Perchance to Dream
What to be, or not to be, will be the question when
the rhythm and beauty of Imperatriz
Brazilian Carnaval 2002.
Carnaval is an infectious madness that takes over Rio de Janeiro’s entire population and is more celebratory for
Brazilians than Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Easter rolled into one. Impetuous and impulsive it may be, but the culminating
parade of the “Group A” samba schools is also a serious competition. Under the watchful eye of the international media’s
scrutinizing attention, each samba school presents a choreographed story that is performed by thousands of dancers, singers, and
musicians, all propelled, and curiously anchored, by the rhythmic thrust of their percussion section. It is the ultimate street theater,
and on Saturday, February 9, 2002, it’s coming to Southern California when Brazilian Nites Productions brings the
mesmerizing and intricate nucleus of Escola de Samba Imperatriz Leopoldinense to the Hollywood Palladium.
Founded in 1959 to fill the void left by the Carnaval
bloco Recreio de Ramos (Joy of Ramos), which had boasted a
membership that included extraordinary musicians like Armando Marçal, Pixinguinha, Villa Lobos, and Heítor dos Prazeres;
Imperatriz Leopoldinense has revived the glory of its predecessor not only by seizing eight Carnaval championships (including
1999, 2000, and 2001) and attaining the highest ranking in the League of Independent Samba Schools (LIESA) but also by
maintaining an “Ala das Baianas” (hundreds of older women parading in the traditional flowing dresses of Bahia) that has been
awarded TV Globo’s Estandarte de Ouro in seven of the last eleven Carnavals. Imperatriz was also among the first
escolas to bring in professional artists with academic backgrounds to conceive and coordinate the visual aspects of their parade, who, in
turn, were responsible for creating a visual revolution that changed the parades all together, marking Carnaval as a
An astounding sense of discipline and technique sets Imperatriz off from other
escolas. And in terms of opulence and fantasy, the school’s concept of Carnaval as opera, with spectacular costumes, scenery, and floats, has unfailingly
impressed the judges. Furthermore, Imperatriz was the first
escola to create a cultural department that drew its Carnaval themes
from literature and modern Brazilian art. For Carnaval 2002, their theme will pay homage to the spirit of Brazil’s radical Modern
Art movement during the 1920’s, its metaphor of cultural cannibalism, and the movement’s brief but tremendously
influential resurgence in the 1960’s—Tropicália.
In an intense and ephemeral reverie called Carnaval, when anonymous people transform themselves into kings and
queens, when music, dance, and fantasy reach levels of animation encountered at no other time and in no other place,
Imperatriz Leopoldinense invokes its own special atmosphere. This year, Southern California revelers can plunge into that
swarming immensity of color and reel in its bright happiness when Imperatriz presents the beauty and energizing mayhem of the
greatest show on earth at Brazilian Carnaval 2002. I spoke with Wagner Tavares Araújo, who, as the president of Grêmio
Recreativo Escola de Samba Imperatriz Leopoldinense, has created a new vision for the school’s future.
Brazzil—Imperatriz is a relatively small school, and I’m wondering what you’re doing to recruit new members.
Araújo—First of all, people belong to the school that’s located in their district. If you were born in Madureira, for
example, you might choose either Portela or Império Serrano, but the samba school for the entire Leopoldina area—Ramos,
Penha, Olaria, Bonsucesso—is Imperatriz Leopoldinense. If you are from any of the small towns in the area, if you are from
Leopoldina, you are Imperatriz. You can always parade with another school, but in your heart you are Imperatriz. Many famous
musicians are Imperatriz. Baden Powell was Imperatriz. Paulo Moura, Elymar Santos, and Grupo Fundo de Quintal are Imperatriz.
Still, we hope our efforts to become Carnaval champions for the fourth consecutive year will bring more members to our school.
Brazzil—Is Imperatriz as popular in Rio as it is in Ramos and surrounding neighborhoods?
Araújo—There’s no doubt about it, Portela, Mangueira, Salgueiro, and Beija-Flor have more fans and are generally
more popular schools. But they have been the big schools for many, many years, and people tend to side with the winners.
We are now ranked among the traditional winners, so our popularity is growing rapidly. Today the winner cannot be
determined before Imperatriz parades. We always convey a distinctive air of precision, and execute a performance that is
thoroughly professional. The champion can only be decided after we parade, never before.
Brazzil—What changes have you initiated as the school’s president?
Araújo—When I came in as president in 1988, the school was ranked among the lowest in the League of
Independent Samba Schools. Carnaval was very disorganized, more fashion than organization. What moved people to participate in
the school was a passion for their community and for the samba, the same kind of passion Brazilians have for women and
their soccer teams. But to survive in a world of global finance and international communication networks, to be successful,
we needed a professional administration. So I initiated the idea of organizing the school as a corporation. I used to work in
the financial market, and I brought that administrative style with me to the presidency.
I’ve tried to keep Imperatriz from getting lost in unimportant events that consume our time and energy and bring us
little in return. If people in administrative positions don’t have this standard, this corporate concept, the structure will weaken
and die. Our philosophy is that if every individual does his part and if we respect the small contributions of each member, the
payoff will be an overwhelming victory. Fusing the best with the best-prepared is the philosophy I brought to the school. This
is how Imperatriz has become a modern institution, inspiring others and giving birth to the enormous administrative
changes taking place within all the major schools. We have been big winners because of the kind of administration we have adopted.
Brazzil—Aside from staging the Carnaval parade, how is Imperatriz serving the community?
Araújo—The area of Leopoldina is surrounded by
favelas, and like the other samba schools, Imperatriz is involved
with helping these communities. We are in the process of building an Olympic village, a sports complex with special facilities
for the neighborhood children. We have initiated a recycling project in which empty beer and soda cans can be exchanged
for a “cesta básica,” a bag of basic necessities like rice, beans, flour, and milk—six or seven items that will help
neighborhood families make ends meet. In addition, any event the school promotes in our
quadra (warehouse-like space where the
samba school rehearses), benefits the whole community. We act as a medium between the community, the state, and the
international companies who work in conjunction with world health organizations.
Brazzil—How is the profile of Carnaval different today from when the school was founded forty years ago?
Araújo—The entire personality of Carnaval has changed over the past forty years, not just for Imperatriz. Up until
ten years ago, each school paid the costs of their parades themselves by whatever means they could muster. But today, we
receive residuals from the records and CD’s we sell, from our ticket sales at the Sambódromo, from broadcasting and imaging
rights, even from the government. This funding dictated that the whole structure of Carnaval had to change and become
professional, efficient, up-to-date. And Imperatriz has been a pioneer in this because we manage our school like a corporation.
Carnaval used to have three ingredients: the street Carnaval, the masked balls, and the parade. But today, the Carnaval of Rio is
almost exclusively the parade in the Sambódromo. It is a mega-event that is marketed to countries all around the world and puts
a lot of money into our treasury, so we must be organized; we must be professionals.
Brazzil—What differences do you see with regard to the
bateria and puxadores?
Araújo—In the old days, the character of each school’s
bateria, the drums and the way the drums were played, was
pretty much attached to the Afro-Brazilian religions, to the
candomblé and umbanda saints, to the
macumba. The samba had very complicated themes and very long stories, but the world started changing, started growing, and to attend to the new
customers and new demands, we opened up the character of the
bateria. The samba became shorter and had to be very catchy. We
also started looking for a different kind of singer, one who was more energetic and fit with the “new touch.”
All this has come about because of modernization and the globalization unleashed by multi-national capitalism. The
samba schools are only reflecting the values of a new generation, which are not very connected to the culture or to
Afro-Brazilian religion. It wasn’t very long ago that you could hear different shades, distinctive nuances, between Mangueira’s bateria
and Salgueiro’s, between Império’s and Portela’s. Once, each had their own sound, a signature, but that doesn’t happen anymore.
Now the goal, the first objective, is to delight, to generate enthusiasm among the fans and bring them to your side.
Carnaval today is totally commercial and only cultural in a capitalistic sense. We have guidelines telling us how much, and when,
and to what extent we can address the community and religion. And because of this, the expression of the singers as well as
the sound of each bateria has become pretty much the same.
Brazzil—How is it that every member of Imperatriz sings during the parade?
Araújo—After we choose the samba in October, we start technical rehearsals every week in the
quadra. We ask that every ala, every section, be there and learn the samba by heart; that way, by Carnaval it is ingrained. Each member practices
the samba by listening to the radio or buying the recording and listening at home, and the 300,000 albums and CD’s we sell
each year helps this process. Nonetheless, everyone is required to attend the technical rehearsals because during the parade,
a bateria of 300 men will play the samba in a way that is slightly different from the recording. You know, it’s not very easy
to put 300 guys with drums into a recording studio. But this is how we manage to have everyone singing during the
parade, and this, of course, scores many points.
Brazzil—Discipline and technique is what sets Imperatriz off from other
escolas. Would you comment on this?
Araújo—The idea that everything happens at the right time and in the right place is part of the philosophy that I
brought to the school and which the board of directors and each member has adopted. In any event organized by Imperatriz,
whether it’s traveling somewhere, community work, or performing in the Carnaval parade, each member has in mind the concept
that if everyone takes charge and does his part, Imperatriz will be on the same level as schools with a lot more media appeal
and greater popularity. The only way that Imperatriz can get there and stay there is through this concept.
Brazzil—Do many people complain that Imperatriz’s parade is cold or too technical?
Araújo—Of course, but Imperatriz is a school for results. Some people think that we lack soul and enthusiasm. But
we’re programming our work to be number one. First of all, we want to win. And that’s okay because it’s a part of our culture.
In Brazil, if you win, you celebrate; if you come in second, you might as well have been last because everyone grumbles.
It’s not like the United States where you have a champion and a second and third place winner. In Brazil, you win or you’re
the loser. We work to be winners. We work technically and specifically to be champions.
Brazzil—What about taking risks?
Araújo—The only risk we are willing to take is in the synchronization between the floats and the
alas (various wings). You know, to be precise, the
mestre-sala (master of ceremonies) and the
porta-bandeira (flag bearer) must be very well
rehearsed. The bateria must be very well rehearsed, and the
comissão de frente (front commission) must be very well rehearsed.
Synchronizing each of these units, so there is an organic unity, a natural flow, is where the risk lies because everything is
subject to human error. Even the floats are maneuvered by hand, which is why, as I’ve mentioned, we drill into every member’s
head, even those who are pushing the floats, the idea that his work is absolutely fundamental. If each member embraces and
conveys this concept, this idea of taking pride in the little things they contribute, we’ll get where we want to be. I don’t believe
that other groups have the same concept. But this is the secret of Imperatriz Leopoldinense; this mind-set has resulted in and
been confirmed by our success.
Brazzil—Can you explain the concept of Carnaval as Opera?
Araújo—This is an expression coined by Joãozinho Trinta, who arguing that people go for luxury, conceived
Carnaval, with its themes, music, interpreters, choreography, costumes, scenery, props, and division into acts, as an opera moving
down the street. In the case of Imperatriz, we have thirty-two alas divided into six sections, each complementing a specific float
and representing one act. When everything comes together, visually, musically, and symbolically, the similarities are
Brazzil—What prompted Fernando Pamplona, Joãozinho Trinta, Arlindo Rodrigues, and Rosa Magalhães to
change Carnaval from a musical into a visual performance?
Araújo—What motivated the change in Carnaval’s visual dimension was a change in the schools’
membership—their sponsors and fans. Originally, samba was seen as something from the
favelas, from Afro-Brazilian religion, from black
people and gangsters. Then the middle and upper classes, sensing something exotic, started coming to the samba schools,
which caused the schools and Carnaval, in turn, to change. All of these parade designers you just mentioned, these
carnavalescos, used to work together in the 1960’s in Salgueiro, but after a while each went his own way. Joãozinho went to Beija-Flor
in the seventies and he started his visual revolution. Then Arlindo Rodrigues came to Imperatriz where he made a
sensation with his ideas. But samba, no longer for the poor people from the
favelas, became a big production-consumption
business that involved the media and people from every level of society, all classes.
Brazzil—What does a production of that size cost?
Araújo—Usually, we budget at around one million dollars, but if the organization brings in more money, if we are
profitable in one of our ventures, we spend everything. We may budget for two million dollars, but make four that year, so we
spend it all. We want to do the best that we can.
Brazzil—It’s been rumored that the money Imperatriz uses to finance its parades comes from Luizinho Drummond,
the owner of an illegal, but very popular, lottery called
jogo do bicho.1 Would you comment on that?
Araújo—Luizinho Drummond is from ten years ago. Many people will argue that
jogo do bicho is the only honorable institution in Brazil. But the days when the
“bicheiros” (animal bankers) had an army of numbers runners—one on
every corner—are over. The times when “godfathers” financed the parades and controlled the
escolas are gone. Now each school raises its own money. And LIESA, together with Riotur (the city tourism board), coordinates and supervises the
collection of revenue—from recordings, ticket sales, television broadcasting rights, and the many events that we organize—then
distributes the income, with interest, among the schools. Because we have our own source of income, there is no longer a need for
money from gangsters. They are still in the schools because they want to be close to the community and in touch with what’s
going on and because they love the ambience and the atmosphere, but not because they are controlling them.
Brazzil—How will the twelve members who are coming to Los Angeles be able to evoke the illusion, the fantasy, and
the atmosphere of Carnaval?
Araújo—I know it’s a tall order, and we would have preferred to send a least forty members from the
bateria, but the costs of lodging and cartage were prohibitive. Nevertheless, we are sending the strongest members, one musical ambassador
from each wing of the bateria, as well as two of our best dancers, who incidentally, dance on the television variety program
“Domingão do Faustão.” We’ll be performing not only an explosive Carnaval style
batucada but also some funky
marchinhas and, of course, some mean
pagode. I’m also sending extra costumes for the TropiDanza troupe from Los Angeles, who will
augment our group on stage at the Palladium, and also for the stronger players who attend our workshops at the Remo
Percussion Center. We may be few in number, but small vials hold the deadliest poison.
Goytacazes… Tupy, Or Not Tupy,
(Marquinho Lessa, Guga, and
Campos… Terra dos índios
Um dia, com fome de amor,
(Hoje o couro vai comer)
|Goytacazes… Tupy, or Not Tupy, 2
In a South American Way!Campos… Land of the Goytacazes
They are wild, they are voracious
A life of cannibals
They knew about it in Europe
The white man got scared
Who’d ever say that Indians ate
One day hungry for love
(Today it’s really going to happen)
|1. Jogo do bicho is an illegal lottery in which different animals are assigned individual numerical values.
2. Goytacazes is an Indian tribe that used to live in Northern Rio de Janeiro state, where the city of Campos is today. Tupy is an Indian nation that was comprised of many tribes. Tupy or not Tupy is a pun on Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to
3. Peri and Ceci are characters from the novel
4. O Guarani, the opera composed by Carlos Gomes (1836-1896), is based on
José de Alencar’s novel by the same name.
5. Tupiniquim is an Indian nation.
6. Macunaíma is the central character of the experimental prose “rhapsody”
7. Zé Pereira was one of the first Carnaval groups to appear in Rio.
8. Iracema is the female protagonist of José de Alencar’s novel by the same name.
Web Sites of Interest:
Brazilian Nites Productions
Official Site—Imperatriz Leopoldinense
Empress of Carnival
Study of Macunaíma
* Many thanks to Sonia Santos of Yellow Green Productions for her invaluable technical support.
Bruce Gilman, music editor for
Brazzil magazine, received his Masters degree in music from California Institute of the
Arts. He is the recipient of three government grants that have allowed him to research traditional music in China, India, and
Brazil. His articles on Brazilian music have been translated and published in Spanish, German, Serbian, and Portuguese. You
can reach him through his e-mail: