Rio carnival groups fight for right to party ahead of official celebrations | Rio de Janeiro | The Guardian

2022-09-24 04:53:49 By : Mr. Leo Li

Samba schools will return to action but ‘blocos’ – street groups – are furious they have not yet received authorization to gather

Some of Rio’s most cherished 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 will return to action next week for their first parades at the Sambódromo stadium in more than two years. But the carnival enthusiasts behind hundreds of “blocos” – riotous musical troupes that roam the streets clutching brass instruments and booze – are furious they have not received authorization to gather.

The Omicron variant scuppered plans for this year’s pre-Lenten carnival, which should have been held in late February. But while the Sambódromo competition was rearranged for next weekend – and often expensive private shindigs are also taking place – authorities claim there was insufficient time to prepare for the free outdoor blocos, which attract hundreds of thousands of partygoers.

More than 120 blocos denounced their sidelining this week in a manifesto that declared: “The streets belong to the people and we are free to speak.”

“Revelers unite!” urged the pronouncement, whose signatories included groups such as the Soggy Capybaras and the Bellicose Knickers.

Hundreds of glitter-smeared carnival activists pranced 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 city hall has abandoned street carnival,” complained Kiko Horta, a founder of one of Rio’s best-known blocos, the Cordão do Boitatá.

“It makes no sense. Street carnival – along with the [Sambódromo] carnival – is the city’s most important festival. It has tremendous symbolic, cultural and economic value. Simply forbidding it is absurd,” Horta added.

Telma Neves, the president of the samba bloco Engata no Centro (City Centre Coupling), joined the demo with her 83-year-old mother Georgina who had not missed a carnival since she was six. “We’ve spent the last two years in silence, unable to do anything,” Neves, 58, complained. “We’re pleading for the right to our own carnival.”

Wednesday’s rally offered a snapshot of the weird and wonderful world of Rio street carnival, as bacchanals of all ages and from all walks of life danced through town wearing a dizzying medley of costumes – or in some cases almost no clothes at all.

One man came dressed as a grim reaper brandishing a Minion toy and a pretend syringe – a political critique of President Jair Bolsonaro’s denialist response to Covid. Other performers sambaed on wooden stilts or carried the flags of their racily named blocos including Bésame Mucho (Cover Me With Kisses) and the Bloco das Trepadeiras (Botanical Bonking).

Claudio Manhães, a 43-year-old x-ray technician, came to represent his group – founded by a gang of samba-loving radiology professionals 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 off 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,” Manhães sighed. “Revelers wanted that moment of joy – and even more so than usual because of the Covid pandemic.”

Dhel Aquino, the founder of Dhel e os Cabras da Peste, a bloco that mixes samba with north-eastern rhythms like frevo and baião, said the government’s failure to support Rio’s free, open-air carnival undermined the democratic nature of debauchery.

“Our carnival is participative … a place where you can have fun if you’ve got money and have fun if you don’t,” 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 the whole year thinking about carnival,” Aquino enthused before donning a red clown’s nose and joining the jamboree. “It represents freedom. It represents being able to forget about your daily life, your problems, your demands and your worries.”

Tarcísio Motta, a leftist councillor who has criticised the government’s treatment of the blocos, questioned whether Rio’s mayor wanted to cast himself as “an enemy of carnival”. “The city hall is right to support the samba schools … but why haven’t they done the same for street carnival?” Motta asked, accusing authorities of depriving residents of their legal right to carnival.

As Wednesday’s protest grew Juarez Santos, the president of the LGBTQ+ bloco Banda das Quengas (Band of the Floozies), reminisced about carnivals past, when huge sweat-drenched crowds mobbed his bloco’s sound system in the Cruz Vermelha square to hear Brazilian classics – and the mandatory anthem I Will Survive!

There would be no Gloria Gaynor in 2022, lamented Santos, whose rainbow vest featured the group’s name and cartoon of a muscular male dancer in a minuscule scarlet thong. “This year we have been silenced.”