They may try to organize it, glamorize it, televise it, even industrialize it, but Carnival is something that comes deep from the fun-loving Carioca soul. It does not depend on any authority or sponsor to happen. Carnival in the streets is a living proof of this love. It's free, spontaneous, and everybody's welcome to participate!
Each neighborhood in Rio has its favorite Bandas (bun-dush) or Blocos (blo-kush). The concept includes a percussion band marching along a pre-determined route, followed by hordes of enthusiastic revelers. They may come dressed in costumes, plain clothes, special T-shirts, bathing suits, or even in drag.
This is how Carnaval started in Rio. There is evidence of street Carnaval dating back to colonial years. Immigrants from the Portuguese island of Azores brought with them the tradition, that gradually received a healthy dose of Brazilian colors and flavors. Our Street Carnaval parties are typically Carioca.
These days there are over 450 bandas and blocos in Rio, in all formats and sizes. Some blocos want to remain a smaller, and they may happen only in the pre-Carnaval period. When the city is filled to capacity with visitors it is not easy to keep a secret.
Others blocos have grown so much that they were eventually kicked out to Centro, that is not a mostly residential area. The largest ones like Monobloco and Cordão da Bola Preta may attract over one million people! So whether you want to party with a smaller group of friends, or get lost in a sea of revelers, it is your choice, really.
Too Many Choices...
The complete listing of Bandas and Blocos is a bit overwhelming, so you need some focus. Most events happen during the day, and traffic in the city can be very slow during Carnaval. A subway station near the concentration spot is a big plus. If you are staying in Ipanema, Copacabana or Centro you may not even need transportation.
Wearing a costume or not is up to you, but if you are going to play the part you should look the part. Bring something fun from home, or visit shops in the open mall of SAARA, around the Uruguaiana subway station. Casa Turuna is one of the most traditional ones.
Once you choose your character(s) get ready to party! We have picked out our favorite bandas and blocos in all sizes for pre, post and during Carnaval. Cariocas are very opinionated and passionate about their favorites. If a good friend invites you to do something else, tag along and enjoy!
Friends sometimes go in coordinated costumes, train choreographies, play funny stunts. If you only want to watch go in plain clothes. If you look good enough people will ask to take photos with you. Cariocas hug people they do not know. If you very stand-offish the experience may be too much for you!
Bandas or Blocos?
There's not much of difference between a banda and a bloco or cordão.Just to make it simpler, a banda traditionally plays favorite songs during the parade. In addition to sambas, marchinhas set the beat. These are songs that locals know by heart since they were children, and everyone sings along.
A cordão or bloco usually has a theme, in the likes of a Samba School. Components of the percussion band are volunteers, yet they take their job very seriously. To choose a theme there are rehearsals, a competition, so people have a chance to make friends even before Carnaval season begins.
Now the similarities. There is a percussion band, one or more vocalists, and the presence of the couple porta bandeira and mestre sala. The bloco may have special colors, or there may be a T-shirt for sale to help pay for the costs. Unlike Special Group Samba Schools most do not receive State subsidies.
Each banda or bloco has its history, a few date back to early XX century. The nuns at Carmelitas, the young and beautiful at Simpatía é Quase Amor, the unlikely combination of families with children and drag queens at Banda de Ipanema, all makes sense.
Street Carnaval Etiquette
The first thing to keep in mind is that you are in a public place. Usually in a residencial area. Most residents welcome and support Street Carnaval, but in return we expect everyone to behave in a in a civilized way.
Putting it bluntly, do not litter our streets. There are heavy fines if you are caught red-handed and we support them! And never even consider peeing in the streets! You may be arrested. There are drinks for sale, including beer. If you cannot hold your liquor know your limits. There are public restrooms available, and if there is a line mind that, and keep track of your bladder, thank you!
If you follow these two basic rules, nothing else with surprise or offend anyone. If you think you are wild and your costume is fierce, look around and rejoice. You are among your peers. do this are a shame to the human race, Tolerance, interaction, singing, dancing, partying and good vibes are expected and welcome.
Do not make assumptions, and do not take anything too seriously. We have seen everything you can imagine and then some. As we cover professionally Street Carnaval since 1996 feel free to visit our albums for an idea of what to expect!
Rio is used to hosting events, large and small. All street festivities have to be approved by the City Government. There is an expected number of revelers for the events, based on the records of previous years, and they have been trying to improve the number of restrooms, and provide adequate police patrol.
Nevertheless you are in a big city. Be street smart. While you are having a good time, there may be pickpockets on the prowl. Do not take more money than you need, or a wallet with all your documents plus money, making a bulge in your back pocket.