Sequined spectacle

Sequined spectacle

Celebration

Sequined spectacle

Having had a chance to participate in this year’s Rio Carnival, Janardhan Roye brings to literary life, the five-day fiesta that occurs every February in Brazil.

In the over-the-top festive frenzy of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, a passing truck sprayed water on the overheated celebrants. Nearby, a steamy music band was handed a garden hose.

The percussionist sprayed his bald head and body with jets of water, and then trained it on the band members before playfully splashing nearby dancers. As shrieks and screams of euphoric pleasure erupted all around, the fun, beauty, and energy continued in the run-up to Lent.

The Carnival was officially flagged off with the crowning of King Momo to drum beats, pulsating music, a barrage of fireworks and the traditional Biotata celebrations. Tens of thousands of paying spectators crammed the renovated Sambódromo to cheer, whistle and wave flags during the two-day spectacle.

Outside, millions lined the streets, squares, beaches, bars, clubs and filled every available public space or stayed glued to the TV as the riot of colourful costumes and floats and the frenetic pace of the dancers exploded that sultry evening.

Gorgeous well-shaped girls sporting body glitter, feathery, sequin-filled costumes and huge smiles from samba schools came in swaying arms, swinging hips in sheer joy to the seductive beat of drums and diverse Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Extravagantly decorated floats followed on the 700 m stretch of the Marquês de Sapucaí stadium.

The parades formed a spectacle of epic proportions — gigantic sculptures, body-painted carnival queens, belly dancers, artists on stilts, soccer players with giant footballs, acrobats and other such larger than life characters.

As per tradition, the first samba beat quickly converted into ‘the world’s biggest, wildest party’. The rich and the poor got into party mode and clothing to blur their striking economic differences — at least for some time. “Bless you! We’re all children of the same god,” giggled a bent-up old lady Evita, watching her little great-grand-daughter executing samba steps as a German couple took pictures. As the all-night event slipped into overdrive, the huge crowd cheered the elite samba schools finalists. Black, brown, white hopefuls, in all manner of dazzling skimpy costumes swayed and shook their booties for the Carnival champion title. The contest revs up the same excitement and fervour as football in this soccer-mad country.

A little something for everyone

The Rio Carnival does much more than highlight the samba parade. There are scores of exciting events that take place simultaneously in the city. Some go on for weeks to symbolise the wide acceptance of the carnival into the Brazilian culture.

Typically, the cream of society head for gala masquerade balls in luxury hotels to party with other costume-clad jet-setters — to samba the night away to the live music of percussion groups. The budget conscious have options galore for celebration at the 400 ‘blocos’ — free-for-all street parties. Here, they experience the diverse charm of the city. Each neighbourhood has its favourite street band — usually set atop a sound truck with a cordoned off percussion section in tow. More than 300 such bands operate during the carnival.

Invariably ‘blocos’ are theme-based parties. One beach area hosted a Simpatia é Quase Amor theme, roughly translated as ‘kindness and love’. The happy gathering was urged to take the message seriously and grab, hug and kiss their partner at every opportunity! In another raucous, sweaty open-air dance party, youngsters from far and wide sang along to the Beatles. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da to Sargento Pimenta, that’s Portuguese for Sergent Pepper and everything in between. I want to hold your hand transformed into a sexy samba. But it was Twist ‘n’ shout that rocked the foundations that steamy afternoon.

“The people singing and dancing are unknowingly performing an ancient ritual,” observed a gray-haired teacher, at another neighbourhood, where people of all ages had gathered to laugh, sing and wiggle their derriere in time with the samba beat.

When two ladies from a balcony abruptly flung buckets of water on the revelers, there was a cheery response with endless air-kisses directed towards the giggly oldsters. “Que eu samba aqui! O canto livre de Angola,” sang the group. “It means,” continued the lady, “You dance samba there, I dance samba here! That’s the free chant of my ancestral land, Angola. Now it is all part of Brazilian culture.” At a nearby location, there was an enactment of the legendary naughty nun who jumped the walls of a Carmelite convent, to join in on the carnival fun.

Although the carnival is celebrated all over the Catholic world and specially in ex-Portuguese, colonial towns and villages, Rio has been dubbed the carnival capital of the world. It is not only the biggest, it is the standard for comparing every other carnival. How and why is the Rio carnival such a hit? The Rio do is a wild five-day long celebration, 40 days before Easter. It officially starts on Saturday, February 18 and finishes on ‘Fat Tuesday’, with the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

“After the carnival, devout Christians abstain from their favourite things till Easter,”
explained Bernardo, a friend. The origins of carnival dates back to pagan spring and fertility rites as also to the ancient Greeks and their spring festival in honour of Dionysus. The Romans, it is said, adopted the celebration with Bacchanalia, the Roman equivalent to Dionysus, and Saturnalia, where slaves and masters exchanged food, clothes and other gifts in a day of merriment and drunken revelry.

The Rio Carnival combines such diverse elements. In addition to entertainment and the unfolding of Brazil’s complex culture, the economy gets a massive shot in the arm. An estimated 250,000 jobs are created and US$ 700 million flows into hotels, bars, restaurants and the hospitality business alone, during the mega event.

It is also the time when the spotlight falls on artistic talent and the creative geniuses of the country — particularly among the black shantytowns lacking in basic amenities.

This year, artist Romero Britto, who merged the influences of cubism with pop, was honoured by the school of samba. Britto’s refreshingly zesty work was showcased on television. Carnival is so important that schools are using it to teach youngsters the value of their roots and proud heritage.

The Rio Carnival is a hot, once- in-a life-time experience,” concluded Bernardo with a big laugh, “And when things get seriously overheated, someone will cool things down with buckets of water!”

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