Brazil gave itself up Saturday to the revelry of Carnival and its many madcap street parties, as cities like Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife brimmed with millions having the time of their lives.
Rio de Janeiro on Saturday was the epicenter of Brazil’s Carnival with an intensive program of 82 street bands and costumed groups firing up the festivities 24 hours a day, even as the samba schools practiced for their spectacular parades on Sunday and Monday.
According to the Militarized Police, the biggest group of all, the Cordão da Bola Preta, drew close to 2.2 million people to Rio Branco Avenue and the nearby streets in the downtown Rio financial district, where it was practically impossible for a body to move.
Begun in 1918, the Cordão da Bola Preta is Rio’s oldest, most popular “comparsa,” or Carnival group, and always plays well-known pop songs like “Cidade Maravilhosa” (Wonderful City), now the official anthem of that Brazilian city.
The street groups, which each year attract more people than the year before, have a continuous programming that started this Friday and won’t stop for a moment until next Tuesday, when the curtain rings down on the Carnival of Rio.
In Salvador, capital of the northeastern state of Bahia, there are no samba schools as there are in Rio de Janeiro, but the streets were equally jammed Saturday with millions of people attracted by frenzied rhythms rooted in African culture, and also by the wildly uninhibited “axe” music.
This city competes every year with Rio for the most tourists, and its concerts Saturday featured renowned singers like Ivete Sangalo, Daniela Mercury and the Chiclete com Banana group, one of the most popular at the Bahia festival.
These groups join the parade on platforms installed on truck beds fitted with deafening loudspeakers, and are followed down the streets by thousands of people, who can then choose to enjoy the festivities for free, or in exclusive areas cordoned off from the masses that cost up to $500 a night.
Recife, the capital of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, on Saturday was the scene of another of Brazil’s major Carnival celebrations, with several million people crowding the historic districts of the city in a parade of the Galo da Madrugada group, which began at 6:00 a.m. (0900 GMT) and planned to carry on until nightfall.
The Galo da Madrugada, which touts itself as the biggest Carnival group in the world, this year hit the streets with 25 trucks equipped with powerful loudspeakers and the music volume turned all the way up to keep the party going.
The most traditional music of the Recife Carnival is the “frevo,” a rapid rhythm to which people generally dance while carrying small, multicolored umbrellas.
The parade, which as every year was headed by a colorful rooster 26 meters (85 feet) tall, also had some enormous dolls typical of the region that were a tribute to the late singer Luiz Gonzaga on the centenary of his birth.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, Carnival lacks the vast popular participation of the other cities, and the festivies are limited to samba school parades, though year by year these are getting spectacular enough to rival those of Rio de Janeiro where the tradition was born.
The first day of parades began Friday and ended Saturday morning with the sun already high in the heavens, while Saturday night will be the second and last session with seven samba schools taking part.
The biggest crowds in Sao Paulo occurred on the highway between the city and the coast, where an unprecedented traffic jam on Saturday occupied 47 kilometers (29 miles) of the road out of the 60 (37) from the metropolis to the beaches bordering the city of Santos.
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