Brazil - BRAZZIL - World Sambistas To Do a Show on Rio Carnaval - Brazilian Music - Cover April 1999

April 1999

Samba Web

Samba for the next millennium won't be restricted to the borders of Brazil. Thanks to the Internet, sambistas from around the world have organized themselves and will form the first International Samba School to Parade in Brazil: Unidos do Mundo (United of the World). They will parade in Rio's Sambadrome with the government's blessing to help celebrate the 500th year celebration of Brazil's discovery and the beginning of a new millennium.

David de Hilster

In late 1994 and early 1995, the Internet was just starting to come into its own. Yahoo was still just a directory index by two college kids and the World-Wide-Web was more like the Wild-Wild-West for computer nerds. It was during these days, that the International Samba community began to find each other—first via e-mail, then via the World-Wide-Web forming in a few short months a place in cyberspace for samba.

I don't remember exactly who I met first but that is usually the way it goes. I, like a few brave international samba lovers at the time, were out there "surfing" the Web when we found other people interested in samba outside of Brazil. In late 1994 and early 1995, Brazil consisted of just a few Internet sites at big universities like PUC in Rio and USP in São Paulo. Because of this, there was more samba outside of Brazil to find on the Internet than inside. Like many on the Internet, we were searching for people with common interests and experiences.

Some of my first contacts turned out to become important in the future of establishing cyber-samba on the Internet. Ian Heavens was one of the first people I met. He was a pioneer in the area of samba and e-mail and we hit it off pretty quick. He suggested that we start a sambistas e-mail list and did just that. That was the key that got samba together on the Internet.

I credit Ian for starting the entire movement. Ian it turns out is a member of Bloco Vômito, a punk samba group in Scotland. Ian, like most Scots, is quite a character and though he has been in Los Angeles at times, we have never met in person. Once, one of the members of our samba group went to Scotland and I arranged for them to meet with Ian. But that is the closest we have come to actually meeting in person.

Another person I met early on was Jupe from Império do Papagaio. We really hit it off, mostly because we had very similar situations. In 1994, I started a samba school in Long Beach, California, the biggest city in the Los Angeles metropolitan area besides LA itself. Jupe, was a founding member of a samba school in Helsinki, Finland, one of several serious samba schools in the Finnish League of Samba Schools. Jupe was a computer person as well as myself and we started talking to each other first via the sambistas e-mail list. Finally, we found someone like ourselves: islands of samba in the vast sambaless wasteland outside of mother Brazil.

Jupe and I started talking about the next logical step: Websites. You have to remember that in early 1995, Websites were only for computer nerds and that having a home page meant only a few visitors a day if you were lucky. Just finding a place to host Websites took weeks and weeks of search. And even if you got your Website up, there were so few people surfing the Web at the time most people didn't see why anyone would even bother in putting up a homepage.

Jupe and I started talking about our plans to put up a Website for our samba schools. While most of the cyber sambistas were talking about samba music, groups, and similar experience via e-mail, Jupe and I were busy in our heads dreaming up our Websites. Little did we know that we were about to embark on something that would change the world of samba not only outside of Brazil, but inside. I guess the saying is that we were making "samba history".

The First Pages

Without knowing the consequences, in April 1995, I announced to the sambistas e-mail list that SambaLá Samba School now had a Website on the Internet. I immediately got an e-mail message back from Jupe in Finland. He was very upset, but in a good way. He said: "David, you have beaten me! You are the first samba school in the world to have a home page! I am working on our page with the hopes of being the first but you have won". I really never thought of it that way. I then searched and searched the Internet and found nothing. Not even in Brazil. It turned out that indeed, SambaLá Samba School became the first samba school in the world to have a site on the Internet. Jupe quickly followed and became the second site on the world, and not too many months later, Mangueira became the first Brazilian school to have a Website. Other samba sites started popping and things began moving.

But in those early days of the Internet, life was lonely out there in cyberspace. For the first year of life our samba school Website,, had very few visitors. In fact, as I kept vigilant with calendars, pictures, and group event happenings, the only people who were looking at our home page for almost a year and half were people outside of the Los Angeles area. We were more of a curiosity than a service to our group. Then, few people in our group even knew what a Website was let alone had Internet access! Why we first groups kept it up, I'm not sure. We probably did it more for each other than anything else. Sort of like fire-signals in the cold dark of cyberspace.

As more and more samba groups added their Websites to the Internet, I suggested we sambistas organize ourselves via a "world samba" home page. Everyone liked the idea but no one seemed to have the time or resources to do it. So, I took up the task. I registered the name and put up a site. The idea was very simple. The site itself would have general information about samba, but its main purpose was to serve as a portal to all the samba group home pages around the world. We decided to organize by country with someone in each country putting up a home page for samba in their area. They in turn would link samba home pages to their country home page thus creating a worldwide samba network that allows visitors to easily find groups anywhere in the world.

This homepage worked out better than expected, with a total of 16 countries now having samba homepages. The World-Wide Samba Home Page (WWSHP) now attracts international attention with dozens of articles (like this one) being written about samba in cyberspace thanks to the cooperation of the cyber-sambistas.


In 1997, I put up a selfserve database on the WWSHP that allowed groups to inscribe into the International Federation of Sambistas (IFoS). Instead of creating a bureaucratic nightmare with paperwork, money, meetings, laws, etc., the IFoS was meant to be free, simple, and non-structured. The only requirement was to sign up. After almost 2 years of existence, the IFoS now has almost 125 groups, all of which reside outside of Brazil.

With an average of only 35 people, in total, they involve at the very minimum 2500 people, and a maximum at peak season of well over 11,000 sambistas. The countries with the most groups are Germany (44), the United States (21), and England (11). The countries cover the globe from Australia, to Austria, from Jamaica, to Japan and all points in between.

The typical samba group outside of Brazil is very different from "traditional" samba schools. This is based on the fact that Brazilians don't tend to immigrate outside of their country as much as other cultures (as Mexican in the United States, for example). Brazilian communities outside of Brazil are often spread out and blend in with the foreign community, with numbers only reaching in the thousands or tens of thousands. For example, the estimated populations of Brazilians here in the United States are Boston 120,000, New York / New Jersey and Miami 100,000 each, and San Francisco and Los Angeles with around 30,000 each. And in most places, Brazilians do not tend to congregate in business or social events the way you might expect.

This makes it difficult to form what is called a "traditional" Samba School outside of Brazil. In all, there are probably only around a dozen truly "traditional" samba schools in the world although there are 32 groups claiming to be true samba schools. "Traditional" samba schools are patterned after schools in Rio and must minimally include meeting regularly (weekly) at a quadra (or meeting place), make their own costumes including porta-bandeira (flag bearer), mestre sala (ballroom master), comissão de frente (front commission), alas (theme groups) and of course a bateria (percussion unit). They must also parade once a year in public and write a theme song or samba enredo around a designated theme. Most groups however, are not "traditional".

Out of the around 125 groups, there are around 30 traditional schools, 60 baterias, 20 blocos (proto-samba schools), and 15 dance groups. The average group is a bateria, with Germany leading the way in numbers with a claimed 80-100 bateria groups. These groups usually play many Brazilian rhythms including samba, timbalada, samba-reggae, and many other styles. They are usually made up of both males and females of all ages who enjoy world music and who have come to love all things Brazilian. They have fallen in love with what Brazil has that so many of their own countries often lack: passion!

Some groups have even started taking samba in new directions. Samba punk, samba rap, samba-ska, and even samba and bagpipes! There are groups with names that are uniquely non-Brazilian like the Super Sonic Samba School, Samba Tek, A Bunda (The Butt) and of course the infamous Bloco Vômito. Many of them paint themselves up in ways never seen in Brazil, yet play with much the same enthusiasm. Such is the spirit of samba outside of Brazil, that one solitary man in Poland has put up the Polish Samba Home Page in hopes to attract others interested in Samba to form groups there. And knowing the Internet, it will be only a matter of time before it happens.

There is a hot debate in the IFoS about the words "samba school". Most samba groups outside of Brazil are indeed that: "schools". But very few groups are "samba schools" in the traditional sense. There are many misconceptions in the world of gringo samba. One for example is the habit to call ALL samba or Brazilian groups "samba schools". Olodum is called a samba school by many outside of Brazil when in actuality it is a "bloco-afro". Most gringo samba groups are dance groups, baterias, blocos, folkloric groups, and many others.

Yet, the main goal of these groups most often is indeed to "teach" samba to foreigners and the children of Brazilians living outside of Brazil. And that is why they give themselves the name "school". Groups gives classes in dance, drums, capoeira, and even Portuguese conversation, often taking pilgrims on a yearly trip to the Mecca of Samba: Rio de Janeiro.

But those looking for a more traditional sense of samba and Carnaval can find it in a few places outside of Brazil. The biggest parades and most organized traditional schools can be found in Tokyo, Japan and Helsinki, Finland. In Japan, schools are made up mostly of students in the universities that put on an elaborate and beautiful Carnaval parade during the last weekend in August in the older district of Tokyo called Asakusa. There, sambas are composed and sung in Japanese, there are floats, alas (groups of costumes), sambistas, and even a big sumo-like King Momo. It is quite amazing to see.

But in my opinion, the most organized and dedicated samba event outside of Brazil is in a place that is almost literally on the opposite side of the world: Helsinki, Finland. There, 4-5 samba schools have formed a National Federation of Finland Samba Schools that hold a highly disputed and spirited competition every year, involving hundreds and hundreds of people. Each samba school contributes to the same parade and theme making one large samba school. There are four or more floats, incredible costumes, and a dedication to samba that is second to none outside of Brazil. Groups travel regularly between Helsinki and Brazil taking in samba culture. It is quite a passion there. They even produce a CD of samba enredos that you can buy over the Internet. They parade in the summer of course!

There are other non-Brazilian Carnaval events that include Brazilian groups with the biggest happening in London, England and San Francisco. There, samba groups join up on a seasonal basis and parade with other Carnaval groups from other cultures.

Rio 2000
& Samba

In early 1997, I noticed that many samba groups in Europe got together in international meetings in England, Holland, Germany, and other places thanks to the communication set up via the Internet. Baterias of great sizes (in the hundreds) were getting together to parade, have workshops, and even bring in Brazilian masters from the mother country to teach and give workshops. With the millennium coming up in a few short years, 1997 seemed a good year to do something I had in the back of my mind since the beginning of samba in cyberspace: an international meeting of samba in Brazil.

I looked around for an excuse for the event and I didn't have to look far. What better time and place for this "Encontro" (or get-together) than in the year 2000! As it turns out, it had the extra benefit of being the 500th year anniversary of the discovery of Brazil, which would play an important role in making this event a reality.

The first reaction from the international sambista community was that it was a "great" idea! But it quickly turned to "how are we going to do it?" "I don't have the money to go. Will the Brazilian allow such a thing?" I myself have always been fearless when it came to doing things in life so this was a welcome challenge. I lived three years in Rio (from 1987-1990) and knew that everything was in place for this to happen. It was simply a matter of getting all the pieces of the puzzle together. At first, I just put up one Webpage on the WWSHP with a map showing flight paths from the samba centers around the world to Rio in the year 2000. This simply got the idea into the heads of the thousands that passed by our Website. At that time I called it Encontro 2000 (Encounter 2000). Everyone liked the idea but no one really thought I could pull it off.

At that time, I knew that the Sambadrome opened up Carnaval with a commercial parade sponsored by some big company. At first I thought that we could get Brahma Beer or some other multinational Brazilian company to sponsor the opening of Carnaval 2000 in Rio with a samba group made up of gringo sambistas. But I had no contacts. Plus, I lived in the Los Angeles area, 7000 miles (11,000 kilometers) away. Despite the fact that everyone wanted the project, no one believed it would happen, I did something that worked before: I built a site. I figured if I build a big beautiful site on the Internet, had a place to sign up, that people would come. And they did.

In a few short months, we had over 50 people committed to pre-registration almost two years in advance of the event. After a year, we had well over 100. Groups of 50-60 started looking into the possibility of going to the event, without guarantee that it would even happen. As we started into 1998, the skepticism grew stronger and I had to do something soon. It turned out that I was going to Brazil that year and that was my chance. 1999 would be too late.

I sent e-mail to Felipe Ferreira. Years earlier, he and another person in Rio contacted me about becoming the webmaster of the Brazilian Samba Home Page. Believe it or not, we had almost ten countries with samba home pages before Brazil entered the cyberworld. At the time, I was receiving e-mail from two people in Rio who claimed to be creating samba Web pages for the samba schools there. In the communications between the two, I mixed them up. The first one to contact me was Felipe. In the course of my many e-mails, I confused him with another person creating pages and ended up announcing to the world that the second person was to be the coveted "webmaster" of the Brazilian Samba Home Page. Felipe quickly e-mailed me back saying how he was disappointed in me in that he was the first and I had promised the page to him. I found my error, and apologized to everyone. Since then, Felipe has become the "coveted" Brazilian Samba webmaster.

Being the Rio Samba Webmaster, I contacted Felipe about he and I meeting about Encontro Rio 2000. I was taking a small group of people to Rio for Carnaval and could meet with him after the festivities. He agreed and even invited our group to parade with a group B samba school in Rio called Tuiuti. I told him that we already were parading in Macaé, in the northern part of Rio State and could not parade this year. When we got to Rio however, the rains were the worst in 50 years in Rio and Macaé's parade was postponed. I quickly e-mailed and called Felipe about parading with Tuiuti. On the Friday before Carnaval, we finally met in person and we all paraded in the Sambadrome.

My First Time

Dreaming of my meeting for Rio 2000, and being on a whirlwind trip with much to do, I first entered the Sambadrome more worried about my group and videotaping them then noticing where I was. I was given a director's T-shirt and was allowed to go and video anywhere I liked. It was a dream come true. Instead of filming the beautiful costumes and marvelous floats though, I found myself filming everything behind the scenes. How did they get people on those tall floats? How did they get all the percussion instruments for hundreds of players to the Sambadrome? Where did they line up? How do they control the sound system for a parade that is almost a kilometer long? And on and on. There I was, a cyber-sambista, being treated like royalty because of my work on the Internet. I was very humbled by it all. I had seen the Sambadrome on TV. Passed by it daily in Rio. I even made a 3-dimensional model of the Sambadrome in cyberspace and had walked around it. But I was never there in person. It's an old cyber-tale: been there, done that, without ever stepping foot near the physical location.

When the alarm sounded for us to "go onto the avenue" as they say, I felt an incredible adrenaline rush. I was videotaping the entire event from behind another cyber point of view and had to finally stop for a moment. I was there, in the flesh. I was at the Mecca of samba—the center of the samba world. And I was about to parade for the first time. In front of me was a samba school of 1500 people and 4 floats. Small by Felipe's standards, but enormous for me. I did something at that moment that pulled every emotion and love for my adopted country together into my heart that seemed to swell to the size of a bus: I danced samba in the Sambadrome.

For 10 weeks, twice a week, I sweated learning to dance the passista step in Long Beach before the trip. We have one of the best teachers if not the best outside of Brazil. Álvaro Aguiar's patience with gringos learning samba is incredible and is only surpassed by his talent as a dancer, drummer, and martial arts world champion. I could not let him down during this moment. So this gringo danced the samba.

In a moment of complete emotional bliss and with tears flowing like Iguaçu Falls in Brazil I danced the passista step in the Sambadrome in Rio. Dressed in all white, I danced. Dancei. Sambei.

All of a sudden, I was awoken from my blissful trance by applause. Brazilians were shouting and beginning to surround me, calling out "samba cara, samba!" I stopped immediately realizing they thought I was a "real" sambista. In actuality, I was just an inspired gringo.

Can Gringos
Really Samba?

That was the first experience I had that asked a bigger question that both the Brazilian and gringo cyber-sambistas all want to know: can gringos really samba? I found out in the Sambadrome that they could do a bit. When I had stopped dancing, Brazilians came up to me and said, "Don't stop! Dance!" It turns out that the average Brazilian doesn't know the passista step just like the average American doesn't know the jitterbug dance. But what about other aspects of samba?

Here are some other insights I learned on that trip: During my 1998 visit, I got to do something that to the best of my knowledge, no non-Brazilian had ever done: to be the lead samba singer at a samba school quadra. I was invited to sing samba as a puxador (pronounced "poosh a door") or samba lead singer at a school where my brother-in-law Jairzinho was head singer. The first week I was too hoarse to sing. The second week, I saved my voice and sang three or four songs at their quadra or samba school grounds. There, the bateria played, Brazilians danced the samba, all to a tall gringo singing.

Afterwards, I asked people how I did. People were in a sort of daze. I thought to myself, "Oh boy, it was terrible and embarrassing. What have I done?" I went over to Jairzinho and asked him what was wrong. He said two things that to me, foreshadow what will become a transition for samba that all Brazilians will have to face. First, he said that people never saw or heard of a president of a samba school that sings samba. This reflects a big difference between samba groups outside of Brazil where there is less of a hierarchy due to a person's financial position. Second, he said that in their opinion, I was a "principal" puxador, not just who accompanies. I guess they were expecting to say, "Look, how cute: a gringo singing samba!" In fact, people in their school seemed shocked to find a true blue gringo singing samba at the level of the "principal" singers. I had in effect stolen a bit of what was until then, solely a Brazilian domain. It was now clear to these Brazilians that samba could be done outside of Brazil and that was a scary thought.

Our First Meeting

After the 1998 Carnaval, Felipe, Ricardo (a friend), and myself went to eat at a restaurant in the Lagoas area. We all had the flu and were very tired. I gave Felipe my 15-minute pitch and then answered dozens of questions they had. In a very short time, I knew the idea was a good one because they were excited and talking about all the possibilities.

I returned to the United States and Felipe and I began trying to work out how to sell the idea and to whom. By mid-summer, Felipe had limited success and finally wrote me telling me he could go no further. He got only a lukewarm response from the League of Samba Schools and was ready to give up. Just when it looked like the event would not happen, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place.

Rio 2000 Becomes
a Reality

Thinking there was nothing left to do short of going physically back to Brazil, I did what I knew best: used the Internet once more. This time I went to the League of Samba Schools (LIESA) homepage and sent e-mail about our event to the LIESA webmaster. I sent them the address of our Rio 2000 Website so they would take a look at our idea. In a few days, I received an e-mail that put us back on track. The e-mail was from Alessandra O. Pirotelli, director of the Casarão das Arte Carnavalescas (Association of the Carnaval Arts), a nonprofit organization working together with LIESA. She was in charge of bringing a group from Italy in 1998 to parade in the parade in Rio. She asked a very important question: "Could I become part of the project?" I shot off an e-mail to Felipe with my response to Alessandra and he came back in full force. Felipe Ferreira is a professor and journalist on Carnaval in Rio and was a judge in the 1998 special group. We had finally put all the right people together.

We all wrote a report, e-mailing the Microsoft Word document back and forth until all the pieces in the description for the event were in place. Next, there was a long period of silence. I did not know what happened. Weeks later I got a message from Alessandra and Felipe that the president of LIESA had died and that LIESA was in transition to another president. The politics that were built with the former president had to be started again. I really thought that it might not happen. Again, there was a long period of silence. I e-mailed Felipe and Alessandra once in a while, but the answer was to please wait.

Then, in November 1998, I got an e-mail along with many routine subjects and discussions from Felipe that seemed quite normal. While reading it I didn't expect anything new. But at the end there was something bigger than I ever expected. I was hoping to get approval by LIESA for our group to parade—nothing more than permission. But it went beyond LIESA.

Little did I know that weeks earlier, Alessandra submitted Rio 2000 & Samba to the Brazilian Commission for the 5th Centenary Celebration of Brazil in Brazil's capital, Brasília. In a phone conversation with Alessandra weeks later, she revealed that she had been planning another project and submitted Rio 2000 & Samba together with it to the commission in Brasília. When presenting the projects to the government officials, the project idea that was most applauded and received a standing ovation was the Rio 2000 & Samba project. Imagine that!

At this time, Felipe sent me all the updated information to place on the Website that was to be launched on the national day of Samba in Brazil, being December 2, 1998. It was the Thanksgiving weekend and I had only three days to update the site. In Rio, in a ceremony launching the '99 samba enredo CD for the special groups, a commission presented Alessandra and Felipe with a certificate for Rio 2000 & Samba as an official event in Brazil's 500th year celebration. I wish I could have been there. That must have been a great moment. On that day, I launched the Website here from Los Angeles and the international sambistas and the world now knew that Rio 2000 & Samba was a reality. The Brazilian government pledged $2 million "Reais" (over a million US dollars) to the event.

The first international samba school Unidos do Mundo (United of the World) was officially born.

The Next Steps

We are currently in the middle of our samba enredo contest. People from around the world and in Brazil are writing entries for the samba theme song. Costumes will be designed for alas or groups including one dedicated to the Internet of course. Sambistas around the world are practicing and saving their money for the trip. At the end of 1999, myself, along with Felipe, Alessandra, and masters of Samba dance and drums will be traveling around the world for the tryouts for the bateria. Tryouts will be held in Los Angeles, New York, London, Helsinki, Denmark, Portugal, Tokyo, and Uruguay. One hundred and fifty percussionists will be chosen from hundreds to play in the bateria in 2000. A three-day workshop will be given before the tryouts.

As for the actual event, Unidos do Mundo will parade on the day of the champions in Rio, which will be Saturday, March 11, 2000. Travel packages will be offered by Riotur and gringos will gather in early March in Rio. There, between 700 and 1500 gringos will get together to form the first all-gringo samba school, which will parade with the champions in Rio for the year 2000 and to celebrate Brazil's 500th anniversary. The samba song will be sung by both Brazilians and gringos alike as they enter the Sambadrome. The theme of the enredo is one of a journey from the boats that came across to Brazil from Portugal and Africa, to cars, trains, planes, and now the Internet. In the year 2000, the Internet will bring the international samba community together for the first time to give Brazil a wonderful present. We gringo sambistas will show Brazil that samba in the next millennium is not only for Brazilians, but also for the entire world. And leading them down the avenue singing as principal puxador, will be one very very humble and happy gringo, who a few years back, came up with a crazy idea to get everyone together in cyberspace, into Rio space.

After all, this event is not only dedicated to all the gringo sambistas who will give this wonderful gift, but to the Brazilians who will receive it. And they will receive it not only on the momentous birthday of a new millennium, but thanks to the Internet on their 500th birthday.

Happy birthday, Brazil! Parabéns mesmo!

David de Hilster

(Special thanks to Felipe, Alessandra, and to all the sambistas who made this possible)

David de Hilster is a senior software engineer, artist, amateur physicist, and president and founder of the SambaLá, the IFoS, and Rio 2000 & Samba. You can reach him at

Conditions for Participating

You don't have to be a gringo to join Unidos do Mundo. These are the conditions:

1) You must be a member of a group in the International Federation of Sambistas. If you have a samba group and want to be a member, go to   and sign up. Signup is exclusively by way of the Internet.

2) You can be Brazilian if you reside outside the United States and are part of an IFoS group.

3) You cannot participate if you live in Brazil.

4) Everyone must try out or audition to be a member of the bateria or to be a passista. Brazilians included!

5) To participate in the event it will cost a couple of hundred dollars, which will include the cost of your costume.

6) Only the queen of the bateria, porta-bandeira, mestre-sala, and Reis Momos will be allowed to wear the costume of their school. The rest of the people must wear what is designed for them in Rio.

7) Workshops will be held in Rio a few days before the parade. Everyone can participate, even those not playing the bateria or dancing officially as a passista.

See all the details on our Website at  

Samba in Cyber Space

Rio 2000 & Samba:  

World Samba Home Page:  

International Federation of Sambistas:  

Brazilian League of Samba Schools:  

Brazilian Samba Home Page:  

You also must:

- Register for the event through your IFoS group

- Pay for airfare, hotel, and participation fee (to be announced soon)

- Be in Rio between March 3 and 12, 1999

To play in the bateria:

- Tryout in one of the international tryout locations (tentatively: Los

Angeles, New York, London, Tokyo, Helsinki, Portugal, Uruguay, Denmark)

- Tryouts will be in October or November, 1999

- Workshop is 3 days, US$150

- 20 people from each location will be chosen for the bateria

To be a passista:

- Tryout in one of the locations for the bateria

- Or, tryout in Brazil

Estimated costs:

- Airfare: between $500 and $1800 depending on where you live

- Hotels: plan on $100+ a day

- Food: plan on $30 a day

- Rio 2000 & Samba participation fee: around $150-$250

- Packages will be offered via Riotur in the summer of 1999

- Costume for bateria & alas: between $75-$100

Note: all information above is tentative so you must check the Website for updates at:  Everything known about the event is posted there. If you don't find it there, it is because it is not yet finalized

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