When talking about Rio de Janeiro, or even when talking about Brazil as a whole, two things that are always mentioned are Football and Samba. At times in the past it even appeared that the two skills mixed, with amazing footballing talents such as Ronaldinho and today with Neymar looking as though they dance with a ball at their feet.
Being an Englishman, I know very little about Samba. So this would be an education for me as I headed down towards the Sambódromo to see what it is all about.
Samba actually has its roots back in West Africa, in nations such as Angola and the Congo, and then from the West African slave trade moved onto the Bahia region of North Eastern Brazil. Samba though actually only started as a music genre once the people of Rio de Janeiro got a hold of it.
The music of Samba is characterised by a strong, slow 2-beat rhythm along with signals and cues performed on a whistle. Dancing to this would require you to move in a rhythmical lively manner. I think you are born with samba running through your veins, something like that. You don’t learn to do it, you just feel it…..something like that but it’s something I cannot do well anyway!
The Sambódromo Marques de Sapucai in the downtown are of Cidade Nova is the World famous Rio Carnival venue of Samba! It’s a lengthy stretch of road that is lined by grandstands for the spectators of the annual event and every single year the parade avenue is painted grey, before the arrival of the Carnival and the 90,000 spectators that can be seated here! The same as a full Wembley Stadium….Crazy!
On the subject of huge football stadiums, the next stop would be at one of the most famous Stadiums in International football, home of 5-time World Cup Winners Brazil, the Maracanã Stadium. Sadly the stadium has been left into a state of disrepair since the 2016 Summer Olympics, but from the outside the stadium stood as the giant it is.
In front of the stadium gates a statue stands that was originally unveiled following winning the 1958 and 1962 World Cups. Since then other plaques have been added from their World Cup victories of 1970, 1994 and 2002. When you look at the plaques, some of the players you see listed just amaze you to just how good Brazil are at football. Names like Garrincha, Pele, Carlos Alberto and Ronaldo etc. Amazing!
One huge piece of art/graffiti that I came across really interested me. As you look at the wall art, that was painted prior to the 2014 World Cup, it is believed that it actually told the future. With players wearing red and with 7 ships sailing at sea…..and what happened….yes, Germany (who on this occasion wore red) scored 7 against Brazil to knock them out of their own World Cup…..that is spooky!
So on turning around, there right in front of me was the ‘Escadaria Selarón’. The ‘Escadaria Selarón’ are most definitely the brightest and most colourful steps I have seen on my travels across the World. A set of 215 steps which rise up 125 metres from the bottom to the top and are made up of over 2000 brightly coloured tiles from 60 different countries worldwide.
This huge ‘tribute to the Brazilian people’ was created by the Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón, and it started out as mostly blue, green and yellow due to the colours used on the flag of Brazil, but as you can see a lot of red had been introduced at some point. Jorge Selarón, from what I learnt, seemed like a really top bloke. Always unfazed by the tourists as he worked on his art piece, and at night even told fascinating stories to the drunken onlookers. Sadly though, in 2013 he was found dead marked by burns on the Lapa steps.
The Selarón steps have been used in many different forms of media such as tv ads for Coca-Cola and National Geographic and also featured largely in the music video for the song ‘Beautiful’ by Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams.
My journey through this incredible city would continue as I next headed eastwards towards the Rio Harbour and the famous Sugarloaf Mountain……