Rio Carnival - this time with real women...

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February 9th 2008
Published: February 10th 2008
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Out of the streets and into the Sambadrome!

The biggest party in the world is officially in Rio, every year the carnival takes hold of the city, the streets erupt, and in the samba schools preparations are completed and tensions are high for the competition in the Sambadrome.

In suburbs and favelas of the city of Rio there are many Samba Schools. Their main purpose is to research and create all the songs, dancing, floats, choreography for the samba competitions. Brazilians take their samba almost as seriously as their football (soccer) - many people have a samba school that they support, wearing the shirts and following the preparations and gossip.

Like in football there are several divisions, the top division has 12 schools, the competition that the world associates with the Rio Carnival is the culmination of more than 6 months preparation by these schools and 2 nights competition, and 1 nights celebration.

From 9pm and 5am on the Sunday and Monday night before Mardi Grais and Ash Wednesday - the schools parade. Each school has 80 minutes to parade down a kilometre long strip between stadium stands - the sambadrome. Each year a new samba song is written, a theme is chosen and many thousands of hours work go into research, choreography, costume making and float creation. The entire project comes together to be collectively known as the parade.

In the 80mins allocated to each parade by a school, 5,000 people march past divided into about 30 sections, up to 8 gigantic themed floats (motorised wheeled structures) are driven by. There several special sections compulsory sections; including the bateria (drums), comissao de frente (the opening section) and baianas (respected women in big dresses). Every parade has an overall theme, this year saw Japan, Rio and slightly more abstract Collections. A samba song is composed within the theme, floats are centrepieces and represent one aspect of a theme - for Rio a float representing Lapa or Ipanema - for Collections, a dolls house and a fridge magnet float appeared.

Every aspect of the parade is judged, for the first two nights it's a highly charged competition, similar in some ways to the Eurovision Song Contest in Europe but on a scale that puts that competition into insignificance. It's televised and half the country will tune in. The winners gain the respect and adulation of the nation, the last placed school is demoted.

The parade is assessed on traditional criteria, each criteria has a panel of four ruthlessly independent and incorruptible judges who focus on that one aspect, for example the song, the floats, the costumes are analysed and weighted independently. The televised event features scoreboards, interviews and totalisers, with analysis and commentary similar to football matches.

The assessment criteria;

Alegorias e aderecos - the float.
Bateria - the performance of the drums.
Comissao de Frente - the opening section of the parade.
Conjunto - the integration of the theme across the whole pararde.
Enredo - the theme translation and creativity.
Evolucao - the organisation and choreography of entire blocks.
Fantasias - the costumes.
Harmonia - the singing - everyone in the parade has to sing with the samba song.
Mestre-sala e Porta-bandeira - a couple who carry the flag, spin and dance for the jury.
Samba-enredo - the song - consistency with the theme, melody and catchiness.

With each school taking 80 minutes for their parade the entire spectacle lasts from 9pm to 5am. People stay up all night long watching to see the final results and the spectacular parades - both in the Sambadrome and at home in front of the TV. Luckily for Brazil the sambadrome competition is the highlight of the national carnival holidays! - not much work goes on in this period.

On the following Saturday the six top placed samba-schools parade for a second time. A celebration, with a slightly more relaxed atmosphere - some penalties can be placed for the following year - but the only rule that is really strictly adhered to is the 80 minutes time limit.

The 2008 Rio Carnival

After street parties and seeing some of the parades on Brazilian Television from my little base in Ipanema, I was really excited to see the parades. Some how I had completely underestimated the size and scale of the entire celebrations. Possibly because near to where I grew up is England's second largest carnival (Cromer), England's largest carnival is the Nottinghill Carnival - and also the largest outside of Brazil (somewhere there must be reference for this!). If only a small part of my mind had not somehow equated the Rio and Cromer carnivals - it's like comparing a nasty bite from an ant to a full
The Navy Band - Rio CarnivalThe Navy Band - Rio CarnivalThe Navy Band - Rio Carnival

Photos from this point onwards are in chronological order.
blown death inevitable roaring attack from a lion. But then - it's a good way to get your mind completely blown... lessons to a country boy.

On the night of the 9th February 2008 six schools paraded in all their finery.

Imperatriz Leopoldinense - a traditional school with a theme about the arrival of the Portuguese royalty 200 years ago. The French invaded the motherland at this time - so maybe it should have been the running away of the Portuguese royalty.

Unidos da Tijuca - considered less traditional, with a more abstract theme about collections - a very popular collection in Brazil is apparently magnetic penguin fridge magnets.

Portela - the most traditional and oldest school in the parade - their theme was climate change and responsibility. Giant endangered animals and undersea creatures dotted their parade.

Grande Rio - the newest school in the parade choose the riveting subject of gas - and somehow was extremely well marked for somehow linking mosquitoes, a Japanese building and a baby Jaguar to the theme. Rumours of Globo (Brazil's biggest media company) "sponsorship" abounded on the streets - the director of the parade was sacked for only achieving third place.

Salgueiro - another old established school - chose a theme of Rio - delightfully recreating many of the street scenes and places I've seen in the last 4 months here.

Beija-Flor - a relatively new but very successful school - with a 4 year winning streak. Their theme was "Macapa the Capital of Amapá" - a Northern State in Brazil.

I've been amazed by many things in my life, and last night I was amazed again. Giant growling Jaguars, gigantici dolls houses, regimented rows upon rows of brightly coloured costumed marchers, amazing floats decorated by spectacularly decorated women, all singing, all in time. I took five hundred photos and was very happy to have a 200mm lens on my camera! It doubled as binoculars for the evening! I hope you enjoy the photos.

Getting tickets.

Getting tickets is complex for Cariocas - (residents of Rio) - let alone us gringoes, different banks in parts of down-town sell tickets for each sector with the banks and sectors published in newspapers a few days prior to going on sale. Long queues form. The competition night tickets have list prices of around $200 and sell out almost immediately. Luckily for the gringo - many are purchased by ticket agencies - unluckily for the gringo - another huge mark-up is put on the ticket price. Some hostels include tickets as a part of a package to stay over carnival period - unless you have local friends in Rio this is probably the cheapest option.

Tickets to the final night aren't as expensive and don't sell out quite as quickly. So you could get them independently - with a face price of about $40.

Note: There are tickets for the furthest stands that sell very cheaply but these sell-out immediately and the purpose is to give Brazil's poor the chance to see this event - I'd feel bad buying one of these tickets even if I did have the chance.

It is possible to be part of the parade - dressed in one of the costumes. They cost about $200, but you have to organise this a long time in advance. The people that I've met that have done this have told me it was one of the highlights of their lives. Fancy dress for the rest of your life will always be easy 😉

I was lucky - I choose to see the final night parade and the weather turned from rain to overcast and stayed dry the entire time.

The carnival is not just the competition at the sambadrome - there are street parties and events over all of Brazil - but the sambadrome competition is definitely the centrepiece of the event. It truly deserves to be considered one of the wonders of the modern world.

Additional photos below
Photos: 78, Displayed: 27


10th February 2008

This really must have been a feast for all senses... Great photos - and the best example for the panorama photo I've seen so far :-)
11th February 2008

Absolutely fabulous
What an outstanding journal Ali. The text is comprehensive, informative and interesting, and the photos are spectacular. It looks like you gave that zoom a good workout, and the Brazilians ladies featured at the top look absolutely gorgeous!
11th February 2008

Enviable images!
Goose bumps! Thats what iv just got from seeing all your amazing shots. The vastness of it all....a real sea of costumes and colour....Wow...Really great blog...thank you. Claire.
11th February 2008

I'm jelaus!
Hey Ali I don't belive you was in Brasil for the carnaval!! I'm brazilian and I mss it!! I'm jelaus!!hehe BTW nice explanation about it all!! One more thing, My facebook is not showing the latest entry, how do i correct it? TKS Fernando
11th February 2008

oh, wow! amazing!! photos are great...and the text was very interesting...I enjoyed it a lot! thanks for sharing it! greetings from croatia! angie btw...that nottinghill carnival...I haven't heard of it up until recently...seems also to be quite an event! :)
11th February 2008

Such a wonderful organization! An example for the world. Congratulations for your explanation and pics. I'll be there next year for sure.
12th February 2008

hi Ali don't think you'll be popping home especially for the cromer carnival this year! amazing stuff! love mum
12th February 2008

Marvelous--Thank you
Allstair, these pix are fantastic! Such clarity and you seem to have caught the best moments on this phenomenal spectacle --thank you!
20th February 2008

Love the photos !
Simply Spectacular !....well done !
26th February 2008

Amazing journals,,,What camera are you using? Megs? Also do you travel with WiFI? I'm interested in traveling for one year or more, just curious. Thanks in advance
27th February 2008

I was there!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thanks for the great pics! Brings back amazing memories!
13th June 2008

I was there!!
I was lucky to take part in this, I was in front of the Jaguar float..... You gotta go people...ya gotta go.
27th January 2012

Brazil!!!! What a country!!!! Amazing people, the best beaches in the world, caipirinhas and feijoada, wow, great!!!!!

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