By Michela DellaMonica, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Just weeks remain until the official start of Carnival on Friday, February 28th, however, the free street parties, known as blocos are already in motion. According to officials, of the 538 blocos who applied this year, 466 were authorized, representing five percent decrease from 2013, and no new blocos licensed in Zona Sul (South Zone).
New blocos will be introduced in Zona Norte (North Zone) this year; in Irajá there will be the debut of Ai Se Eu Te Pego and in Meier, the Banda Cruzeiro do Sul will parade for the first time on Rua Torres Sobrinho on the Saturday of Carnival weekend. The bloco estimated to attract the most party-goers in the Zona Norte, about 20,000 or so, is Banda de Madureira.
For those who don’t know, during Carnival blocos take place throughout the city of Rio, sometimes gathering hundreds of thousands of people, and are just as part of the celebration as the major samba school competitions that take place at the Sambódromo.
Blocos consist of a group or band traditionally formed by residents of the same neighborhood it takes place along with a theme which can vary from the benign to the outrageous. As the groups parade atop a slow moving truck, party-goers join in, following along behind. The desfiles (parades) are known to include baterias (percussion sections), bands and sound systems often mounted on large trucks.
Many have costumed participants, ‘fantasy dress’ ranging from superheros to cross-dressing and everything in between. Some blocos have floats with props such as Bloco das Carmelitas in Santa Teresa 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.
Centro’s Cordão do Bola Preta, regarded as the city’s oldest bloco, draws massive crowds and is known as the biggest in Rio. This legendary bloco’s main event will take place Carnival weekend on Saturday, February 28th at 4PM.
Copacabana’s Suvaco de Cristo, which drew more than 25,000 party-goers in 2013, will happen on Sunday, March 1st at 1PM. Centro’s Escravos da Mauá, which pays homage to the African slaves who first arrived to Rio at Praça Mauá (where this bloco takes place) will occur Thursday, February 27th preceding Carnival weekend.
Two of Ipanema’s popular blocos, Banda de Ipanema, which is happening Carnival weekend on Saturday, February 28th at 5PM and Simpatia é Quase Amor, taking place Carnival weekend on Sunday, March 1st at 5PM, often form into massive parades bringing that neighborhood to a halt. Santa Teresa’s Céu na Terra has beautiful views of Rio from the hilltops of the neighborhood, will gather enthusiasts on Monday, March 2nd beginning at 4PM.
“Blocos can get overwhelming especially when the sun is really strong but the one bloco I recommend is ‘Bloco Brasil’ in Leme,” says Thiago Malafaia, a resident of Rio. “It has one of the best views of Copacabana and rather parading down the street the bloco gathers at the Leme Fort dancing to samba.”
For an alternative from roda de samba or axé music, festival-goers can try Thriller Elétrico, a bloco that mixes Michael Jackson hits with samba. Founded in 2009 after the singer’s death, the bloco’s music includes fifty Jackson songs woven into its performances. Another non-traditional bloco to experience happening on Sunday, March 3rd is the Sargento Pimenta, which pays homage to The Beatles.
For more more information about Carnival blocos and estimated start times see the complete list.