A former stronghold of the black movement in Rio de Janeiro, the Renascença Clube still is the Carioca trench of afro-descendant traditions and samba de raiz (the “pure samba”).
It was founded in February 17, 1951 by a group of middle-class black citizens who, barred from joining clubs traditionally frequented by white families, decided to create an association where black families could gather and have fun in a harmonious social and cultural coexistence — where they would not, therefore, be discriminated against.
The group was led by the lawyers Oscar de Paula Assis and Jandira de Paula Assis, the merchant Domingos Soares and Idalina de Jesus Soares, the brothers Humberto Gomes de Oliveira and Diva Santos de Oliveira, both doctors, and Enedina Rodrigues da Silva.
The Renascença Clube was born in a small, old house with a large wooded backyard, at Pedro de Carvalho Street, situated in Méier neighborhood, North Zone of Rio de Janeiro city. The fleur-de-lis, an heraldic ornament in the shape of a stylized lily, was the symbol chosen by the group to represent the club.
Throughout its existence, the Rena – as it affectionately started being called – has always been concerned with the condition of black people in our society, since they were confined to the lower steps of the social ladder. Thus, the club became highly renowned as the place where the afro-descendants could enter through the front door, resisting the ethnic intolerance that was perceived at that time.
From a cultural point of view, the Rena has always been characterized as a vanguard association, having launched the career of numerous Afro-Brazilian artistic personalities, among several other activity fields.
Around 1958, the club moved to Barão de São Francisco Street, situated in Andaraí, North Zone of Rio de Janeiro city, where it maintains it headquarters, resisting, valuing and rescuing the cultural tradition.
Valuating the family
Nevertheless, the family is the epicenter of the founders’ attention since that time. It was in the Renascença Clube that the members of black families met people of the same social and cultural level as theirs, for friendship and even for marriage. Another sign of modernity was the female presence. Women had prominent roles, they were seen in the board as well as in the anonymous mass of attendants, and were very important to the functioning of the institution: 18 out of the 29 founding members were women.
The cultural activities of those early days had an erudite tone. The club members benefited from improvement with the spread of certain patterns of erudite culture, such as hearings and lectures on music and literature, in addition to gatherings with classical musicians and conductors, around cups of tea, and soirées with poetry recitation.
As time went by and the number of members and attendants increased, big balls also started being organized. The men wore formal attire (“summer” or tuxedo) and the women were dressed in silk, satin and lace, in addition to putting on gloves and hats.
With the moving of the headquarters to Andaraí (54, Barão de São Francisco Street), many changes took place in the composition and activities of the club. The Renascença started attracting the intelligentsia and the residents of the South Zone with shows and rodas de samba (samba gatherings). Many of the newcomers became members of the club, displeasing the traditionalists, who saw the novelties as an “excessive opening” that went against the associates’ original proposal, arousing a great deal of criticism. This period was also marked by a huge presence of the club in the media and its inclusion in the local circuit of trendy places.
Maintaining its tradition of breaking taboos and prejudices, the Renascença Clube stood out in the beauty contests of the years 1950’s and 1960’s. The period of the club’s greatest glory helped to integrate it in the city geography. The success of the Renascença representatives in beauty contests (Miss Guanabara, Miss Brazil and Miss Universe), events which were very much valued at the time, substantially contributed to that integration. Thanks to the success of the misses in those contests, the Renascença would become known – and also recognized by their own associates – as the “club of the mulatto women”. This was (and still is) an object of contradictory assessments. The spectacular election of Vera Lucia Couto in 1964, as Miss Guanabara, was seen by many, if not by most members, as a victory of “negritude”, almost a memorable result of the collective effort of the group. Among the winners, the most important were Dirce Machado (1959), Aizita Nascimento (1963) and Vera Lucia Couto dos Santos (1st place as Miss Guanabara, 2nd place as Miss Brazil and 3rd place as Miss International Beauty, which earned her the title of Miss Photogenic, in 1964).
According to researchers on the club history, at the same time, however, some of the old leaders, unhappy with the direction the club was taking, withdraw in protest. When the Renascença encompassed the same ideas that the white people traditionally associated to the mulatto woman, they argued, the club, in a certain way, began to adhere to the common view on the place and role of black people in the national society and culture.
A new proposal started emerging in the early 1970’s, embraced by a group of young men willing to rescue the original project of changing the image of the Rena as the “club of the mulatto women”. This group offered the black youth new forms of ethnic identification, finding in American soul music the cultural – and musical – ingredient that would give rise to highly frequented youth parties held on Sundays.
Much more than just a rhythm or musical genre, the “soul” (and their representatives), in its unique way of interpreting songs, is also used to designate aspects of an ethos inspired in some icons of the contemporary North American culture – Stevie Wonder, Barry White, Ray Charles, James Brown – which would express the feeling of a “black soul”. This same feeling was identified in the Shaft character from the movie of the same name and pioneer of the “blaxploitation” genre (1971), directed by Gordon Parks (with Richard Roundtree as the black detective John Shaft), which later turned into a television series shown on Brazilian TV at that time. The “Shaft Night”, a ball held every Sunday for three years, was appointed as the most significant activity in this phase of the club. More than just a ball, everybody was united around an emerging attitude and pride of being black.
This moment seems to have opened a new universe of identities. According to the historian Sonia Giacomini, the young people, drawing on the rhythms and attitudes of American blacks, shared the Renascença’s original project, rejecting the place that was traditionally intended to black people in Brazil. “If in the 1950’s the Renascença’s reference was an idealized middle class, hypothetically lover of literary and musical soirées, in the 1970’s an identity outside the established models is also sought after.” But much more was still to come.
Still in the 1970s, the club also stood out in cultural achievements. The most significant example was the open-air theater with the famous play “Black Orpheus”.
Several Brazilian music personalities, such as Elizeth Cardoso, Cauby Peixoto, Roberto Ribeiro and João Nogueira, have crossed the front door of the Rena to offer us unforgettable shows. Not to mention the big balls that marked the Carioca Carnival: Sarong, White and Blue, and Hawaii.
In the 1980’s, more achievements would be seen: the Rena stood out in sports. In partnership with Robson Caetano, at that time an athlete and Olympic medalist, the club implemented the project “Let’s take children out of the street, running”. In addition, great athletes emerged in the indoor soccer category.
The Renascença Clube, where the social transformations of the black community emerged, still generates controversy around the origin of its name. No clear information is found. Many argue, however, that it originated from the Harlem Renaissance, an intellectual, political and artistic movement that took place among black people in New York (USA) in the first decades of the twentieth century. Due to the intellectual background of the club founders, it is quite possible that this was an important reference for the group.
But nowadays we can still hear the best in terms of samba de raiz. Every Monday, the renowned musician, singer and songwriter Moacyr Luz conducts the samba gathering Samba do Trabalhador. On Saturdays, Renato Milagres, with musical DNA in his veins, presents the gathering of big names Encontro de Bambas.
Created for the leisure of an ethnic elite, the Renascença Clube always sought new forms of social participation for the Rio de Janeiro black population, aiming to give visibility to the understanding of the negro condition in Brazilian society – especially the Carioca society. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.