The Rio Carnival offered a magical spectacle on its first night, the cheers and magic of the parade to make people forget two years of tragedy due to Covid-19 that bled Brazil dry.
To make up for lost time, to catch up on lost joy, that was the wish of the approximately 20,000 dancers and percussionists from the six samba schools who fervently marched through the Sambadrome and the 75,000 spectators who yelled at each other in the stands.
“We missed the carnival so much, what an energy there will be,” predicted Tita Nunes, a 31-year-old Brazilian, ahead of the Friday night march, alluding to the cancellation of the 2021 celebrations.
“After all this tragedy, we need to celebrate life,” said Thelma Fonseca, a beaming smile and glitter costume, dancer from the Imperatriz school.
“We have waited two years for this carnival. We are very satisfied,” added the 43-year-old.
Six samba schools walked the 700 meters of the Sambadrome for an hour in an orgy of feathers, glitter, percussion and wild dancing. They rode allegorical chariots as high as multi-story buildings, sometimes tumbling.
Six more will move for the second night of carnival until dawn on Sunday. The championship title will cover the best samba school with glory.
The cancellation of last year’s carnival was experienced by Brazilians as a national tragedy, as it is in the DNA of an entire samba-mad people.
But a year ago, COVID-19 was killing 3,000 people a day in Brazil, compared to 100 today. The Sambadrome had been converted into a vaccination center.
The pandemic has made Brazil the second-most grieving country in the world, behind the United States, with more than 660,000 dead.
Justice and Inclusion
As usual, the samba schools, mostly from the favelas, addressed political issues in their parades.
Eight of the 12 schools scheduled to perform over the two evenings chose to represent anti-racism and samba’s African roots.
As the third school in the early hours of Saturday, Salgueiro, with around 3,000 dancers and percussionists, marched his show in the form of a beat, “Resistance,” inspired by the Black Lives Matter protest movement that rocked the United States.
On lush floats, dancers swayed in front of signs: “Freedom comes from black people” or “Justice” and “Inclusion”.
Under Jair Bolsonaro’s government, “racism is more demeaning because it comes from above,” says Claudia Nascimento – who marched with Salgueiro – in reference to the far-right president known for his racist outbursts.
By choosing the theme of the 1919 carnival organized after the terrible Spanish flu, the Unidos do Viradouro school metaphorically evoked this 2022 edition of the post-Covid rebirth.
The party everyone had been waiting for was shattered on Friday by the death of an 11-year-old girl who was crushed by a tank at the exit of the Sambadrome two days earlier.
“Rio wouldn’t be Rio without the carnival,” said its mayor and first admirer Eduardo Paes on Wednesday, declaring “the greatest show in the world” to be open.
In addition to the jubilation, the carnival brings a windfall to the “Marvellous City”, where it generates 45,000 jobs and 4 billion nes (around 800 million euros) in revenue.
In 2020, Rio had received more than 2.1 million tourists. Even if there are fewer foreigners this year, the hotel industry, devastated by COVID-19, is happy with an occupancy rate of 85%.
Critics against Bolsonaro
Close to evangelicals who don’t appreciate the sensual debauchery of carnival, President Jair Bolsonaro doesn’t like the Carioca party. And this makes him feel good.
In the spans we could see spectators displaying large yellow fabrics with the portrait of the gagged President over which we shouted “Fora!” (“outdoors!”).
“The carnival is a political and anti-fascist demonstration,” said Nairobi Coelho, 43, an oil sector administrator who was demonstrating.
“After two years of isolation, (this carnival) has a special smack of a victory for the science that has developed a vaccine against the virus and the hope of a change of government this election year,” she explains. Bolsonaro will seek re-election in October’s presidential election.