Most years, Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, an annual celebration held before Lent, begins on the Friday before Ash Wednesday and continues for five days. During Carnival, performers wearing bold attire and revelers singing and clapping to the rhythm of samba line the Brazilian city’s streets. Thanks to Covid-19, however, the festival has been much less festive as of late.
In 2021, after announcing the cancellation of Carnival, Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, gave the city key to health care workers in lab coats. This year, the Omicron variant surge led to a short, two-month postponement, with Carnival taking place between April 20 and April 30.
Last week, Paes handed the key to “King Momo,” Wilson Dias da Costa Neto, who, as the symbol of Carnival, opened the festival.
Dancers paraded in their traditional costumes, dripping in glitter and neon colors while capturing the essence of Carnival’s spirit. Brazil’s top samba schools filled Rio’s Sambadrome, home to the festival since the 1980s, with buoyant and elaborate floats and dancers. During the pandemic, the massive open-air arena served as a vaccination center and homeless shelter; this year’s festival filled the facility with lively hues and catchy melodies.
Beyond the colorful costumes, the parade explored different social issues in the country, including violence, race and religion. Of the 12 samba schools that participated, eight chose themes dealing with Afro-Brazilian culture or racial injustice, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP). Several selected themes with political messages.
The 2022 celebration has not been without controversy. For more than a decade now, informal street parties known as blocos have been required to apply for authorization from the city government. This year, citing a lack of time to conduct a thorough review process, officials said they would not authorize any blocos. With three years of pent-up excitement since the last Carnival, such restrictions came under fire.
The different expectations for public and private festivities divided public opinion. As Giulia Granchi writes for BBC News, many criticized the Carnival as “só para quem pode pagar” (only for those who can pay) on social media.
Yet Paes said he would abstain from deploying the police to stop unofficial street parties.
“City Hall won’t impede people from being in public spaces, from celebrating, but it’s impossible that [these celebrations] happen at such [a large] size,” Paes told reporters, per David Biller of the Associated Press (AP).
Leo Aversa, a columnist for O Globo, the city’s main newspaper, argues that City Hall’s policies regarding the blocos left revelers in a complicated position. Aversa adds that Paes should either prohibit the blocos seriously or free them entirely.
“Apparently prohibition didn’t make much sense, as the blocos bring the soul of carnival to the streets and are fundamental for the city’s spirit,” Aversa writes.
Paes replied on Twitter, saying, “The correct thing is not having blocos! They aren’t authorized and we won’t have the structure for the party.”
Speaking with the AP, André Videira, a sociologist at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, says that since 2010, more than 150 blocos have refused the entire registration process.
“They are important vehicles for the democratization of access to culture and access to the city,” Videira says.