Thousands of artists danced through an avenue in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, as the city celebrated Carnival with whimsical floats, thundering drum sections, and legions of performers in imaginative costumes. The 12 samba schools competed for the title of carnival champions in two epic nights.
Rio has been celebrating Carnival for weeks with colorful street parties known as “blocos,” but the Sunday and Monday parades are the highlight of the celebration. These sumptuous festivals of color and sound last all night and into the next day.
A crowd of 70,000 spectators watched from packed stands at Sambodromo, the city’s purpose-built parade venue, while millions more tuned in live on TV. However, it’s important to remember that Carnival is not just about partying all night – each samba school has roots in Rio’s favela neighborhoods and tells a story through their performances.
This year’s parades included tributes to little-known heroes of Afro-Brazilian history and a celebration of indigenous Yanomami people who have been devastated by humanitarian crisis blamed on illegal gold mining in the Amazon. Each samba school had 60 to 70 minutes to dazzle its audience with creative choreography and vibrant costumes along Marques de Sapucai avenue, designed by modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer.
The parades were especially political under far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro, who faced accusations of authoritarianism, racism, environmental destruction, and disastrous mismanagement of Covid-19 during his term in office. However, since veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva returned to the presidency in January 2023, there has been less political tension surrounding this year’s carnival festivities.
Invented a century ago by descendants of African slaves as a symbol of Brazilian popular culture and Rio’s identity today, Carnival is big business for the city – generating an estimated revenue of over $1 billion annually from ticket sales alone!