By Chesney Hearst, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Although weeks remain until the official four days of Carnival begin on Saturday, February 9th, some of the famous street parties, known as blocos are already underway. Unlike the major samba school competitions which can only be viewed at the Sambódromo or live on TV, the free blocos take place throughout the city and give everyone a chance to join in the celebration.
Part of the Carnival da Rua (Street Carnival), blocos are a group or band traditionally formed by residents of the same neighborhood. Many samba schools originally began as blocos and like the samba schools each bloco has a theme which can vary from the traditional to the outrageous.
As the groups parade, party-goers join in, following along behind. They sometimes form processions of over a million people. The desfiles (parades) are known to include baterias (percussion sections), bands and sound systems mounted on large trucks.
Some have floats or props like Bloco das Carmelitas who pay homage with a giant puppet to the legend of a nun who fled the Carmelite Convent to take part in a Carnival parade. Many, but not all of the blocos have costumed participants.
Helen Clegg, a British journalist living in Rio explained, “In one way the blocos are the ‘real’ Carnival, a Carnival of the streets which is what the Sambódromo used to be many years ago. They are completely democratic, anyone from all walks of life and social classes can join in, like the beach in Rio.”
“It’s the happiness, everyone is smiling and joking,” Fabio Guedes, Rio resident and yearly bloco reveler told The Rio Times when asked what he liked best about the street parties. Guedes explained that for roughly the last ten years he has attended the blocos during every Carnival, often taking part in several a day.
To do this, Guedes describes, “Saturday, I wake up at 5AM. Usually it’s common for me to do three in a day with one in the morning, one after lunch and another at night.”
This year the city authorized permits for 492 blocos, adding 67 more than in 2012. This increases the odds that regardless of revelers’ preferences, there is a bloco that suits them.
Finding that bloco at the right place and the right time, however, might be a challenge. Each bloco has a set route, meeting place and time to parade but many published parade times are intentionally misleading or kept secret to help reduce crowd size.
Centro’s Cordão do Bola Preta, the city’s oldest bloco, yearly draws massive crowds and is known as the biggest bloco. Two of Ipanema’s popular blocos, Banda de Ipanema, and Simpatia é Quase Amor often form into massive parades bringing that neighborhood to a halt. Santa Teresa’s Céu na Terra has also seen an increase in popularity over the years.
For a different experience party-goers might try, Thriller Elétrico, a bloco that mixes Michael Jackson hits with samba. Founded by Antônio Ziviani in 2009 after the singers’ death the bloco’s music includes fifty Jackson songs woven into its performances. “It’s a way of bringing the Gringos to the Carnival, since they already know the repertoire,” Ziviani told O Globo.
For more more information about Carnival blocos and estimated start times see here.