Monday, February 05, 2007

The blocos have started, the blocos have started

Carnaval has unofficially begun! The Carnaval parade season spans 4 weekends in Rio, with bloco parades always starting 2 weekends before Carnaval and ending 1 weekend after Carnaval (the Monobloco parade is the last of all). The escolas only parade on 1 weekend, but the blocos see no reason to limit Carnaval to just one weekend when you can spread it over a whole month.

A little bit about the street blocos. Blocos are informal little neighborhood bands, with a drum section and sometimes a brass section. If they have brass, they'll usually call themselves a "banda". Either way, they'll rehearse for a month or two, or maybe not rehearse at all, and then they rent a sound truck for the singers and guitarists to ride on, and have a big parade. It's sort of a "Let's have a party!" down-home approach to Carnaval. It's actually the way the escolas-de-samba used to be, way back in the old days. Before the Sambodromo, before the judged competitions began, before the expensive floats and the TV cameras. And before Sambodromo tickets started to cost $150 for a cheap seat!

People love the bloco parades because it is bringing Carnaval back to the street, free, to the people. It's a fairly recent development. The first blocos started only a little over ten years ago. In the last three years they have exploded and now there are over 300 blocos. Over 40 new ones appeared this year alone. A local magazine even had an article on how to start your own bloco. (If you have always wanted your own Rio bloco, they recommended budgeting about 5000 reais - the biggest costs being purchasing a set of drums, and renting a sound truck. Blocos typically own a set of extremely battered drums that are loaned out to the drummers.)

Some of the most famous blocos are:
"Simpatia e Quase Amor" (Friendliness is Almost Love)
"Cordao de Bola Preta" (Carnaval Group of the Black Ball)
"Suvaco de Cristo" (Armpit of Christ - they parade in a neighborhood that's under the Christ statue)
"Ceu Na Terra" (Heaven On Earth)
"Carmelitas" (they always parade near an old Carmelite convent, and the whole bloco dresses as nuns.)
"Empolga As Nove" (Excitement at 9 - their parade always starts at 9pm)

As you might have noticed, bloco names range from poetic to bizarre to funny. Here is a selection, in English:

Play For Me 'Cause I'm Tired
If You Don't Want To Give It To Me, Loan It To Me (yes, there's a sexual connotation)
An Excuse For Drinking
We Get Together But We Don't Go Anywhere
Calm Down, You Little Piranha (piranha is slang for prostitute)
The Chicken of Noon
What Bullshit Is This?
Bloco of Anxiety
Dry-Mouth Bloco
Anyone Who Can't Take It Drinks Water
Hold On So You Don't Fall Down
Wake Up And Come Party
Kiss Me, I'm A Film-Maker

Most blocos play samba or, if they have a brass band, they might play marchinhas, the peppy European polka-type music of old-school Carnaval. Carnaval music used to all be marchinhas, back in the 30's, before samba was brought to Rio by immigrants from Bahia. There are a few modern blocos that mix in other rhythms too - new rhythms like funk and hiphop, and rootsy Brazilian rhythms like coco, ciranda, afoxe and maculele. One new bloco is planning to do only hip-hop ("We love to party just like anyone else, but we're club kids, we don't like samba!" said the organizers). And there are at least three blocos that specialize in a musical genre from outside of Rio: Filhos de Gandhi (afoxe), Rio Maracatu (maracatu), and AfroReggae (samba-reggae) - all 3 are great, so if you want a taste of something different, check them out. There's an all-woman's bloco; there's one just for drag queens; one just for dancers; and several just for drinking. There's one that's all pandeiros, and another that's all tamborims.

In the last three years, some blocos started drawing a bigger crowd than the entire Sambodromo. The Sambodromo holds 88,000 for the formal escola parades. Bola Preta now draws a street crowd of 200,000! Simpatia e Quase Amor is now drawing 100,000. Monobloco's parade will probably be about this big. The city of Rio has been a bit taken by surprise by this development & has only slowly realized that the blocos are now the biggest part of Carnaval in Rio, and that perhaps a crowd of 200,000 should get a few porta-potties and maybe a policeman or two. The organizer of "Escravos de Maua" (Slaves of Maua) told a newspaper reporter: "In 2006, when the police detachment arrived that was responsible for security, the "detachment" was composed of just one policeman. And we had about 18,000 paraders." Last year, a team of art thieves robbed millions of dollars worth of impressionist art from the lovely Chacara da Ceu museum in Santa Teresa during the Carmelitas parade. They just melted into the thick mob around the museum. There was no way that any police car could squeeze through the crowd to get to the museum. The thieves got away with $50 million dollars' worth of Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Dali. (As a bonus, they also mugged 5 tourists who happened to be inside the museum - why settle for $50,000,000 when you could have $50,000,250?)

So, Rio's paying a bit more attention this time, and they say there will be more police and more porta-potties, though I haven't seen any evidence of either yet. Regardless - the bloco parades will go on. Nobody can stop them! They are like a force of nature. They just keep growing and growing.

Schedules for bloco parades are at:
click on Carnaval and then on Blocos & Bandas.
Don't forget to wear a silly hat.


Post a Comment

<< Home