Brazil's Carnival prepares for the Bolsonaro effect

The world’s biggest party has finally arrived. Rio de Janeiro is currently brimming with people ready to rock their favourite costumes in what is probably the world’s most famous Carnival, and the party will continue throughout the city for the next eight days.

Whether you’re ready to dance in the streets and squares of Rio, or you prefer to kick back in the most sophisticated night spots and private parties, the fun doesn’t stop at the Rio Carnival.

But this year the party is happening in the shadow of some disturbing political threats. Alarm bells have been ringing around the country ever since the controversial new Brazilian leader, President Jair Bolsonaro, caused a significant stir by declaring that the LGBTQ parade and the Carnival itself undermined family values. Bolsonaro has put forward the idea of cutting off any public funding related to these social celebrations.

At this moment in time, the uncertainty over his next steps is growing. Meanwhile, the population tries to make the most of the crazy satirical costumes, wild outfits and series of astounding performances. The whole parade is a joint effort of the local community and attracts party enthusiasts from every part of the world.

The idea of political interference in public celebration is nothing new. As far back as the 18th century the Venetians resisted Napoleon when he tried to shut down their local Carnival. Since the early 11th century, the festivities in Venice had always gone on for weeks and enabled the aristocracy to mix with the populace wearing masks and costumes that protected their real identities.

Hiding any differences of class or status was a game that was highly enjoyed by everyone. The whole city lived, loved and danced, creating wild parties that represented a way of maintaining social order during hard times by legitimising excess, at least for a few days of the year.

Like its sister parade in Venice, Brazil’s traditional public celebration is held just a few days before Lent, and just like in 18th century Venice, interference from the ruling party is not at all welcomed by its participants.

A taste of Africa in Brazil

For many years, the Carnival in Rio has showcased great African influence. Initially, carnivals in Brazil were usually in the form of masquerades for the upper-class as in Europe, but in the early 20th century Samba appeared. The African slaves who years earlier had arrived aboard the Portuguese boats gave birth to Samba - a new rhythm with drums and a particular way of dancing that was soon fully introduced into the carnival tradition.

Today, the masterpieces of the parade are the great Samba Schools, home to the best-talented dancers and musicians of Rio who later perform in front of judges that decide the winner in front of a vast audience.

Where to go

If you want to join an upscale party, visit the Copacabana Palace Hotel, where the most elite Ball is held. You will witness how the elegant and famous showcase their dazzling costumes while they walk the red carpet.

On the other hand, it's believed by most carnival goers that the true heart of the celebrations is out in the streets of the city. So if you can't afford to crash these high balls, you can party out on the streets for free.

In Rio, the different neighbourhoods organise their own parties. The best ones are at the Imprensa, Que Eu Gamo or Monobloco.

So remember that whether you’re celebrating in the streets or in a fancy hotel, what’s important is that you enjoy the time, the people you meet, the music and the culture and participate in the party of a lifetime.

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