Brazil's Carnival really is the greatest party on Earth. You hear these calls thrown around about different celebrations around the world but unless you’ve been lost in the middle of them it’s hard to truly understand the passion of the person in your ear. But Rio Carnival is said in these breaths regularly for a reason, and I’m finally starting to see why.
After nearly a year here in Rio I’m now having my graduation into full on Carioca culture. Since arriving in March soon after Carnival finished I’ve gone through “winter” only to now watch the city heat up to its burning cultural peak. Carnival hasn’t even started and already the parties are better than anything I’ve been to, and I’ve ticked off a good few around the world.
There are two sides to Carnival, there’s the giant parade of competing, elaborately-costumed samba schools with their floats which sweeps through the Sambadrome, and then the week-long transformation of hundreds of streets through Rio into a moving mass of energy and positivity as traffic is held up for the music and the streets are turned over to the people.
I haven’t even experienced Carnival officially yet but I’ve already gotten a taste and man its flavours are sweet. On the first weekend of the year the pre-Carnival blocos kicked off packing Rio's city streets with thousands of Cariocas, despite Carnival only starting on February 24. It really is incredible that here in the home of samba for two months pretty much every second day you will be able to find a pre-Carnival party somewhere.
Standing in a crowd of happy, dancing, glitter-covered Brazilians in crazy outfits as samba is blasted out by a band moving through the streets really is peak living. In this swirling mass of humanity, drums beating, sun shining, sweating, smiling, you just burst free from the clutches of day-to-day monotony and create enough memories to drag you through another 10 months until it all rolls around again.
The only slightly comparable event back in Sydney is the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, but it’s child’s play compared to the sunrise to well-past sunset Carnival marathon. At home it would probably be complained and regulated out of existence while in Rio the slightly chaotic nature of Carnival is its beauty. For the most part people do the right thing and most importantly, they’re trusted to.
I didn’t really know much about samba and other Brazilian music like bossa nova before I came to Brazil, but now I love it. Its rhythmic drums, tambourines and shakers, the four-stringed cavaquinho guitar and the upbeat singing alone can get any party going. Throw in the trombones, trumpets, flutes and clarinets of the Carnaval street bands and it’s a gateway to guaranteed happiness.
I can see why Brazilians have so much pride in samba and Carnaval culture. It says a lot about who they are, no other country without Brazil’s heat and history could have ever invented samba and Carnaval the way they did. It’s straight from the big warm heart of Brazil and Brazilians put all their big warm hearts into it.
When the dust settles after the Carnival comet hits in a few weeks time I'll have some more to say on this!