First carnival in two years rio’s sacred ground shakes again

First carnival in two years Rio's holy ground shakes againThey had to wait a long time until this rhythm resounds again, the Sapucai, the famous street through Rio's Sambodrome, lies before them again in the glistening light of the spotlights. A thousand times it's reflected back from all the glittering sequins, shiny gold costumes and mirrored floats. The crowd cheers, the crowd waves – and then Rafaela Teodoro, flag bearer of the Imperatriz samba school, opens the show.

Anne Herrberg ARD Studio Rio de Janeiro

"It is a unique feeling. Only those who are samba dancers and love carnival know how important it is for us to tread this sacred ground again after a two-year break. With respect for all the lives we have lost in these two years. For all of them we give everything today. This moment is also for them", says Teodoro.

After a pandemic break, samba schools parade through the city again at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro

Omikron caused further postponement

For two years it had to be cancelled, Rio's famous competition of the samba schools in the Sambodrome, because of the omicron variant it has now been postponed from February to the end of April. The Corona pandemic hit Brazil hard. More than 660.000 people have died from the virus, and samba schools have also lost many of their members, says Jo Calca Larga, who is in charge at the Salgueiro school of making sure the parade, which includes hundreds of people, moves along at the right pace.

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"It's all very moving, I have to keep a cool head so that our move goes perfectly today", tells Larga. "We lost friends and relatives, I myself didn't know if I would survive Covid and get to experience Carnival again." He thanked the scientists and health workers who would have fought like this. "To be here alive today means to resist."

Colorful spectacle: Rio's samba schools had to wait a long time for this moment. Image: AP

Against racism and slavery

Resistance "Resistencia – is this year's motto of the Salgueiro school, which this year features 170 black activists, with refugees from Syria, Venezuela and Congo in its procession, and loudly denounces racism, slavery and discrimination.

Resistance is at the same time a kind of red thread, which runs altogether through this carnival. It is also about the struggle of Afro-Brazilians for the preservation of their culture, history and religiosity. As in 2019 and 2020, the schools are thus also positioning themselves militantly against the Bolsonaro government, which has promoted hatred and intolerance with its discourse, has long talked down the pandemic, has delayed the vaccination campaign.

"Samba is resistance"

Kelly Cristina dances at Mangueira. The school is famous for being provocative and has always been opposed by arch-conservative and ultra-religious forces. "That we dedicate our move to three samba musicians who have done great things for our favela is political. The fact that the spotlight here is on the population that is ignored and not valued is political", she says and adds: "And we need to be much louder! Samba is resistance, that's why it was banned and discriminated against. What color is the skin of the samba dancers, where do they come from?? This is political."

"We need to get much louder!": Members of the Mangueira samba school at the Rio Carnival. Image: EPA

But above all, this evening celebrates the return of joy, it is also a moment to breathe again, which everyone desperately needs. A few meters behind the Sambodrome, people continue to party, albeit unofficially, on the street.

More than 90 percent of people in Rio are now fully vaccinated, no one gets on the Sapucai without proof. "Thank God not.", says an old man. "I am 81, and I have been vaccinated five times, four times against Covid, one time against the flu.

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