Blocos de carnaval are Rio de Janeiro's equivalent to New Orleans' brass bands — though the Brazilian version is mostly samba music and only appears during the South American country's annual Mardi Gras festivities.
Grammy-nominated ensemble Monobloco has set itself apart from your regular bloco band by embracing other Brazilian rhythms and foreign influences such as American funk and R&B.
"The idea is to blend traditional instruments of the samba schools to the giant diversity of the sounds of Brazilian music [and] also pop music," Pedro Luís, the ensemble's cofounder and music director, tells New Times. "We will be playing tunes by Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder, whose music we often play when we are abroad."
The ensemble came together when members and cofounders Sidon Silva and Celso Alvim taught Brazilian percussion at ProArt, a music school that has nurtured many musicians in Rio. The pair had the idea of blending Afro-Cuban instruments, such as congas, with Brazilian music and forming a bloco with the students.
Monobloco's auspicious start was not in Rio de Janeiro but 200 miles away in São Paulo. Starting as A Parede, the group performed at SESC Vila Mariana, a famed nonprofit venue dedicated to arts, crafts, and music in Brazil's largest city, in 1999.
"SESC had this concept that anyone performing there during a given week would also be invited to present some kind of activity that was not part of the show," Luís explains. "We decided to teach a class adapting our songs to be played with samba school instruments. We rehearsed various styles, going from shuffle to samba and funk. We practiced for about a week and had the students join us on the day of the show, so we paraded around the venue, and it was an incredible experience."
"We weren't even aware that Monobloco was starting then," Luis adds. "When we returned to Rio, we asked the city's administration to let us use a space for a permanent workshop to teach nonprofessional musicians to play samba school instruments and to form a bloco that would play all kinds of Brazilian music."
The idea proved successful, and the events the band hosted in preparation for the 2021 carnaval season were packed.
Today, Monobloco operates as two different groups: The first is the actual bloco, which parades the streets of Rio during the extended carnaval holiday with up to 200 members. Then there's the Monobloco show, a 13- to 17-member ensemble that tours globally. It's the latter that South Florida will see when the group performs at Wynwood Marketplace on Friday, March 3.
"We selected a group of professional musicians who were involved with the project and created the Monobloco show, which also includes traditional instruments augmented by plugged electric instruments such as guitars and cavaquinho," Luís says.
Monobloco. 7 p.m. Friday, March 3, at Wynwood Marketplace, 2250 NW Second Ave., Miami; braziliannites.com. Tickets cost $65 via eventbrite.com.