Race and revelry at the biggest party: Black “queens of the drumbeat” are the majority in Rio’s Carnival



Note from BW of Brazil: It would be pretty easy for one to believe that racial politics play no role in Brazil’s most joyful time of year, Carnaval. But that assumption would be wrong. In fact, it should be relatively easy to surmise that almost every area of Brazilian society is affected by the issue of race, be it very obvious or quite subtle. For, as in other areas of society, black women must also fight for their place and fair representation in the biggest party of the year; and the more prominent the position, the bigger the struggle. Historically, Carnaval is supposed to be the one time of year in which black Brazilian men and women have their chance to shine for a few days being relocated to near obscurity for the rest of the year (excluding futebol fields).

As highlighted here a few years ago, there was a rising concern that black women, traditionally “queens” and “godmothers” of the drumbeat during Carnaval, were being replaced by white women. Then there is the issue that many black women take with the image of the Globeleza, who every year sambas nearly completely nude in TV commercials signaling the beginning of the Carnaval season. Then there are black women who want to be appreciated for their art form and take great pride in seeing the Globeleza being one of the few times of the year where a black woman is the star of the show.     

With calls for black representation screaming louder and louder every year, naturally these voices are demanding more space for black women in a Carnaval that seems to want to further their invisibility. This year it seems that black women are earning some hard fought victories with a noticeable presence among the “queens” of the drum troupes, a highly visible and very important position in yearly Carnaval processions.     

Bianca Monteiro and Carol Marins are two women bringing more black visibility among ‘queens of the drumbeat’

Black “queens of the drumbeat” are the majority in Rio’s Carnival

By Rafael Galdo

Of the 12 postulate schools, seven have black as absolute rulers

Pinah, the Cinderela Negra (Black Cinderella). Or Marisa Marcelino de Almeida, Nega Pelé. There is no doubt that samba schools have always had icons that represented the beauty and ancestry of black women in carnival. But as rainhas da bateria (queens of the drumbeat), with all the majesty of the post, they have been a minority for many years. They were. Because, now, the game has changed. Of the 12 postulate schools, seven have black women as absolute rulers. Famous or from the community, they consolidate a process that has been changing standards in recent years, with the success of the reign of Raíssa de Oliveira, in Beija-Flor, or Evelyn Bastos, in Mangueira. And they join a dynasty in which the pioneer Adele Fátima, in Mocidade, Soninha Capeta, in the blue and white of Nilópolis, Tânia Bisteka, in the green and pink, or Patrícia Costa, in Viradouro.

The ‘Black Cinderella’, Pinah, on the cover of Veja magazine and with Prince Charles during the 1978 Carnaval

Of the seven, Raíssa has the most enduring reign, on the eve of her 15th revelry. The 26-year-old, who became a queen at 12, became a mirror for the two debutants of the Special Group: Bianca Monteiro, who took over the throne for Portela in October, and Carol Marins, who last year shone in Series A in Paraíso of Tuiuti. Two girls who were born in simple cribs and who achieved stardom with the purest samba no pé (“samba in the foot” dance).

Raíssa de Oliveira

“I dreamed of being a rainha da bacteria for 16 years, when I began to parade for Portela as a passista (Carnaval dancer). But I thought it was impossible for me. I grew up seeing artists in front of the drum troupes. It was, since my childhood, a reign of celebrities, so I didn’t think it would happen. Now, I am an example for all the passista girls who want to be queens,” says Bianca, daughter of the portelense Paulo Monteiro, part of the harmony wing of the school.

Offer of R$300,000

The queen is emphatic: it’s not that schools can’t have rainhas brancas (white queens). But for her, nothing is more fair than the samba schools, which emerged in the comunidades negras (black communities) of the beginning of the last century, have blacks instead.

Evelyn Bastos

“Being queen and black means we don’t fight for nothing. All dedication and sleepless nights were worth it. I represent a Portela nation and a nation of mulheres negras (black women). Unfortunately, the prejudice is still too great. I managed to get past this barrier. I have a lot to show at the front of the bateria, for me and for all those who fought for that space,” she says.

Carol Marins has the same sentiment. The girl, raised in Morro do Tuiuti (see note one), where she lives to this day, saw her father, Renato Thor, take on various roles at the samba school until becoming president. Before the carnival of 2016, then in Series A, she was surprised by the announcement that she would be the new queen.

The Angolan Carmen Mouro was replaced by Camila Silva

It was  a lot of luck. The school won the access group and won the right to parade among the majors this year, which has not happened since 2001. Majesty of the Special Group, she continues to help in the barracks. But the position aroused the greed of those who wanted the spotlight. Carol says they offered R$300,000 in blue and yellow to dethrone her. The response from her father, the president of the samba school?

“He said my happiness was not for sale. I believe the queen of the community gives her blood to the school, honors her pavilion,” says Carol. “I’m very happy that today, we black women are the majority.”


One of them, Camila Silva, of Mocidade Independente, was surprised by the news that she would be queen a month ago. The school – which in the last two years had the Bahian singer Claudia Leitte as sovereign – would have, this year, the first African queen of the Carioca carnival, the Angolan Carmen Mouro. For health problems, however, the former owner of the crown had to give up the idea. The Paulista (São Paulo native), who had already held the position in 2013, was chosen to replace her. She ended up being acclaimed by the community of Zona Oeste (west zone).

Camila Silva

Evelyn, Raíssa, Bianca, Carol and Camila will shine along with two other beldades negras (black beauties), accustomed to the flashes: the actresses Cris Vianna, in Imperatriz, who is leaving the post this year, and Juliana Alves in Unidos da Tijuca. A reason for the praise of Adele Fátima, who, in 1981, was the first rainha da bateria of Carnival, in Mocidade.

Adele Fátima, at the front of the bateria of Mocidade in 1981

A “Mulata of Sargentelli” at the time, she says that when she asked the school’s patron, Castor de Andrade, to take the lead of the rhythmicists, she couldn’t suppose that it would become a contested post, and the incumbents would be called the rainha ou madrinha (queen or godmother) of the bateria. Around the same time, Valeria Bastos, Evelyn’s mother, would shine in Mangueira. In 1984, the model Monique Evans assumed the position in Mocidade. From then on, stars like Luma de Oliveira, Luiza Brunet, Juliana Paes, Viviane Araújo…

“The post is not exclusive to those who are black. The important thing is to have identity with the school. But the fact that today most queens are black, many from the community, shows a change from what happened, especially since the 1990s. The queen has no note, she does not decide the outcome. But it’s very nice to see sambistas (samba performers), who respect Carnival, in the post,” celebrates Adele.

Patrícia Costa and Soninha Capeta

Lúcia Xavier, of the NGO Criola, says that it is not for the job itself, but she sees in the turning of the proportion between black and white queens an appreciation of the black woman:

“Often they were deprecated. They were being replaced gradually, as if they had no merit. We don’t know yet whether the current change is by recognition of the idea of roots. But it is a positive construction of the image of the black woman. It gives an idea of the integration of the school with the community.”

Source: Portal do Holanda


  1.  Favela (slum) located in the neighborhood of São Cristóvão in Rio
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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