By By Guest Contributor Claire De Oliveira
BRAZIL’S Carnival has kicked off with millions of people taking to the streets of the north-eastern city of Salvador de Bahia to dance and party, effectively putting the nation on a week-long hiatus.
Over the coming days, festivities will consume the entire country of 193 million people. The climax arrives tomorrow and on Monday with Rio de Janeiro’s extravagant and sexy parades, replete with near-naked dancing queens and over-the-top fantasy floats.Even the capital Brasilia was suspending political and legislative work, with many lawmakers leaving town to enjoy the celebrations. ”Brazil’s Carnival is a tradition. Nobody can resist the need to be part of it,” the head of the Senate, Jose Sarney, said.
Salvador de Bahia, with its heady melange of African rhythms and Portuguese colonial architecture, as usual was quickest to get started with dance-and-drinking celebrations. The annual pre-Easter frenzy is a big tourist draw, especially for Rio, where authorities have been cracking down on criminal gangs to improve the city’s violent image.
The top carnival parade groups – Rio’s samba schools – will crown the rejoicing by filing through the 70,000-seat Sambadrome stadium for a global television audience. The parades are at once an exhibition of pride for the city’s massive poor population, and a competition watched nationally as closely as any major football game. Each of the 12 samba schools will deploy up to 5000 dancers, with all of them led by the ”drum queens” – sculpted women in heels wearing little more than feathers, sequins and big smiles. Those schools spend between $2 million and $5 million for their shows, most of it spent on floats bedecked with moving mythological creatures or allegories.
This year, three schools will be cheered on even louder for taking part despite having some or most of their preparations wiped out by a fire in their warehouses a month ago. They have been working round the clock to replace costumes and floats, and each has vowed that their spirit will make up for whatever props are missing. Rio is treating the event as a showcase for its organisational skills ahead of hosting the football games of the 2014 World Cup and then the 2016 summer Olympics.