Rio de Janeiro’s carnival buried two black years of COVID this Friday with a burst of euphoria that rumbled the iconic Sambadromeonce again become the Mecca of samba and all-caps fantasy.
Some 70,000 vibrant people accompanied the dazzling floats and armies of dancers who shook their bodies and sang at full speed in the open-air enclosure, the very one that served as a vaccination center during the pandemic.
Princesses with feathers and wings, kings and queens with spinning crowns, flowers and walking suns with colors so bright they lit up the night… the parades of the traditional ‘escolas’ of samba have returned in all their glory after a long wait of more than two years.
Samba schools marched for hours
Members of the Salguero samba school perform during the first night of carnival parades at the Marqués de Sapucai sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro
“It seems that I am finally reborn, during the pandemic I felt very sad, I was getting sick, because I love carnival“, he told the AFP the experienced Aunt Clea70 years old, who has to his credit half a century of parades next to the Viradouro school.
Current champion of the contest, Viradouro remembered the 1919 carnivalwhen samba schools did not yet exist, but cariocas took to the streets in droves to celebrate the end of the so-called Spanish flu, disguised as Pierrots, Colombians or the “black plague”.
A float from the Beija Flor samba school is seen during the first night of the Rio Carnival
“I took off my mask in an enveloping climate, I put my lips gently and I kissed you in endless joy… carnival, I love you!“, chanted with euphoria the participants, in particular Silvio Guimaraes56 years old, dressed in an all-black suit, with a bird’s beak and a doctor’s bag.
One of the many dancers who marched
“We represent a carnival dance after a pandemic…in 1919. Today the most important thing is that we are there, many people would like and could not,” he said, excited .
With a health crisis exacerbated by vaccine delays, more than 660,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil, a figure surpassed only by the United States.
Artists from the Imperatriz Leopoldinense samba school parade on a float during Carnival celebrations
Have been “two years of great darkness in the world, each seeking”. Tonight “we have the opportunity to show that we are happy even with all the problems“, mentioned Latin Suarez45 years old.
“Brazil without carnival is not Brazil,” he said.
Members of the Salguero Samba School perform on the first night of parades
George Floyd and ‘Fora Bolsonaro’
The 12 samba “escolas” who compete at the Sambadrome for two nights each tell their “entanglement”, a story rich in historical and cultural references repeated for months.
Yes this year the fight against racism, very present in the world of samba, of popular origin and rooted in the favelas, came back in force.
Salgueiro School’s ‘Resistance’ tangle was inspired by anti-racism protests following the American’s death george floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.
A dancer on the first evening of the carnival
Rio carnival colors
The floats were decorated with references to Afro-Brazilian religions and the giant fists invited the “Resistance”. An obelisk bearing the inscription “Racism” was toppled, drawing applause from the public.
In the stands, an occasional banner was unfurled that read “Bolsonaro Forumin reference to the president, who will seek re-election in October.
Viradouro samba school
“With Jair Bolsonaro’s government, racism is more humiliating because it comes from above,” said Claudia Nascimento, a 43-year-old cashier from Salgueiro.
Minor bugs and crashes have not gone unnoticed either. In the case of Viradouro, one of the principal dancers lost a shoe at the worst moment: it was thrown in the middle of the podium while the jury was evaluating the performance of its owner.
Brazilian singer Alcione performs during the parade of the Estacao Primeira de Mangueira samba school
This year, these associations with decades of history have recovered part of the public funding that the previous mayor of Rio, the evangelical Marcelo Crivella (2017-2020), cut by rejecting this popular celebration.
But the private sector funds most of the parades, whose floats and costumes cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Safety, whose failures have caused several accidents in the past, is also in the spotlight, after an 11-year-old girl died on Friday after being run over on Wednesday evening by a tank at the exit of the Sambadrome.
Members of the Salguero Samba School
An artist from the Sao Clemente samba school parades during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro
Another Sao Clemente dancer on parade
The members of Salguero in full parade
The town hall has not authorized this year the street parades which are normally organized in parallel and plunge the “Cidade Maravilhosa” into musical ecstasy, but some smaller “blocos” have carried out their parades, refusing to postpone the party one more minute.
The carnival also relieved the economic sectors affected by the pandemiclike the hotelier, with an occupancy of around 78%, but with a drop in foreigners (14% attendance, compared to 23% in 2020).