Today is the judging of the major Carnival parades. One samba school (samba schools are the large social groups that make up the parades) from the Special Group will win first position, and two will drop down to Access Group A, which means they’ll still have a chance next year to get back into the top group, if their parade is good enough.
The parades are judged in a variety of categories, from best samba song, best theme, best costumes, best floats, best overall harmony in the group, and so on. The competition is fierce, and the judging is a solemn occasion, televised all over Brazil.
I watch Carnival every year, and participated in it for around seven years as a drummer. Every year I’m filled with wonder at how these ordinary people can stage such a magnificent, larger-than-life event involving thousands of people, and actually pull it off, even though there is always a lot of last minute scrambling around to get things done. But that is the Brazilian way, and especially the Rio de Janeiro way of doing things. And they do get everything done, as can be seen every year in the Sambadrome with each eye-popping parade that passes by.
Of course there are upper class folks and tourists who take part in the parades, but many people who can barely pay their rent save up all year long to buy a costume, just so that they can have their 80 minutes of glory parading in their favorite samba school. The baianas, the older women who, from a bird’s eye view, look like twirling, swirling flowers dancing down the avenue, wear gigantic skirts that can weigh 20 pounds or more. Some of the baianas are in their 80s and 90s. In the video below, the baianas are dressed as bees:
And when it’s all over, the “garis” enter. These are the clean-up men and women, and they often put on their own show. Dressed in bright orange suits, they enter the avenue with their long-handled brooms, and have been known to samba their way through their job of sweeping up streamers, confetti, and trash left behind by the huge Carnival crowds.
But Carnival isn’t quite over yet. On Saturday there will be the championship parade, featuring the top six samba schools. It’s not quite as engaging as the original parades. I know this from experience, having gone out in one in the 90s. Carnival is essentially over, and you don’t feel the same enthusiasm repeating the same parade, but you do your best to make it a spectacular experience for the people in the grandstands, and I honestly don’t think they can tell the difference.
Who will win today? I don’t know, but I’ll sure be glued to my computer screen this afternoon to watch the judging.