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By Felicity Clarke, Senior Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – The build up rumble of drums that will culminate in Carnival is well under way, as Rio’s streets become the venue for the exhilarating samba rhythms pounded out by the city’s “blocos”. Blocos are the musical street parades that for some, are a fun alternative to paying the high prices of watching Carnival in the Sambodromo, or for those who just enjoy the weeks of pre-parties, that defines the Carnival experience.

The crowd enjoying the bloco in Centro´s Praça XV, photo by Rodrigo Soldon/Flickr Creative Commons License.
The crowd enjoying the bloco in Centro´s Praça XV, photo by Rodrigo Soldon/Flickr Creative Commons License.

The biggest bloco is reportedly the Cordão do Bola Preta, that attracts some 200,000 people to downtown Rio. The second biggest is Monobloco that attracts 80,000 people at Copacabana Beach.

With less just a few weeks to go, street parties are popping up all over the city as the neighborhood blocos start to rehearse for the four day festival which will start on Saturday, February 13th.

Developed organically as a small-scale, localized expression of Carnival in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the blocos often consist of a dominant drum section augmented by a wind section and a troupe of dancers as well as a crowd of revelry following. There are now over 300 blocos in Rio de Janeiro, and the number grows every year as groups form to play original compositions, classic Carnival “marchinhas” and popular samba songs.

Wherever you find yourself in Rio during Carnival you’ll stumble across a bloco party, but there are the famous, must see blocos that deserve a special place in your Carnival schedule.

Founded in Glória in 1918, Cordão do Bola Preta is one of the most traditional samba blocos in the city and the last one to recall the “cordão” Carnival groups of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Playing a vast repertoire of traditional samba marches, the popular bloco with the black and white colors will march along Avenida Rio Branco to Praça Mauá on Saturday, February 13th from 3PM.

Banda de Ipanema pack out the beach front in Ipanema, photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Creative Commons License.
Banda de Ipanema pack out the beach front in Ipanema, photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Creative Commons License.

Over in Zona Sul is one of the more entertaining and famous blocos. Banda de Ipanema was founded in 1964 as part of Ipanema’s flourishing bohemia, at the time to reinterpret traditional samba folk sensibilities and invigorate Carnival in Ipanema with a spirit of fun. Suited and straw-hatted musicians pretend to play damaged instruments while banners sport the bloco’s mad, meaningless motto “Yolhesman Crisbeles.”

The all-inclusive flavor of Banda de Ipanema attracts a huge and varied following: expect extravagant costumes and a wild energy as they march to Ipanema from Rua Gomes Carneiro from 4PM on Saturday, February 13th and Tuesday, February 16th.

Santa Teresa’s Bloco das Carmelitas is one of the younger blocos to establish a solid party reputation. Founded in 1991, the Carmelitas began as a light-hearted tribute to the Carmelite Convent of Santa Teresa and the legend of the nun who jumped over the convent walls to enjoy Carnival with the masses. As such, the group’s traditional costume is the nun’s veil to prevent the runaway nun being identified. Catch the party on Santa Teresa’s sloping streets on Friday, February 12th from 2PM and Tuesday, February 16th from 8AM.

A bloco with a distinctly Rio flavor is the popular Suvaco do Cristo group in Jardim Botânico. Born out of a casual conversation amongst friends on the beach in 1985, Suvaco do Cristo (meaning “Christ’s armpit”) takes its name from the story of composer Tom Jobim complaining that his closets were full of mold because he lived in the armpit of Christ. The bloco marches on the streets directly under Christ the Redeemer from Rua Jardim Botânico to Praça Santos Dumont from 8AM on Sunday, February 7th.

Don’t forget that this is Rio, and it’s Carnival, therefore all times and dates are subject to change, but not to worry because wherever you are there’s a bloco party just around the corner waiting to be discovered.

Clarification: January 29, 2010
This article was first published on January 26th with a statement that for some, was unclear about blocos, which are not targeted towards any demographic in Rio.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Hi, Blocos are really not an alternative for poor people, on the contrary they are mostly followed by upper class kids. Like the 80.000 playboys and patricinhas that follow Monobloco.
    Thanks

  2. Sorry Mrs. Clarke, but how long have you been in Rio? do you actually live here? As Mr. Costa said, streets blocos are not an alternative for Sambodromo’s parade since they are the very first expression of brazilian Carnival’s tradition – disappeared in the 70’s, where samba enredo increased its popularity- and rescued in the last decade. Secondly not all the blocos play samba, most of them are traditional “marchinhAs” (and not “marchinhos” as your foreigner editor didn’t know to correct as well).
    You should know that exist very important composers called Chiquinha Gonzaga, Jararaca, Vicente Paiva, Braguinha (if you live here, you probably have seen his statue in the Princesa Isabel Avenue, Leme), Noel Rosa, Lamartine Babo, Zé Keti, among others. And how to forget the most famous marchina’s interpreter: Carmen Miranda!
    All of us, who participate of these public and costless expressions, do it because love the real spirit of Rio!
    You should also know that exist other blocos established in the wonderful city as “Gigantes da Lira” (specially for children), “Céu na Terra” or “Cordão do Boitatá”. After all it looks like “Bola Preta” is not the only Cordão left around.
    Well, I just realize that you are one of those “guides” that give a superficial point of view of something you barely know.
    Tourists: get informed with someone who knows the city in a better way!

  3. As a foreigner living in Rio for the last 7 years, and after getting involved with local people and local culture, I could see that the most crowded blocos are attended by white-middle-class people, and each year there are more and more gringo’s…that’s why I completely disagree with the statement that blocos are full of people every year because people can’t afford the entrance of the Sambodromo.
    thanks.

  4. Thank you for the comments and clarifying that the statement “Blocos are the musical street parades for those that can’t afford the high prices of watching Carnival in the Sambodromo” – may sound like it is labeling the crowd, of making some classist statement.

    The intention was a creative way of explaining that while everyone can enjoy blocos for free, the Sambodromo is not. Of course one does not have to be “poor” to not want to spend R$200-$1500 for tickets to Sambodromo.

    Thank you again for pointing out the negative implication, and we’ll make a clarification soon.

    Stone Korshak
    Editor and Publisher
    The Rio Times

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