- Rio’s five-day-long Carnival ended with a riotous grand finale at the Sambadrome
- The samba schools were competing for the best performance which will be announced later in the week
- The rain held off on Monday night, as tens of thousand of revelers gathered for the grand finale
- Some Samba schools decided to celebrate the country’s African heritage on the final night of Carnival
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Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival came to a glittering end last night last night with a mind-blowing evening of sequin-fuelled revelry, blaring music and scantily-clad dancers at the Sambadrome. Tens of thousands of people gathered on both sides of the imposing venue to watch and sing along as Rio’s famous Samba schools brought the five-day festival to a spectacular close. But in the midst of the all the glitz and glamour, there was also a more serious note to the proceedings last night, with a call for more racial integration in the South American country.
Some Samba groups decided to honor the country’s diverse Afro-Brazilian heritage, and one even built a giant Nelson Mandela float in a bid to remind revelers of the African leader’s fight for equality. Top-tier samba group Imperatriz Leopoldinense said it was inspired by an incident of racism in football, when a banana was thrown at Barcelona star Dani Alves during a match last year against Villarreal. Brazilian player Alves ignited a movement against racism in the game after he was seen cooly picking up the banana and eating it before taking a corner kick.
‘People think that discrimination in Brazil is a thing of the past,’ says Andre Bonatte, who coordinates cultural affairs for Imperatriz. ‘But we are here to say it is not like that. There are still many racist displays in our society.’ Earlier in the evening, the carnival kicked off with thousands of performers in fluorescent orange-and-yellow costumes and Halloween-like floats of tarantullas and Jack the Ripper. Elsewhere, Rio’s alcohol-soaked Carnival street parties – known as ‘blocos’ – were in full swing, with many revelers attending a dedicated ‘Tinder-themed’ party.
People go crazy during Carnival and everyone hooks up with as many people as possible,’ said Fernando de Almeida, a 27-year old web designer who was among several hundred costumed revelers at ‘Match Comigo,’ which literally translates as ‘match with me.’ Brazilians are among the top users of Facebook, and the founder of Tinder, a popular dating app, said in an interview last April that it already had 10 million users in the country. Luckily, the rain held off for the final night of the all-night extravaganza. On Sunday night the skies opened up about an hour ahead of the start of the parade, drenching revellers and performers and flooding streets around the arena, Rio’s Mecca of Carnival.
Wildly costumed performers from six Samba schools packed the Sambadrome, where tennis ace Rafael Nadal was a star guest of the parade clad in a clear waterproof poncho. Nadal, in town for the Rio Open tournament, was mobbed by the press during his 20-minute stay at the event where he showed some fancy samba-style footwork of his own among the performers with Spanish compatriot David Ferrer and Brazil’s own former French Open winner Gustavo ‘Guga’ Kuerten. The year’s five-day-long Carnival celebrations, which also include some 450 alcohol-soaked street parties, or ‘blocos,’ comes as a welcome respite from the recent avalanche of bad news afflicting Brazil.
In addition to near-constant reminders of the stalled economy, Brazilians are coping with a snowballing corruption scandal at the state-run oil giant Petrobras as well as the worst drought in 80 years in the southeast, which includes Rio and the country’s industrial and business hub of Sao Paulo. Some Carnival celebrations in smaller cities have even been cancelled because of the drought so Sunday’s rains in Rio were widely welcomed, even if they were a hindrance to the city’s biggest party.
‘It hasn’t dampened the performers’ spirits, and at least it’s not so hot with the rain,’ said Helio Abreu, a 53-year-old doctor taking shelter with his wife at a concession stand. I know we need it, but to tell you the truth I really wish it had started on Ash Wednesday,’ the last day of Carnival. In Paraty, a colonial jewel of a city between Rio and Sao Paulo, Carnival was scaled down after a deadly shooting on Saturday night. One person was killed and nine others injured, including three tourists from Sao Paulo, in the shootout which erupted in the midst of a crowd of revellers in the historic downtown, according to local news reports.
Six samba schools were parading in Rio’s Sambadrome on Sunday night, with each group required to get their thousands of participants and giant floats across the roughly 730 meter-long runway in under 82 minutes. Six other schools will perform on Monday, with all 12 groups vying for the title of the year’s best. Mangueira and Salgueiro were the biggest-name samba schools parading Sunday. Last year’s champion, Unidos da Tijuca, is the last parade Monday, with the winning school announced later in the week.
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