Some of Rio’s most esteemed street carnival groups say they are fighting for the right to party ahead of the city’s first official celebrations since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rio’s world-famous samba schools return to action next week for their first parades at Sambódromo Stadium in more than two years. But the carnival enthusiasts behind hundreds of “blocks”- troubled musical troupes roaming the streets with brass instruments and booze – are furious that they have not been allowed to gather.
The Omicron variant skipped plans for this year’s carnival before Shrove Tuesday, which should have been held in late February. But while the Sambódromo competition was rearranged for next weekend – and often expensive private shindigs also take place – authorities claim there was not enough time to prepare for the free outdoor blocks, which attract hundreds of thousands of partygoers.
More than 120 blocs condemned their siding this week in a manifesto declaring, “The streets belong to the people and we are free to speak.”
“Freelancers unite!” called for the opinion, whose signatories included groups such as the Soggy Capybaras and the Bellicose Knickers.
Hundreds of glitter-smeared carnival activists sprang through downtown Rio on Wednesday night to protest what they called a hammer blow to the local economy and one of Brazil’s most important cultural treasures.
“The town hall has left the street carnival,” complained Kiko Horta, a founder of one of Rio’s most famous blocks, Cordão do Boitatá.
“It makes no sense. Street Carnival – along with [Sambódromo] carnival – is the city’s most important festival. It has an enormous symbolic, cultural and economic value. Just banning it is absurd, ”Horta added.
Telma Neves, president of the samba block Engata no Centro (City Center Coupling), attended the demo with her 83-year-old mother Georgina, who had not missed a carnival since she was six. “We have spent the last two years in silence, unable to do anything,” complained Neves, 58. “We plead for the right to our own carnival.”
Wednesday’s rally featured a snapshot of Rio’s strange and wonderful world of carnival, as bacchanals of all ages and from all walks of life danced through the city wearing a dizzying medley of costumes – or in some cases almost no clothes at all.
A man dressed as a grim reaper waved a Minion toy and a pretend syringe – a political critique of President Jair Bolsonaro’s negative response to Covid. Other artists sambaed on wooden poles or carried the flags of their race-named blocks, including Bésame Mucho (Cover Me With Kisses) and Bloco das Trepadeiras (Botanical Bonking).
Claudio Manhães, a 43-year-old radiologist, came to represent his group – founded by a group of samba-loving radiologists and called Te Vejo Por Dentro, or I Can See Your Insides. “We thought this year’s carnival would be a super carnival like in 1919 after the Spanish flu,” Manhães said, showing photographs of the green T-shirts his bloco had printed for a party that would no longer take place.
“It’s sad. There were so many expectations,” sighed Manhães. “Freelancers wanted that moment of joy – and even more than usual because of the Covid pandemic.”
frevo and baiãosaid the government’s lack of support for Rio’s open-air carnival undermined the democratic nature of excesses.
“Our carnival is participatory … a place where you can have fun if you have money and have fun if you do not have it,” said the Amazon-born journalist who remembered falling in love with carnival when he moved to Rio with his family as a child.
“I live carnival and I breathe carnival. I spend all year thinking about carnival,” exclaimed Aquino, before donning a red clown nose and attending the jamboree. “It represents freedom. It represents being able to forget your daily life, your problems, your demands and your worries. ”
Tarcísio Motta, a left-leaning councilor who has criticized the government’s treatment of the blocs, questioned whether the mayor of Rio wanted to appear as “an enemy of carnival”. “City Hall has the right to support the samba schools … but why have they not done the same for street carnival?” asked Motta, accusing the authorities of depriving residents of their legal right to carnival.
As Wednesday’s protest grew, Juarez Santos, president of the LGBTQ + bloc Banda das Quengas (Band of the Floozies), recalled past carnivals as large sweaty crowds bullied his bloc’s sound system on Cruz Vermelha Square to hear Brazilian classics – and the Compulsory Hymn In Will Survive!
There would be no Gloria Gaynor in 2022, lamented Santos, whose rainbow the vest featured the group’s name and cartoon of a muscular male dancer in a small scarlet sweater. “This year we have become silent.”