Villa-Lobos and the 1999 Rio Carnaval

February 2000:

Harold Lewis contributes this report of an important recent cultural event in Brazil: the homage to Villa-Lobos by the samba school Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel, at the 1999 Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro:   

Mocidade Independente flagIt was a tribute that few composers can have achieved.  Over four thousand  participants from the Mocidade Independente samba school danced and sang a passionate homage to Villa-Lobos, in a presentation that began at midnight on Monday, February 15, turned the Rio 'sambádromo' into an luxuriant and dazzling image of the Amazon forest and earned thunderous applause from the Rio Carnaval spectators.  "Villa-Lobos, a prova de brasilidade" was the title of the Mocidade samba - impossible to translate in as many words, but meaning "the proof of our Brazilian cultural identity".  [picture: the flag of the great samba school Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel]

Marcos Palmeira as Villa-Lobos
Marcos Palmeira as Villa-Lobos,
from Globo On's Carnaval picture gallery]
The whole presentation was conceived by Renato Lages, one of the most innovative designers working with the samba schools.  Its main features were six huge, brilliantly lit allegorical cars, up to 30 metres long, which displayed themes and perspectives of the composer's life and works.  On one car, illustrating the final 'trenzinho da caipira' movement from the Bachianas Brasileiras no. 2, an actor portraying Villa-Lobos 'conducted' a 20-piece orchestra, which was actually led by the cellist David Chew.  The actor, Marcos Palmeira, also played the part of Villa-Lobos in a recently produced film about the composer, scheduled for cinema release in Brazil later this year. Other cars took as their themes 'Dawn in a Tropical Forest', 'Uirapurú' and the blending of the races in Brazil, while the concluding theme was the 'Re-Discovery of Brazil' - a Brazil based on social justice and food, health, education and decent housing for all.   

Picture from the Mocidade '99 Carnaval entryThe procession was led by a troupe of acrobats, dressed as vividly green Amazonian frogs (green is the traditional colour used by the Mocidade samba school), while the mass of the samba dancers (passistas) acted out the ecological richness of the forest.  The text of the samba reminded people that Villa-Lobos had been an enthusiastic admirer of the samba tradition, going so far as to organise groups of dancers for carnival performances. 

[Picture: from Samba Brasil's 99 Carnaval website, the Amazonian frogs]

Brazil's manager Wanderley Luxemburgo
[picture: Reuters photo of Luxemburgo after he was named to manage Brazil's national team]
In an accolade that had resonances unique to Brazil, the Villa-Lobos passistas were joined by Wanderley Luxemburgo, manager of the Brazil football team, as well as by other celebrities and stars. 

Of course, the Rio carnival is not just a parade - it's also a fiercely contested competition between the rival samba schools, evaluated and scored by a critical and demanding panel of jurors.  The sheer beauty, fantasy, creativity and excitement of Renato Lages' ideas and their vibrant translation into song and dance had brought shouts of "They're the champions" from the packed stands along the carnival route.  Mocidade were firm favourites to win the championship, but a technical mishap with one of the allegorical cars resulted in one of the jurors awarding Mocidade a damagingly low score on the 'technical evolution' criterion, and they had to be content with fourth place.  The eventual champions were the Imperatriz Leopoldinense samba school, who turned out a characteristically perfect technical display based on 17th century Dutch painters' impressions of Brazil.  As usual, the jurors' verdict was greeted with (perhaps justified) accusations of bias and malice from the losing schools.
Still, it was Mocidade and Villa-Lobos who won the people's hearts. As the Jornal do Brasil commented, Villa-Lobos would have been proud.  Those like myself who watched the event on the live Internet relay by the Globo TV channel will want to buy the video of this year's Carnaval as a lasting memento of the night that Rio exploded with love for Villa-Lobos.

Harold Lewis - February 1999

Atlanta's coach Dan Reeves
[picture: does Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves listen to Charles Ives?]
Thanks so much, Harold, for that fascinating report. You're right about Wanderley Luxemburgo's involvement having "resonances unique to Brazil."  Imagine Dan Reeves (my best approximation at Luxemburgo's U.S. equivalent - he's the coach of the Super Bowl-losing Atlanta Falcons) being involved in a parade float honouring Aaron Copland or Charles Ives - and the whole country watching!
Harold mentions watching the parade on Globo TV's live Internet broadcast.  Globo On's 99 Carnaval website has video and audio highlights of Mocidade's samba, as well as a great selection of pictures.  [Unfortunately the 99 Carnaval website is no longer available on the Globo On server.  However, you can hear the Mocidade Villa-Lobos samba here.]

 Even better, though, you can now watch a video of the Mocidade performance.  Excellent!


Samba Brasil has excellent coverage of the 99 Rio Carnaval.  Their page on Mocidade's 99 entry includes pictures and the samba lyrics (printed below) - for which I hope to get a translation soon.
Rompeu barreiras
Atravessou fronteiras
Para sua música despontar
Esse gênio brasileiro
Conquistou o mundo inteiro
Fez nosso país se orgulhar
Palmilhando os quatro cantos do gigante
De folclore fascinante
Fonte de belezas naturais
Criou grandes temas musicais
Papagaio do moleque enfeitando o céu azul
O uirapuru a encantar de norte a sul
As Bachianas quanta emoção!
É lindo o chorinho Rasga o coração
Deixou cantar em sua música
A fauna, a flora, rio e mar (o mar)
No concerto da floresta ao luar
Canta o pajé... dança o Mandu Çarará
Refletindo a poesia, mistérios e magias
Da cultura popular
Criança esperança vem pra folia cirandar
Que hoje a batuta do maestro
Rege a sinfonia desta arte milenar
Villa-Lobos é prova de brasilidade
Sua obra altaneira
Vem na voz da Mocidade
Cantando a apoteose brasileira
Dean Frey - February 1999