Tag Archives: Bloco

Carnaval in the streets of Rio

This Carnaval weekend in Rio de Janeiro, Momo rules and mockery and irreverence are the law.  In the big bloco, or street parades, everything is parodied and pilloried; celebrities and dignitaries, religion, Carnaval stars and Carnaval costumes, Carnaval itself.

Bloco at Barra Beach
Bloco at Barra Beach

On Carnaval Saturday the Cordao Bola Preta (the Polka Dot Bloco) takes Avenida Rio Branco by storm with thousands of caricatures of Rio entities all flaunting their uniform black and white underwear. Later, up in the hills of Santa Teresa, thousands of habits and veils in the Carmelitas Bloco play out an old Rio tale of nun who skives off from her convent for the three days of Carnaval. The next day, at the banda de Ipanema “stars”, “sambistas” “queens of the drummers” drag queens and speedos in masks follow a make-believe vanguard commission of chaps in white top hats and tails.

In contrast, in the Condomble religious parades, reverence and appeasement reign . Late on Saturday afternoon, the followers of Yemanja, goddess of the sea and one of the seven orixhas of Condomble, make their way along the promenade at Copacabana. On the beach a small flotilla of fishing boats, yachts and pleasure craft waits to take them out to sea. Navy ships watch off shore. Out on the ocean the faithful throw their offerings to Yemanja. Those she accepts disappear into the deep, the rejects are tossed on the sands by the incoming tide. On empty, early Sunday morning Barra Beach we skirt around a small sodden bouquet. Further on, a blurred card washes lazily in the shallows.

Yet, for all the colour, life and traditions of the streets,  the iconic Sambadromo is Carnaval’s centre stage, the Samba Schools’ parades are Carnaval’s finest expression and the Special Samba Schools’ parades are Carnaval’s star turn.

But the sambadromo, that’s quite another country. The Special Samba Schools’ Parades, that’s quite another story.


The Bloco da Barra

As Rio counts down to Carnaval, the Blocos begin.

The bloco da Barra
The bloco da Barra, 2009

All over Rio the beach crowds are building.  Posto 9, the lifeguard’s tower that marks the Gay Kingdom of Ipanema, is lost in a forest of rainbow flags.  Even at our own quiet, Barra Beach, the tent cafes have mushroomed into a mall. Every morning trucks from distant favelas spill forth black and white Carnaval clones, gangs of kids with bleached hair and ebony skins. They run all day, around ever-increasing circles of umbrellas, ferrying caipirinha to colonies of bikinis and speedos. The beach becomes a bustling market place; bikini boutiques set up under makeshift pareu shelters, chair to chair salesmen pedal sunglasses, sunscreen, kites, colouring books. Samba bands thread their way through avenues of deck chairs. I make beach friends with my next towel neighbour, Camilla, just inches away.

But two sunny afternoons later, the distant sound of drums scatters the entire beach company. Camilla and I part in the melee. We never meet again, because like real beach friends we haven’t swapped numbers.

Up on the promenade, the Banda da Barra has begun . Like its 17th century Portuguese colonial ancestor the cordoe, the bloco is a street parade with music, costumes and wags tossing water about. There are at least 400 bloco in Rio. Many are huge, spectacular and famous. Their domains are the streets of Rio Centro and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.

The Banda da Barra, however, is a modest, neighbourhood affair. A couple of trucks carry local dignitaries, singers and beauty queens. Families of cartoon characters and lads in drag, bikinis and speedos, pareus and towels, bare-chested, bare-footed boys, prams, wheelchairs, scooters and bikes, beach merchants, beer merchants with supermarket trolleys and can collectors all follow the bateria (band).  We fall in behind. The Preifetura (council) tanker sprays us with water as we shuffle along. The samba is infectious. First our feet are smitten. Our hips go next. Soon we’re possessed.

Blocos form within the Banda da Barra. (Banda, blocos, bonda they’re all the same thing – street festivals!) The Bloco da Bundao (Bloco of the bum) sets up headquarters in the kiosk just over the road. We samba nights away there to a band with an ever-changing line up of neighbourhood grandmas and grand-dads, mums and dads and kids, in the Bloco uniform, a red and yellow t shirt with a bunda logo.