‘Now we can be happy again’: Rio’s dazzling Carnival returns

Rio de Janeiro: Rio’s top samba schools have begun putting on their delayed Carnival parades, the first after a two-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19-pandemic.

The schools’ colourful gigantic floats and flamboyant dancers began entering the Sambadrome grounds to parade before tens of thousands of fans on Friday, the first evening of the week-long spectacle.

Members of Imperatriz Leopoldinense Samba School perform at the Marques de Sapucai Sambadrome during Carnival 2022 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.Credit:Bloomberg

Ketula Melo, 38, a muse in the Imperatriz Leopoldinense school dressed as the Iemanja deity of Afro-Brazilian religions, was thrilled to go to the Sambadrome.

“These two years were horrible. Now we can be happy again,” Melo said as she was about to enter, wearing a black and white costume made of shells that barely covered her body.

Rio’s Sambadrome – a purposely built arena – has been home to the parade since the 1980s. During the pandemic, it was a shelter for more than 400 homeless people and also served as a vaccination centre.

Members of Imperatriz Leopoldinense samba school perform during the Special Group Parade on day three of the Rio de Janeiro 2022.Credit:Getty Images

Brazil confirmed its first cases of the coronavirus in mid-March 2020, just after that year’s Carnival festivities came to an end. The 2021 edition was swiftly cancelled due to the rise of the Delta variant. More than 663,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Brazil, the second-highest toll in the world, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.

Entire communities rally around the competing samba schools (clubs), whose shows are not only a source of pride but also employment since preparations require countless seamstresses, welders, costume designers and more. There are months of rehearsals for dancers and drummers, so participants can learn the tune and the lyrics for their school’s song. The pandemic upended this way of life for two years.

Sao Paulo also kicked off its Carnival parade on Friday evening. Both cities’ parades usually take place in February or March, but their mayors in January jointly announced they were postponing Carnival by two months due to concerns about the proliferation of the Omicron variant.

The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths has plunged since then, and more than three-quarters of the population of 220 million are fully vaccinated, according to the country’s Health Ministry. Local authorities have allowed soccer matches with full attendance since March.

Carnival parades have returned to Rio and other Brazilian cities after a pandemic induced hiatus.Credit:Bloomberg

Rio authorities said earlier this week those attending the parade would have to show proof of vaccination, but reports showed attendees had no trouble getting tickets or entering the Sambadrome without showing the required documents.

A seat in the bleachers cost about $US50 ($69), and the most expensive seats can cost more than $US1260. Going out in one of the samba schools costs a lot for tourists, but it is often free for school memebers who are involved with the parade all year round, like 66-year-old Juciara do Nascimento Santos. She was among the revellers starting this year’s parade with the Imperatriz Leopoldinense.

Members of Imperatriz Leopoldinense perform at the Sambadrome where samba schools are judged on their theme, song, costumes, floats, ensemble and cohesion.Credit:Bloomberg

“We had to take care of ourselves during this time so we could be here today celebrating life,” said Santos, who has paraded with the school since 1984. This time she was in the section of the baianas, often reserved for the oldest women of each samba school. Many of these samba schools reported they have lost many of their baianas to the virus.

For those unwilling to shell out for the price of admission, there were street parties across Rio — despite the city council denying authorisation for them to take place, citing insufficient time to prepare. Some organisers couldn’t care less, arguing that celebrating Carnival wasn’t contingent on authorities’ consent. Revellers hit the streets in force.

The winners of Rio’s competition will parade again on April 30.


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