Carnaval - The First Was Organized - Rio in 1929

In this section of, we will take a quick look at how the first Carnaval contest amongst samba-schools was organized in Rio de Janeiro.  According to many historians, the first contest among them (and samba contest too by definition) took place on a Sunday, January 20th, 1929, Saint Sebastian’s Day (Oshosi), at Mr. José Gomes da Costa’s, known as Zé Espinguela, house on the old Engenho de Dentro St., today called Adolfo Bergamini Street.  It was a very small “contest”, which did not resemble at all today´s Carnaval parade contest. 

Zé Espinguela, mulatto, party maker, and macumbeiro (follower of the macumba religious cult), a known Mangueira Samba-school supporter, was the ‘judge’ of this contest.  He had been president from “Bloco dos Arengueiros” and one of GRES Mangueira’s founders.  In this contest, the contenders had to present a samba.  The best composition would win.

According to Cláudio Bernando da Costa and Antônio Ruffino, Portela’s founders, three schools participated on the competition: Conjunto Osvaldo Cruz (later becoming Quem Nos Faz é o Capricho, and after becoming Vai Como Pode and, finally, became Portela), Mangueira and Estácio. Juvenal Lopes, Mangueira’s founder, said that Favela participated as well.  There are some people who say that Unidos da Tijuca Samba School participated as well.   Each samba-school could compete with two compositions.

Conjunto Osvaldo Cruz was represented by Heitor dos Prazeres and Antônio Caetano; Mangueira was represented by Cartola and Arturzinho; and Estácio, by Ismael Silva.

The competitors’ theme-samba verses were:

Heitor dos Prazeres

Não adianta chorar
Sou eu que não quero
Se é preciso me perdoa
Por ti odeio até morrer
Bem podes crer

It’s not worth crying
That’s I who wants no more
If you need, forgive me
For you I’ll hate ‘till death
You can believe me

(free translation)

Antônio Caetano
Ó que cantar mavioso
Que tens, ó sabiá
Teus gorjeios me fazem lembrar
A jovem que me fez parar
Pra depois me abandonar

Oh, how wonderful singing
Have you, oh thrush!
Your chirps remind me
The young girl who made me stop
For then dump me out

(free translation)


Na floresta no meio do ninho
Eu mostrei-te o bom caminho
Quando a mulher tem brio
Dizem que é malhar em ferro frio

In the woods, in the middle of the nest
I showed you the good path
When the woman is spirited
They say it is hammering in cold iron 

(free translation)

Arturzinho de Faria

Eu quero é nota
Carinho e sossego
Pra viver descansando
Cheio de alegria, meu bem
Com uma cabocla a meu lado

What I want is money
Affection and peace
To live in rest
Full of joy, honey
With a cabocla by my side

(free translation)

Ismael Silva

Tudo eu faço
Pra esquecer quem amei
Pra ela fui ingrato
Sem querer, eu já chorei,
Sem querer

I do everything
To forget who I loved
For her I was such ingrate
With no intention I have cried,
With no intention

(free translation)

The winner of this contest was Heitor dos Prazeres’ samba.  Just like the future samba discussions would imagine, the result was not well seen and there were protests and riots on the day of the performances.   Zé Espinguela’s initial idea was to promote a great party to award the winner.   Nonetheless, rumors came up saying there would be fights and violence, since Mangueira’s and Estácio’s people could not accept the results. Actually, the main contestant was Estácio’s samba tema, since they were revolted with Ismael Silvas’ samba ineligibility. (The reason for the disqualification was the the fact that the samba performance was followed by a band which comprised wind instruments, Benedito Lacerda’s flute, not allowed by the contest rules.)

The solution found by contest organizers to avoid further problemas was to substitute the awards by a tribute to the samba schools which participated at the event.  They awarded all three teams with identical ‘cups’, being differentiated only by ribbons colors, attached to the cups.

The colors chosen for the ribbons were a symbol of the already existing color associations of those particular schools.  Thus, the cup for Conjunto Osvaldo Cruz ( today´s Portela Samba-School) took blue and white ribbons in view of Our Lady of Conception, samba-school patron; Mangueira got green and rose ribbons, colors suggested to Cartola’s school due to Ranchos Arrepiados, which he took part in; and Estácio got red and white ribbons due to school identification with América Football Club.  Some samba researchers consider the episode color determining for these samba-schools.  The party happened on the Carnaval Sunday, on February 10th, 1930, at Benjamin Constant School stairs at Praça Onze, Rio de Janeiro downtown.

Heitor dos Prazeres, the contest winner, although he did not get the prize, he took advantage of the accomplishment, by taking on the leadership which was being contested by Osvaldo Cruz Samba-School members.   He immediately changed the name  of the Samba-School from“Conjunto Osvaldo Cruz” to “Quem nos faz é o Capricho”, and designed a new flag for the group as well.   This initiative, which was supported by Paulo da Portela, suffered other restrictions from samba players like Caetano, Rufino and Miguel Bam-Bam-Bam.   In 1929 and 1930, some of “Conjunto Osvaldo Cruz’” samba-school supporters resisted and decided to parade with the original name.  In 1931, Heitor dos Prazeres was dismissed and the name of that samba group was substituted by Vai como pode, but that´s another samba story!

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