(Rio de Janeiro) “A lot of impatience, a lot of fatigue too,” confides Pedro H. Gaspar. “Fatigue”, for this dancer, comes from long months of demanding rehearsals. The “impatience” can be explained in a few words: the Rio Carnival is finally going to begin.
“We talk a lot here about “TPC”, the Pre-Carnival Tension that every member of a samba school feels,” he explains to AFP. This young black man of 30 years old, big smile and obvious elegance, is one of the “passistas” of Unidos de Vila Isabel, one of the twelve prestigious schools which will parade on the nights of Sunday and Monday.
“The carnival is here”, according to the established expression. In recent days, the “blocos”, these musical processions, sometimes modest, sometimes enormous, have spread throughout the city, attracting crowds in improbable disguises who come to sway to varied rhythms, drunk with joy and beer.
But, like every year, alongside the street carnival, the party will culminate with sumptuous parades at the Sambodrome, a legendary venue with 70,000 seats. Signed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the concrete monument is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Samba is a hundred years old. And this music invented by black communities descended from African slaves forcibly taken to Brazil is still as creative and explosive.
Monumental floats, dancers in sparkling costumes, smashing rhythm sections will defend the colors of their school in fierce competition.
However, beyond the performances, the carnival will still demonstrate its political and social relevance.
On the program: exaltation of sometimes little-known black figures, of traditions with their roots in Africa, but also honor paid to indigenous communities.
The Salgueiro school will celebrate the resistance of the Yanomami, a people of the Amazon experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis caused by illegal gold panning. If the drama reached terrible proportions under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022), his left-wing successor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is struggling to reverse the situation.
“The parade of samba schools continues to be a place where Brazil thinks of itself,” enthuses anthropologist Mauro Cordeiro, specialist in samba culture. “The carioca carnival today is a space where the fundamental political and social questions of Brazil are discussed.”
If there is also room for lightness – the hit of the 2024 parades is already a song dedicated to cashew, a fruit with juice as delicious as its famous nut – carnival is a serious affair.
And the carioca festivities, which generate considerable revenue – 5.3 billion reais (one billion euros) for tourism for this edition, according to projections – will not escape the concerns of the day.
While Rio is plagued by crime, the authorities have announced the deployment of thousands of police officers throughout the region during the carnival, particularly around the Sambodrome.
Another serious question: the epidemic of dengue fever, a tropical disease which has already caused around fifty confirmed deaths in the country. The city has declared a state of health emergency, and mosquito repellents will be distributed to parade spectators.
This should not diminish the enchantment nor prevent the great samba schools, rooted in working-class neighborhoods, from holding the upper hand: for a few days, the periphery takes center stage.
Mangueira is one of them. It takes its name from the favela where it was created 96 years ago, a few stone’s throw from the Maracana stadium, the temple of Brazilian football.
This year, the school with the green and pink flag has chosen to exalt Alcione, a samba icon, by recounting the childhood of the singer, who is celebrating her 50th career this year with panache.
The star co-founded, 36 years ago, the Mangueira branch dedicated to the artistic training of children. Barbara Rachel, thirty years old herself born in the favela and from the school, is today the cultural director.
“It’s very moving because Alcione is a figure who has marked our lives. And she has not only marked my life, but that of an entire generation who is with me,” says the young woman, whose students will in turn parade as part of the children’s carnival.
The next generation is ready. As Alcione says in one of his most famous songs: “Don’t let samba die.”