Festooned in green, blue and white, Unidos de Vila Maria is one of São Paulo’s premiere samba schools, and its rehearsals are well worth checking out. Last year, it told the story of Korean immigration to São Paulo with a ‘Made in Korea’ theme honouring the 50th anniversary of the group’s arrival to the city. For 2014, the school turns its attention inward to commemorate its own 60th birthday with a theme celebrating children’s toys and games.
The basics The rehearsals are a chance for anyone planning to parade to learn that year’s chosen song (samba-enredo), for the drummers to master their rhythms, for the dancers to get in step, and for the neighbourhoods to start the celebrations. But don’t let the term ‘rehearsal’ confuse you – a samba school ensaio is as much a party as a chance for the school to practice, and everyone is welcome for a cover fee. They can be crowded, sometimes slightly chaotic events, so take care to work out beforehand how you’re getting home, and leave valuables behind.