Thursday, March 17, 2011

Final Rio Despatch (for now!) CARNIVAL OVER

So that's it. The Carnival is over. Although the main part is just 4-days in length, Rio's carnival holiday stretches over a good 8-days. This year saw the welcome return of the free street carnivals 'blocs' that were so popular of old. And they were back with a vengence with some 340 all over the city!

In theory, these street parties are meant for the locals of a particular block or neighbourhood. Each one has its own special carnival band featuring massed drumming, banjos, 'cavaquinhos' (similar to a ukelele and trumpets. A voclaist leads the chorus as the bloc winds its way through the neighbourhood with a long trail of happy, drunken, singing dancers in its wake. The music is a mix of samba and typical 'marchinhas de carnival' songs. Some blocs have a reputation and attract huge crowds. The 'Bala Preto' (black ball) and 'Mono-bloco' attracted somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 each onto the streets. It's an experience you don't forget!

This year saw the launch of a new bloc: 'Sargent Pimenta'. Fifty drums of various sizes, eleven guitars and some odds and sods of wind playing Beatle songs, carnival style. The bloc was held in a street in Botafogo, a neighbourhood of Rio. About 100,000 attended. I tried but could get no nearer than 80 metres to the band, who wisely substituted a stage for the traditional 'parade'. I could just about hear them, though. And it sounded fantastic!

The Beatles are just amazingly popular here. Every Brazilian artist of note covers Beatle numbers at some time. The shops are full of Bealte merchandise. The bookshops stock a great range of publications. Beatle tee shirts abound. The number of people trying to groove to Sgt Pimenta, a first-time bloc band testifies to the continuing popularity of the Fab Four.

Thankfully, the better bloc bands have a life throughout the year, with some even touring overseas. Imagine Sgt Pimenta playing at Liverpool's annual Matthews Street Festival! They's be a bit too big to fit on the Cavern Club stage but St George's Square might just about hold 'em! I can't wait to see it!

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