How Aunt Ciata Made Brazil’s Carnival The Celebration It Is Today

a woman in a pink outfit holding a drum
Briona Lamback
April 10, 2024

There was a knock at the door. The room was full of widened eyes and dropping hearts. But Aunt Ciata strolled to the front door with a calm demeanor. The police were there to raid her place, but she was prepared.

In the entrance hall of Ciata's Rio de Janeiro home, string and bass instrumentalists filled the room playing 'choro' music, but it was all a cover-up. 

 Police were targeting Ciata's home expecting to hear drumming, clapping, and dancing, which they deemed cult-like for its ties to Afro-Brazilian religion. But they left without finding anything because Ciata's secret parties were hidden elsewhere.

Aunt Ciata's backyard was bustling with the sounds of samba. Drums thumped. Hips swang. Black joy rang. Her parties went on for days nonstop, single-handedly birthing the samba movement. 

 Her yard was a cultural hub where new composers and songs found popularity long before the radio existed. Aunt Ciata protected the culture by any means necessary, and it paid off. Ciata's grandson went on to open the first samba school in Rio. 

Today, samba is at the heart of Brazilian identity, and its annual billion-dollar carnival celebrations still use the foundational instruments and choreography birthed in Ciata's yard.

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