Our yearly Carnival in Rio has begun. It’s without a doubt the biggest party on earth, a mind-boggling display of costumes, floats, singers, musicians and drummers who parade all over the city.
The larger Carnival groups, or samba schools, hold their parades in the Sambarome in downtown Rio. I’ve had the privilege and joy of parading with several of these groups as a drummer, although the very first time I went out I just jumped around (see photo) in my little pink and green dress, which was also fun.
People often ask me, “Isn’t Carnival just a lot of chaos, with out-of-contol crowds, like the Mardi-Gras?” Well, no, it isn’t. Sure, there are crowds, but Rio’s Carnival is very well organized, and well policed. The major parades in the Sambadrome are also a contest, where one group comes in first and parades the following Saturday in the championship parade with the other groups that came in near the top. Carnival is fun, but it’s also serious business.
Carnival is a time to dream, to pretend, to dance, sing, and live for a little while in a magical world. Those of us who play in the huge drum bands (“baterias”) rehearse for most of the year, every Saturday from around 11p.m. to 4:30 a.m. It’s hard, but exhilarating work.
I have written a lot about my Carnival adventures in my book, and what it feels like to stand in the Sambadrome with 400+ other drummers and up to 4000+ other paraders, watching the opening fireworks and waiting for the downbeat. I get chills just writing about it here.
So, as we say here in Rio, “Bom Carnaval!” (Have a great Carnival!)