Thousands of people defied the official ban on street parties by dancing, singing and mingling to the beat of samba, sometimes in full view of the police.
Others attended more formal events that moved indoors this year after City Hall banned ‘blocos’, the tight street parties traditionally attended by those unable or unwilling to buy tickets. expensive for the official parade at the Sambadrome – which this year has been postponed to April because Brazil has still not passed the omicron wave.
“I think it’s a shame it’s going this way,” said Tulio Brasil, a 29-year-old music marketing executive who found one of the unauthorized street parties in the city center.
“It doesn’t make sense to cram everyone into an enclosed place when the street, an open, much more airy space, is prohibited,” he said.
Indoor parties — and entry fees — are heresy to many Brazilians who say Carnival block parties are essentially and historically parties by the people, for the people.
“There is great hypocrisy in all of this,” said Deivid Domênico, a samba composer linked to the Mangueira samba school. “In January, when the omicron wave was peaking, they took no public action to limit the spread of the virus; bars and restaurants were still open. But they canceled Carnival.
The city’s decision to postpone carnival has frustrated many professionals and creatives whose livelihoods center on one of the world’s biggest festivals – especially as large gatherings in enclosed spaces have passed without disturbance.
“The stadiums are full, the churches are full, the evangelical temples, the concerts, the bars, the restaurants, the hotels, the AirBnbs,” said Rita Fernandes, who heads an association of street blocos in the most touristy areas of the city. “It seems quite contradictory, as if the virus is only spreading on the streets and at carnivals.”
Large crowds at concerts such as those held in recent weeks by Brazil’s biggest pop star, Anitta, have intrigued carnival organizers and revelers.
For many, paying to attend “blocos” in an enclosed space is simply not acceptable.
“Carnival here in Rio is a party for black people, it’s a party for ‘favelados’ (residents of the city’s sprawling working-class neighborhoods), it’s a party for gay people, it’s a party where women are valued, where criticism is made and the government is satirized,” said Domênico. “Carnival has roots, carnival has a history, an essence, that we cannot forget.”
Almost all samba schools in Rio are closely linked to working-class communities. Many of those who create Carnival, from costume designers to music composers, from samba schools to security and transportation agencies, are feeling the financial strain.
In February 2020, before the pandemic hit Brazil with full force, more than 2 million tourists made the trip to Rio, generating 4 billion reais (then around $1 billion) – a record number, according to authorities .
Only about 70,000 people can enter the Sambadrome each night. Others can attend some of the city’s 500 block parties held over a 45-60 day period. A big part of the appeal of street parties is the variety of themes: any costume, or no costume at all, is fine.
Then the pandemic hit and in 2021 the mayors of Latin America’s largest country were forced to cancel carnival for the first time in a century. Authorities threatened legal action for those who defied the ban on partying, so many groups turned to online events, streaming music and dancing for their fans.
But this year, as parts of the world with high vaccination rates have returned to some sort of normalcy, online events are no longer appealing. “People are fed up,” said Fernandes, of the neighborhood party association.
Indeed, tourists from abroad and from all over Brazil have multiplied this year despite the virus. As of Feb. 24, hotels in Rio were at around 80% capacity, according to the Rio hotel association.
AP reporter Lucas Dumphreys contributed to this report.