Almost recovered from my bout of food poisoning (one of the worst I´ve ever experinced), and with Carnaval truly over, I finally have the chance to recount the events of the last week... and what a week it was! Carnaval certainly lived up to its reputation of being the best street party in the world.
In Rio there is the official Carnaval parade, where samba schools made up of thousands of members parade in flamoyant costumes through a massive outdoor amphitheatre (the Sambadromo), and then there is the ´Carnaval of the streets´, made up of smaller musical groups and drumming batterias (called ´blocos´) who parade through parts of the city at different times over the whole week of carnaval, plus several official parties and concerts. The former is highly commercialised, expensive, and though visually impressive, did not live up to it´s hype for me (though I did not parade in it which I think would have been amazing - but I just couldn´t spare the $700US dollars to do this).
The Carnaval of the streets, however, was much more my cup of tea. The blocos and parties were loads of fun. Some of them started at 8am in the morning to beat the Rio heat - and this was definitely the most fun I´ve ever had before midday on a weekend. Everyone, and I mean every ONE, dressed up in fancy dress and followed the music along its parade route. Some blocos were huge with several hundreds of people (like that of Boita Ta), and some were much smaller and intimate. Some I had planned to attend, while others I stumbled upon accidentally and chased after spontaneously. After a few blocos, I got surpisingly comfortable being sandwiched between sweaty, (sometimes pushy), costumed cariocas, and despite the crowds, everyone was always in great spirits, smiling, singing, dancing, drinking beer, and joking with everyone around.
Every bloco I saw was slightly different. Some had large drumming batterias, and others more prominant horn sections and singers. They played a mix of batucada, samba, and ´marchinhas´ (a catchy, European polka-type music of old-school Carnaval). Though the marchinhas are very old traditional songs, the lyrics have been changed to be more modern and very silly (such as `we like Viagra!`). Everyone knows the lyrics and sings along. Every bloco was followed by an after party lasting several hours, where people would hang out in costume in the streets and drink more.
Luciana, Natia and I at one of the pre-carnaval parties.
One our way to a Bloco in Santa Teresa
Natia with a sombrero, from the ´Natia in Other People´s Funny Hats´ Series
One of the best things about the blocos was how friendly and happy the locals were and how much fun they had dressing up. Guys especially liked dressing up as women (a tradition that also occurs in traditional African-Brazilian religious practices), and somehow, cross dressing seems to pose no threat whatsoever to their masculinity. I remember seeing an Arnold Schwarzenegger look alike, whose sheer size and muscle tone was very intimidating, dressed up in a tiny ladies camosole winking at me - a great visual contrast!
Bloco Boita Ta - one of the biggest
Apparently, the bloco-style carnaval is what carnaval in Rio used to be like, I guess before it become very commercial and expensive and centred around the main parade. And only over the last 10 years has Rio started allowing and promoting street blocos and parties during Carnaval in addition to the main parade - so it was definitely a good time to go!
After days of blocos, my fairy wings started to rapidly degenerate and it was time to head to Salvador to get a taste of Carnaval, Bahian style. My god, it was like arriving in a different country. 80% of Salvador´s population descend from the African slave population that were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. Apparently, they are the group of Africans that have held onto their cultural traditions the most out of any country in the new world. So arriving in Salvador was almost like stepping off the plane in an African country, with the music and culture to match.
Carnaval was in full swing by the time we arrived there. We got a sense of this first hand, when we stepped out of our hotel for a wee stroll around the area, only to be suddenly swept up in a wave of people all following massive trucks with bands playing at the top. Like quick sand, we rapidly became stuck in the middle of the crowd which filled the streets in every direction like dancing sardines, leaving us no avenue for escape. Luckily we survived and my fear of being curshed to death did not occur. But it was certainly a sight to be hold. Everywhere were Afro-Braziliaans of all ages shaking their booties to beats of all kinds.
Once started (around 3pm in the afternoon) these massive muscial trucks (called ´trios electricos´) did not stop, and I mean there was not evern one minute´s break between them. They literally kept coming all night (no joke until 5am), all playing different music and surrounded by a few hundred people dancing infront and behind each truck. The music ranged from samba, to reggae, to traditional African rhythms, to Brazilian pop, to rock, to funk - and no two bands were the same.
I was also amazed at how family orientated it was, with babies only a year old parading on top of their parents´ heads looking as if this sort of thing happens in their backyard every day, and young kids singing and dancing even if they couldn´t see the bands from behind the crowds, and grandparents hanging in there with a smile, if also a wobble.
I thought I had died and made it to some sort of musical heaven. I did my absolute best on the last night to suck the last of the marrow out of this Carnaval experience and made it to 4am. Of course the party continued way past then, and I had to drag my exhausted body and excited mind off to sleep.
Despite Carnaval officially finishing on Ash Wed, for the next few days we continued to stumble upon great music at every crevice of Salavdor´s old town. On several occasions I have dropped everything to run out on to the streets and follow drumming batterias, only to stumble upon several others along the way. Going out to see a band in Salvador is like playing dominos, where one band leads to another, and another, and another without ever having to search.
Overall, Carnaval Rio/Salador style was the best music festival I have ever been to. To see soooo many people dancing in the streets, smiling and having fun, but also being composed and respectful of eachother, is my idea of heaven. In the words of Arnie, `I´ll be back`!
(P.S more photos coming soon - am struggling to find a computer with enough memory to upload them quickly)