This weekend, King Momo kicks off the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, a festivity that will paralyze all of Brazil for a week during which it is expected the arrival of five million visitorsamong them the 80,000 privileged people who will be able to attend the Sambadrome.
“A lot of anxiety and also a lot of tiredness,” confesses Pedro Gaspar. This dancer's fatigue comes from long months of demanding rehearsals. “Anxiety” is explained in a few words: The Rio de Janeiro carnival is finally going to begin.
“Here we call it TPC, 'pre-carnival tension', which is felt by all of us who participate in a samba school,” he tells AFP.
Gaspar, 30 years old, big smile and obvious elegance, He is one of the “passistas” of Unidos de Vila Isabel, one of the twelve prestigious samba schools that will parade Sunday and Monday nights at the Rio Sambadrome.
One of last year's parades. Photo: EFE
“Carnival is here”, is the phrase on the lips of all the locals.
In recent days, the “blocos”, musical processions as modest as they are gigantic, They have spread throughout the city, drawing crowds with creative costumes that dance to various rhythms, drunk with joy and beer.
But, like every year, in addition to the street carnival, the festival will culminate with sumptuous parades at the Sambódromo, with capacity for 70,000 spectators.
The Sambódromo turns 40 years old
Designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the concrete monument celebrates its 40th anniversary.
The samba that plays is centuries old. But this music created by black communities descended from African slaves forcibly taken to Brazil remains just as imaginative and powerful.
Mayara Lima, drum queen of the samba school, Paraíso do Tuiuti, at the January rehearsals at the Sambódromo. Photo: Xinhua
Monumental floats, dancers in bright costumes and sensational rhythm groups will defend their school colors in a fierce competition.
The political and social importance
Beyond the performances, the carnival will continue to demonstrate its political and social relevance.
The program exalts black figures sometimes little known, traditions with African rootsand also honors indigenous communities.
The Salgueiro school will celebrate like this the resistance of the Yanomamia native people of the Amazon that is experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis caused mainly by the illegal exploitation of gold.
Tourists are welcomed by King Momo, the Queen and the princess of the Rio de Janeiro carnival. Photo: EFE
The drama worsened during the government of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022), and his leftist successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is fighting without definitively resolving it.
“The samba school parade continues to be a place where Brazil thinks of itself“, theorizes anthropologist Mauro Cordeiro, specialist in samba culture.
“The Rio carnival today is a space where political and social issues are discussed fundamentals of Brazil,” he adds.
And although there is room for levity – the hit of the 2024 parades is a song dedicated to the cashew, a fruit with a juice as delicious as its famous chestnut – the carnival is a serious matter.
The festivals in Rio, which according to official projections will generate tourism revenues of 5.3 billion reais (more than 1 billion dollars), will not escape current concerns.
Safety a concern
Safety, For example. The authorities have announced the deployment of thousands of police throughout the region during the carnival, particularly around the Sambódromo.
Another concern is the dengue epidemic, a tropical disease that has already caused about 50 confirmed deaths in the country. Rio has declared a state of health emergency and mosquito repellents will be distributed to parade spectators.
These problems should not diminish the charm or prevent the great samba schools, rooted in popular neighborhoods, from gaining prominence.
For a few days, the periphery takes the lead.
For a few days, the periphery takes the lead. Photo: EFE
Mangueira is one of them. Its name comes from the favela where was created 96 years agoa few steps from the Maracaná stadium, temple of Brazilian football.
This year, the school with the pink and green flag has chosen to celebrate the singer Alcione, samba icon, who this year celebrates her 50-year career with a story from her childhood.
The reference co-founded, 36 years ago, the Mangueira subsidiary dedicated to the artistic training of children.
Barbara Rachel, 30 years old, born in the favela and educated at school, is today the cultural director.
“It is very moving because Alcione is a figure who has marked our lives. Not only mine, but that of an entire generation,” says Rachel, whose students will parade in the children's carnival.
The next generation is ready. “Don't let samba die,” Alcione urges in one of his most famous songs.
With information from AFP and EFE