Carnaval 2009 in Rio de Janeiro!

Two videos averaging 9 minutes each of the Carnaval parade in Rio de Janeiro, February 21, 2009.

Samba School with African Diaspora theme.
Samba School with an ancient Greek or Roman float.

Each video shows only one of the twelve samba schools that each present a two-hour-long parade over a period of 14 hours on two nights (from 6 PM to 8 AM!) at the Samboromo, a ten blocks long “stadium” dedicated to presenting the main Carnaval parade each year (you pay to get in). Fireworks continue all night over the parade, and the event is televised live by Globo television.

The Carnaval parade is a contest, and the losing school is not included in the main parade in the Sambodromo the following year. But the winning school from the secondary parades gets to compete in the main parade the next year.

The schools are judged by a panel of specialists on their theme, the development of the theme as the parade goes by, the song the school has composed and performs during their parade, their costumes, their (huge) floats, their drum corps, their “Baianas” (older women wearing hoop-skirted costumes who dance slowly turning around and around), their maistre sala (master of the hall) and his partner the porte bandera (flag bearing female dancer), the celebrities riding on the floats, and the other dancers. Usually each school’s parade includes about 2000 participants. Of course, the audience sings and dances along from the stands. They’ve been hearing the newly prepared parade samba songs on the radio for several months.

The schools are based in the favelas (the hillside slums), where all of the costumes are made by hand. The tourist board of Rio helps to fund the schools for the cost of presenting their parades.

Carnaval means a long work holiday in the steamy heat of midsummer, and many Rio (Brazilians pronounce Rio “Hee-ew”) residents flee to the coolness of the mountains during the festivities, while the town teems with tourists.

I attended the Carnaval samba parade in the Sambromo in 1994. The most cinematic moment was at 8 AM, when my Brazilian friends and I were walking to the subway in the morning light. Dancers walked quietly beside us, holding their elaborate headdresses under one arm. Huge parade floats, parked beside the road and already partially in ruins, sheltered dozens of sleeping homeless people.

There was a scandal that year. The president of Brazil was watching the parade from one of the sheltered balconies that wealthy folks rent in the Samboromo. A local celebrity, actually a gorgeous porn star, asked to have her picture taken with him. As the camera flashed, she raised one arm aloft, unbeknownst to him revealing her bare crotch. The photo was all over the world by the next day, and the president was asked to resign. I don’t think he did. After all, it was Carnaval!