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After Years of “Darkness,” the Rio Carnival Returns to its Roots

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Get out the glitter, drums, and jewel-encrusted bikinis because Rio de Janeiro will dance till dawn this weekend at its iconic carnival, reviving the samba spirit after the unrest of Covid-19 and Brazil’s fiercely polarizing elections.

The largest carnival in the world, which has actually been going on for weeks thanks to a number of large street celebrations, will start on Friday and culminate on Sunday and Monday nights with the annual samba school parade competition.

Rio’s carnival last year was scaled back, delayed by two months due to the pandemic, and lacking the legendary street gatherings known as “blocos.”

The full-on festival is back this year, and the samba schools are scrambling to complete the glistening costumes and extravagant floats that have become its characteristics.

“We always give it our best effort. We have no social lives; we stay here and work till dawn. Rogerio Sampaio, 54, a prop master at the Viradouro samba school, said: “Whatever it takes to bring people that enjoyment on Carnival day.”

The celebrations officially begin on Friday when Mayor Eduardo Paes symbolically hands “King Momo,” the joyful “monarch” who “runs” Rio during carnival, the key to the city.

The admitted carnival enthusiast Paes refers to it as “the greatest entertainment on Earth.”

The 12 top-tier samba schools will battle for the coveted title of parade champions in the “Sambadrome,” the avenue-turned-stadium, where officials anticipate a sold-out audience of more than 70,000 people each night.

There will be millions more people watching live TV.

And more than five million people are anticipated for the street celebrations in the famous beach city.

After two years of pandemic-related disruptions, Rio is ready to revel after emerging from the “darkness.”

In addition to celebrating the end of Jair Bolsonaro‘s four years as president, many in the carnival community are also protesting his far-right policies, which were frequently the focus of messages during the samba school parades. Bolsonaro was a critic of carnival.

The samba schools, which originated in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, gather hundreds of dancers, singers, drummers, and corteges of extravagant floats for the parade competition in an effort to wow the judges.

The broadcasts frequently featured politically charged messages under Bolsonaro’s presidency on issues including racism, intolerance, environmental degradation, and Brazil’s terrible management of Covid-19.

The parades this year represent a return to the origins.

The Afro-Brazilian culture from which the samba genre developed, as well as Brazil’s northeast — the impoverished, predominately black, and mixed-race region that serves as the spiritual home of the percussion-heavy musical form — were among the subjects chosen by many of the schools.

In the elections held in October, the northeast largely supported leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva against Bolsonaro.

Leandro Vieira, creative director at the samba school Imperatriz Leopoldinense, claimed that the region’s major inclusion in this year’s carnival is “no coincidence.”

He told the news publication Veja that “Carnival is a mirror of Brazil.”

After a turbulent period in both politics and popular culture, Brazil needs to reinforce its best qualities at this time. This period of illumination follows a period of darkness.

Lampiao, a northeastern outlaw-hero from the 1920s and 1930s who has been compared to Brazil’s Robin Hood or Jesse James, will be the subject of his own school’s procession.

Sweeping it in

This year’s carnival will be “a big manifestation of joy” in addition to its sociopolitical messages, according to Adair Rocha, director of cultural programming at Rio de Janeiro State University.

It’s all about conquering obstacles in life, he told AFP.

Carnival is expected to generate 4.5 billion reais ($880 million) for the local economy, according to the city.

Hotel occupancy rates are anticipated to reach 95%.

Rio has set up 34,000 portable toilets in public spaces and has sent out a tiny army of sanitation workers who typically pick up about 1,000 tons of carnival rubbish, so it is prepared for the masses.

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