Brazil prepares its first carnival since Covid
Published on: Amended:
Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – After two bleak years of closures and losses, Rio de Janeiro will hold its famous carnival this weekend for the first time since Covid-19 hit Brazil, promising a giant, scintillating spectacle of pandemic catharsis.
Dancing to haunting samba beats, thousands of dancers dressed in sequined costumes are set to reclaim the ‘Sambadrome’, the seaside town’s iconic carnival parade venue, which was turned into a Covid-19 vaccination center in 2021.
Canceled last year as the pandemic death toll rose in hard-hit Brazil, then postponed for two months this year for fear of another wave, the carnival spectacle is set to finally go on, with parades all night long on Friday and Saturday evenings.
“It’s going to be a very special year. I’m just like, ‘I’m alive, I did it!'” said Bianca Monteiro, the “queen of the drum corps” at Portela, the samba school that won the most times. in the history of the Rio Carnival Parade Contest.
“We want to pay tribute to those who died from Covid. It was a time of so much suffering, money problems, hunger… The pandemic has caused so much tragedy,” she told AFP. the AFP.
Covid-19 has claimed more than 660,000 lives in Brazil, second only to the United States in absolute numbers.
But with more than 75% of the South American country’s 213 million people now fully vaccinated, the average number of weekly deaths has fallen from more than 3,000 a year ago to less than 100 now.
Anyone participating and attending the 12 Samba School parades over the weekend will be required to present proof of vaccination.
“I missed it a lot. I love carnival,” Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said.
“It’s a holiday that represents so much of who we are as a city and a country. Carnival shows the world a joyful, unprejudiced people who embrace diversity and religious tolerance.”
Behind the frenetic whirlwind of floats, feathers and barely covered flesh, Rio’s carnival is tightly shaped by tradition and rules.
Each of the samba schools will have 60-70 minutes to tell a story in music and dance, which will be evaluated on nine criteria by a team of judges.
Defending champions Viradouro chose Rio’s legendary 1919 carnival as their theme, the first celebrated after the ravages of another pandemic, the Spanish flu.
Other schools have chosen themes loaded with social messages, with Brazil facing a divisive election in October that could pit far-right President Jair Bolsonaro against former left-wing leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Eight of the schools’ 12 themes deal with racism or Afro-Brazilian history, charged issues in a country where the current president has faced frequent accusations of racism.
Their samba songs include treatments of the protests that erupted across the United States following the 2020 police killing of George Floyd; tributes to two “orixas”, or deities, of Afro-Brazilian religion; and celebrations by black samba singers Cartola and Martinho da Vila.
“Samba schools are (historically) a representation of Afro-Brazilian culture,” said carnival historian Luiz Antonio Simas.
“Under the current government, which is closely aligned with anti-carnival conservative movements, it is highly political to have this black, visceral carnival.”
moisturizer for tears
The excitement of the return of Carnival is also tinged with fatigue for samba schools, which spend the whole year preparing — extended in this case due to the pandemic beyond the usual dates just before the Catholic season. of Lent.
“There are a lot of pent up emotions. We will have to hydrate well to make up for all the tears we are going to shed,” said Talita Batista, who will be marching for Portela.
The event should also bring some relief to a tourism sector battered by the pandemic.
Rio hotels are expecting 85% occupancy, despite the city not allowing “blocos”, the massive street parties that usually accompany the official parade competition.
Several small street parties are still expected to take place.
© 2022 AFP