Rio’s historic docklands at Largo de Sao Francisco da Prainha are founded on a notorious past. Brazil’s busiest port at the height of the international slave trade, it was here that tens of thousands of captured Africans were sold on as commodities. The old auction markets, quarantine areas and cemeteries that still line the port attest to this former colonial society structured by inequality.
But here too, a cultural phenomenon which today binds the nation, was born – the Samba. This unintended product of the trader’s human imports can today be enjoyed in any one of Rio’s neighbourhoods, regardless of affluence or racial make-up, and is most famously performed at the annual Carnival, an event attended by and participated in by all strata of so diverse a society. Far from being a local tradition confined to Rio, the Samba forms a cornerstone of Brazilian national identity, both transcending the differences that gave rise to it and, more broadly, testifying to the social importance of music.
Those planning to visit Rio for Rio +20 must be sure to find time to explore this unlikely cultural birthplace composed of piers and abandoned warehouses. For those interested in an authentic real-life experience, I recommend a visit to Praca Sao Salvador, in the Flamengo district, where the infectious Samba rhythms are played out every Sunday by buskers.
Read also my earlier blog about Brazil
Winter Greetings from Rio de Janeiro