Today we will take a look at the samba-school which is the all time champion of the Brazilian Carnival, legendary Portela Samba School. We will review their foundation, their innovative spirit which helped them amass 21 Rio Carnaval contest since 1932, some of their talented musicians who honored the samba-school´s pantheon, Portela´s logo, official Flag & technical information. The traditional school from Rio´s suburbs is also very famous because of its exceptional composers, some of whom surely helped them develop and write the history of the samba musical genre in Brazil, like Zé Keti, Monarco, and Candeia. As you will see below, Portela, just like Estação Primeira de Mangueira, is a samba-school from the masses, and has attracted many international celebrities to their rehearsals and parade, like Ricky Martin. The diversity at Portela´s environment is also a great asset to the samba-school. Recent Brazilian music composers like Paulinho da Viola and Marisa Monte help Portela to spread its cultural identity all over Brazil and the world. Let´s take a closer look at how this wonderful chapter of the Brazilian Samba history was written.
Portela ´s Origins:
Portela´s first steps started during the 1920’s, at a time where samba-schools as know of them today simply did not exist. (For this reason, we will briefly go over the street bands, important to understand the foundation of Portela.) At this time, there were numerous carnaval samba street bands in Osvaldo Cruz neighborhood from Rio de Janeiro, amongst them the “Ouro Sobre o Azul”, founded by Paulo Benjamin de Oliveira, “Baianinhas de Osvaldo Cruz”, founded by samba lover Galdino and “Quem Fala de Nós come Mosca”, founded by Mrs. Ester Maria de Jesus. This last one was composed almost exclusively by children that paraded just during daytime and it was the only one legalized at the time, with a police license. The street band “Baianinhas de Osvaldo Cruz”, composed by adults paraded with “Quem Fala de Nós Come Mosca´s” license. Mrs. Ester prohibited them to use their license, since some of their members were troublemakers.
Paulo Benjamin de Oliveira, a distinguished samba lover of the neighborhood, then proposed the extinction of the “Baianinhas de Osvaldo Cruz” street band and the formation of a new unique samba street band that would really represent the entire Osvaldo Cruz neighborhood. He then called Natal, Mr. Napoleão José do Nascimento’s son, a close friend, to ask his father permission for the founding of the new consolidated samba street band. Mr. Napoleão agreed and gave them the space on one condition: they would let the Holy week pass before the founding of the block.
This way, in Wednesday following Easter, 11th of April 1923, under a mango tree, the “Bloco Carnavalesco Conjunto de Osvaldo Cruz”, Portela samba school’s embryo was born. Wednesday was chosen due to a mythological tradition, probably suggested by Paulo Benjamin de Oliveira, since the number 4, the fourth day of the week, is consecrated by God Hermes (Greek) or Mercury (Roman), protector of Sheppard and flocks (Osvaldo Cruz was still a rural neighborhood at the time). Until nowadays, Wednesdays are considered by the old guard of Portela a special celebration day.
In 1926, the first board of directors was created by President Paulo Benjamin de Oliveira, also known as Paulo da Portela, Secretary Antônio Caetano and Treasurer Antônio Rufino. (The first headquarters of the samba-school was located at Paulo Benjamin do Oliveira’s house in Barra Funda.)
In 1929, they changed their name to “Quem nos Faz é o Capricho” street band and in 1931 to “Vai Como Pode” street band. It was only in 1935 they finally adopted their definitive name of Portela. The name was suggested by Deputy Dulcidio Cardoso, during the official establishment of all samba schools as recreational guilds on March 1st, 1935 in Rio de Janeiro.
Portela has been pioneer in many sectors of carnaval. It was the first school to use adornments, the samba song by Paulo Benjamin de Oliveira, “Teste ao Samba”, from 1935, is considered the first samba-theme song. Portela also introduced the opening wing and was the first school to use ropes. Adalberto dos Santos, known as Betinho, created two samba-instruments: the “caixa surda” and the “reco-reco”. These innovations helped the samba-school to win between 1939 and 1953 incredible 11 titles, including 7 of them in a row.
From the 80’s onwards the school went through many internal problems that reflected directly on its parades and championship positions. These issues ended up with a divide and a new samba school was born from the dissident members: Tradição samba-school. Since then, Portela wasn’t able to be champion. (The last Title was won in 1980.) The best result that they obtained since then was a second place in 1995, with the parade theme “Gosto que me Enrosco”.
In 2005, Portela had their worst moment in their history and the samba- school achieved the 13th place due to a delay in the parade: the President Nilo Figueiredo didn’t allow the legendary old guard to parade. This attitude was taken by the President because that year the school had many problems with floats that made the parade run late. Fearing to be demoted, the president decided to avoid the entrance of the old guard to avoid even further delay of the parade timing, thus creating a sad and bizarre moment amongst the samba world.
During Portela’s history, the school achieved the championship for 21 times, remaining until today the school to have 7 consecutive championship titles in history. Besides being one of the most traditional schools in Rio, Portela has one of the strongest Drum sections, having some peculiarities such as the Surdo de Terceira (a type of bass drum), created by Sula during the 40’s. The school´s that has as its main symbol the great eagle, also innovated at the 2005 parade, with the inclusion of especially handicapped revelers wing.
The school always had many international celebrities as guests. Some them included Latin singer Ricky Martin (1997 parade), super model Nomi Campbell (2005) and musical producer Quincy Jones (2006).
Composers at Portela: Since its founding, Portela has been a “factory” of great samba and Brazilian music composers. Some of these talnted composers and interpresters include: Monarco, Zé Keti, Casquinha, Manacéa, Candeia, Aldir Blanc, Paulinho da Viola, João Nogueira, Noca da Portela, Colombo, Luiz Ayrão, Ary do Cavaco, Alcides Dias Lopes a.k.a “Malandro Histórico”, Alvaiade, and Marisa Monte.