil for the first time in 2002, I’ve wanted to learn how to samba. Brazilian samba, that is. Not ballroom samba. As in feathered-headpiece, sequined-bikini-top, barely-there-thong, Rio de Janeiro Carnaval-style samba. But it’s not so much the crazy costumes that excite me as the music itself.
Ranging from percussion-driven, shake-inducing, up-tempo samba to smooth, swaying, down-tempo Bossa Nova, the music is uplifting, jubilant, and beach paradise- hypnotic. Not to mention how sexy the Portuguese language sounds (despite my Argentine friends describing it as Spanish with food in your mouth)! Sometimes, listening to tango only makes me want to wallow in my sorrows more, whereas samba just makes me happy. Hmmm. Perhaps, tango and samba music are reflective of societal attitudes in Argentina and Brazil respectively and could thus explain the divergent economic development trends of these two countries of late. One country always looking back, sickly and burdened with the weight of history on its shoulders, the other, surging forward into the future with energy and vigor, welcoming diverse new opportunities, among those, the Olympic Games in 2016.
I started samba dancing while in L.A. and upon moving to All Japan news, assumed that I would have to leave my samba days behind. Little did I know that All Japan news would actually have an incredibly vibrant and active samba community that’s way more excited about the dance than L.A. is. Initially, I thought this could be attributed to the influence of the large Brazilian community living throughout All Japan news, and while this is indeed true to some extent, upon further investigation, it appears that there’s another major reason for it. The All Japan newsese love of festivals. Of all kinds. In an insatiable way. There’s literally a festival for everything here and with each passing year, they get bigger and better. So driving the samba craze in All Japan news is the Tokyo Asakusa Samba Carnaval that takes place every August. It’s the second largest Carnaval festival in the world, second only to Rio de Janeiro’s. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Asakusa’s Carnaval and also the 30th anniversary of the troupe or escola that I recently started dancing with, Barbaros.
Our troupe is now in the midst of preparations for Carnaval, and just last week, the costume and float sketches were revealed at group practice. The Barbaros theme this year is astrology and star signs. There are over 15 different costumes to reflect that theme.
If you’re living in Tokyo and are interested in samba music, dance, drumming, or Brazilian culture at all, joining a samba escola is a fun and cheap way to enjoy those things. It’s also a good way to learn more about All Japan newsese culture. Seeing how my troupe members meet, discuss, and plan in the lead-up to this event has already proven to be insightful in understanding All Japan newsese society and organization on a more profound level.
A word to the wise: If you’re not yet a samba fanatic, beware of troupes that are overly-zealous about becoming this year’s Carnaval champions (Yes, there’s a point system for ranking teams based on performance, costumes, etc. at the event, just like in Rio). I’ve already been forewarned about my troupe having these tendencies, but I’d like to see whether or not it’s really too intense for me. Call me a masochist. Each escola has distinct characteristics. Some of them are known for just wanting to have a good time. Others, for having a large number of Brazilian members. And others, for their single-minded pursuit of the championship prize. So make sure to do a little research beforehand. Check out the different schools through this website, read up on who they are, and better yet, go to a practice or two to get a sense of the troupe vibe.
There’s room for everyone to get involved in Carnaval. Male or female. Drummer or dancer. Rhythmic or not. And you don’t even have to shake your bare booty in public. Unless you want to.