It's time to samba

Carnivale festivities kick off in Rio and other Brazilian cities

Opposites seem to be the order, or disorder if you prefer, of the day in Rio and other cities in Brazil for the past few days.

Brazilians are celebrating Carnivale, festivities of which started last Friday.

In Rio on Sunday and yesterday, members of 12 top samba schools strutted their stuff in front of judges, who selected dancers who will take part in this Saturday's Parade of Champions.

At that event, judges will decide who takes the crown currently worn by the Unidos da Tijuca school.

While tens of thousands of people flooded Rio's streets on Sunday to watch samba dancers in dazzling costumes, the atmosphere in other cities was stained with tragedy.

So far, at least two people have been killed and several injured across Brazil amid the festivities, the authorities said.

One person was killed in the resort town of Paraty and a man was stabbed to death in Sao Paulo, local media reported.

Another shooting saw one person hurt in the northern city of Salvador, which hosts one of Brazil's most spectacular carnivals.


But in Rio, the urban violence that so often scars the life of the city of more than six million has faded into the distance, at least during the period of festivities that began on Friday and drew more than a million people on Saturday to street parties.

Huge crowds descended on Ipanema Beach to watch some of the most popular dance groups.

Although the atmosphere has been joyful, 15,000 police officers are on stand by just in case emotions boil over.

Cordao da Bola Preta, Rio's oldest street group, had hoped to attract as many as two million people on Saturday. But Globo newspaper reported that only about a million attended, with the venue being shifted slightly because of pre-Olympics roadwork.

"I'm not sure the figures are right - but in recent years, the carnival has grown so much maybe there's nowhere else for it to go," said Mr Luiz Benevides, a 39-year-old drummer with a top bloco playing Beatles songs with a samba flavour.


"Street parties are the best thing that could ever happen in a carnival. I have stopped watching the main parades as they are now so commercialised - though maybe the street versions will go the same way," he added.

"The excitement builds and builds. Then it's your school's turn to go and there you are, under the lights, the noise. It's an indescribable feeling," said Ms Megumi Kudo, a Japanese-born solo dancer with the Salgueiro samba school.

The sweltering heat means that the parades, broadcast live on television in an all-night spectacular, do not start until 9pm.

The last school is not scheduled to finish until around 4am, leaving residents of the "Marvelous City" bleary-eyed.

This year's Carnival comes after a difficult year for Brazil. Its economy is facing zero growth this year while flagship oil firm Petrobras is mired in a huge corruption scandal.

- AFP.