With bursts of fireworks, high-decibel music and a kaleidoscope of colours, the city’s top 13 samba schools treated a capacity crowd of 72,500 at the newly renovated “Temple of Samba” to stunning processions of exquisitely decorated floats.
The night parades, which went on into the small hours of the morning, had it all: captivating samba beats, superb percussionists, imaginative choreography, masterful execution and the beguiling sex appeal of gorgeous samba queens wearing colourful feathers and little else.
They marked the high point of the pre-Lent festival, a holiday that provides a rare moment of national communion and over-the-top merry-making in this huge and racially diverse country of 191 million people.
The parades, a major draw for foreign tourists, cemented the Rio Carnival’s reputation as “the greatest show on earth.”
Now the hard work begins for cleaning crews who have to clear mountains of trash and for employees who have to dismantle scores of hulking allegorical floats.
Seats at the open-air Sambadrome cost between $50 (B1,500) and several thousand dollars, depending on whether one sits on packed benches in the open or in air-conditioned VIP boxes stocked with champagne.
Hollywood A-lister Jennifer Lopez was one of several foreign celebrities to lend their star power to the event, appearing late Sunday in skinny red jeans and a sequinned top.
There had been fears that unrest in Brazil’s state police force might disrupt the festivities in Salvador, the capital of the northeast state of Bahia, and Rio, but police strikes in those cities were settled just in time.
The only notable incident was a Rio shootout between police and a drug gang early Monday that left one person dead and four wounded in a slum located 3.2 km from the Sambadrome.
As in previous years, Salvador de Bahia led the way Thursday, with hundreds of thousands of revellers pouring into the streets of Brazil’s third largest city and heart of its rich Afro-Brazilian culture to dance and celebrate.
Rio followed a day later when Milton Junior – better known as King Momo, the Rio Carnival’s chubby symbol of excess – received a giant key to the city and declared the festivities open.
Friday and Saturday, Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic capital, staged spectacular parades at its own sambadrome, notably paying tribute to Afro-Brazilian culture and honouring popular former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is recovering from cancer radiation therapy.
A key feature of the Carnival in Brazil is the numerous street parties held in cities, towns and villages, where beer consumption soars.
In Rio, more than two million revellers in outlandish costumes flooded the city centre Saturday to join Cordao da Bola Preta – one of the city’s oldest and most popular street bands – in a mammoth, frenzied samba-driven bash.