The Rio de Janeiro Carnival entertains and offers social critique
Stories based on traditions, legends, books, and renowned figures are what bring the Rio de Janeiro Carnival parades to life, proposing reflections on the environment, Indigenous peoples, and the anti-racist struggle this year.
Simple or complex, classic or futuristic, these plots, known in Brazil as "enredos", all share a strong dose of social critique.
From the most rooted in facts to those driven by fantasies, they will all dress in music and color the samba schools as they pass through the Sambadrome of Sapucai in the festival that will begin on Friday after the King Momo receives the keys to the city.
The text reads, "Old Recife crowded on Thursday. This is Recife. This is Brazil."
While Grande Rio will be inspired by the symbolism of the jaguar as an example of the struggle of Indigenous peoples, Portela will base its plot on the struggle of the black woman who faced unimaginable challenges to stay alive and preserve her roots.
There will also be stories about the importance of children to achieve a better world and narratives that recount the voyages of a sailor and the adventures of a legendary gypsy.
But among the plots that will bring the samba school parades to life, the Salgueiro one is already starting to make waves.
The "Hutukara" plot will tell the story of the Yanomami, an Amazonian indigenous people that has been victimized by invasions by illegal miners, who not only destroy their lands in search of gold but also bring diseases and violence to them, said Marcelo Pires, the cultural director of the Salgueiro school.
The text reads, "The rooster rose. It's the best carnival in Brazil without a doubt!"
"The plots dialogue with time. The schools process the surrounding problems and bring them to Rio's Sambadrome," explained Fabio Fabato, author of several books about Carnival and plot writer for the Padre Miguel's Mocidade Independente school.
Intolerance, injustice, racism, xenophobia, and police abuse are denounced by the samba schools amid the brightness and color of the Sambadrome parades, where hundreds of thousands of tourists come to see the majestic spectacle.
Under the brightness and colorful original costumes, samba schools have raised a cry of resistance against events that have marked Brazil, such as the death of Marielle Franco, a Black woman and human rights defender, shot six years ago in Rio.
Also highlighted are the thousands of deaths each year caused by police abuse in Rio's impoverished favelas, the heartbreaking violence against members of the LGBTI+ population, and religious intolerance that destroys temples of Afro-Brazilian cults such as Umbanda and Candomble, considering them pagan.
A spectacle worth billions
The Rio carnival began with the parade of the "lesser" samba schools on Friday. The most prominent schools will start parading from Sunday night.
The National Commerce Confederation predicts that the festivities will leave a record turnover this year, 10 percent higher than last year, as well as 25,000 temporary jobs and a hotel occupancy rate of over 60 percent nationwide.
In the central 25 de Março street of Sao Paulo, one of the favorite places to get a costume, there is barely any space to walk on the sidewalks crowded with customers. In the stores, of course, sequins and neon colors abound.
"Blessed Carnival," proclaims a banner at the entrance of one of them. Karina Theodoro, the store manager, explains that the increase in sales began in the first week of January.
HIT DO CARNAVAL! “Macetando”, de Ivete Sangalo e Ludmilla, ocupa a 2ª posição no Spoitify Brasil com 1,013M streams. ��
The text reads, "Carnival hit! 'Macetando', by Ivete Sangalo and Ludmilla, occupies 2nd position on Spoitify Brasil with 1,013M streams."
Sao Paulo hosts the Carnival Factory
At the Sao Paulo Samba Factory, where everything necessary to carry out the parades is produced, the Carnival has been in the making for months.
The gigantic gates of what looks like an airport hangar conceal the floats of each samba school, where painters and welders are still working tirelessly to finalize every detail before the parade next weekend at the Sambadrome.
Luiz Robles, coordinator of the Vai-Vai school, the city's biggest champion that has been parading since 1930, reveals that preparations began last March. Despite the advance planning, he explains that "the biggest challenge is always to arrive on time."
Rehearsals have been held every Sunday since August to fine-tune the parade of over 2,000 people, who this year will dress up to celebrate 50 years of hip hop, the musical genre.
Organizing such a large-scale project costs this school around three million reais, and around 600 jobs are generated throughout the process, including carpenters, welders, sculptors, designers, and seamstresses.
But the Carnival economy goes beyond the parades in the Sambadrome. The sector has become more sophisticated over the years, and now there are options for all audiences, from those who want to hit the streets to those who seek a more exclusive atmosphere.
The Bahia Carnival moves millions
In Salvador, the capital of Bahia, Luciana Villas-Boas runs Camarote Salvador, a private party whose tickets for one day cost up to US$900 and indirectly employ about 5,000 people.
"There is a lot of demand for parties during Carnival, but the sector is also very segmented with products for families, older people. Ours is the single audience that frequents the European summer," the Brazilian entrepreneur said.
In addition to the usual electronic music and Brazilian samba concerts, this year's offerings include a concert by Colombian reggaeton singer J Balvin. "Reggaeton was the missing rhythm," she added.
Carnaval is officially underway in Recife. I'll be covering the action here and in neighboring towns like Olinda, known for having the most traditional street carnavals in Brazil, for the next 5 days. Here is my first report for @telesurenglishpic.twitter.com/BSZ1S05W2c