The Rio Carnival choir

This year, the Rio carnival has received the biggest investment in its history. At a cost of almost $12 million, this festival will bring almost six million people to the streets of Rio, welcoming more than 1.5 million international tourists and generating over a billion dollars.

Over a century and a half has passed since the first Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. European dances like the waltz or polka were the main focus in the first Rio Carnival held in 1840. Samba made its début somewhat later. This dance, which mixes African and Portuguese rhythms, has taken center stage since 1917. Since 1984 the event has been held in the purpose-built Sambadrome, where around 10 music and samba schools come together to put on this spectacular show.

A school that transforms lives

However, the festival that’s really close to Brazilians’ hearts is the so-called “street carnival.” This year, 600 parades (23 more than last year) and 464 blocos, or street bands, will fill the streets of this city with music and color, and one of the teachers from the Escola de Música Rocinha will be right in the middle of the action.

This year, 600 parades (23 more than last year) and 464 blocos, or street bands, will fill the streets of this city with music and color, and one of the teachers from the Escola de Música Rocinha will be right in the middle of the action.

For almost 25 years, this center has been using music to transform the lives of young Brazilians. It all started in 1994 when Hans Ulrich Koch, a German living in Rio de Janeiro, “decided to create a music school for people in vulnerable situations.” The founder believed that music could transform society and brought music to the neighborhood of Rocinha, one of the largest favelas in Latin America. The school started with a choir and some basic instruments, the most it could manage with its limited financial resources. That was how it began.

However, since the Escola Música do Rocinha began to receive funding form Repsol and other entities, it has been able to bring educational and cultural projects to Brazilian society, such as the Orquesta de Cámara da Rocinha.

The “street carnival”

For Thiago Pires, a performer and music teacher at the School, the street carnival is “even bigger and more inclusive than the party in the Sambadrome.”  Performing in the official venue is more expensive than taking part in the blocos and, for musicians, the irreverent sense of humor of the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro helps them to “confront the inequalities that we come up against.”

The Carnival is centered on music. Thiago believes that music is a fundamental element in transforming people’s lives. For example, “when someone tells a person they’re good for nothing and then they try making music, they start to believe in themselves.”

Thiago Pires, teacher at the Escuela Rocinha: “Great musicians aren’t just born, they need to find people and organizations to help build their creativity, discipline, and dedication

The school teaches children between six and 17 years of age. The teacher acknowledges the importance of patronage as a fundamental pillar in the development or performers and musicians: “Great musicians aren’t just born, they need to find people and organizations to help build their creativity, discipline, and dedication. This support is the key to their success.” Maybe some day soon we’ll see his pupils performing in the Sambadrome or in the street carnival, just like him.

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