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Sao Paulo Residents Again Fill The Streets, This Time To Celebrate

Revelers participate in a block street carnival on Sunday in downtown Sao Paulo.
Victor Moriyama
Getty Images
Revelers participate in a block street carnival on Sunday in downtown Sao Paulo.

This Carnival season, residents of Sao Paulo are taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers, but unlike the massive demonstrations that swept the city last summer, it's to party and not to protest.

Rio de Janeiro is well known as the queen of Carnival for its lavish parades broadcast live from the Sambadrome. Sao Paulo is the biggest city in South America and the economic engine of Brazil, but it's not known for its bacchanalian abandon.

In fact, it was the epicenter violent demonstrations over Brazil's plans to host the World Cup this summer and the Olympics in 2016.

But now that it's Carnival, all that's been put aside.

Carnival street parties called "blocos," or blocks, have been burgeoning. The numbers registered at the Sao Paulo city hall increased from 60 in 2013 to more than 170 this year.

"People are thirsty to take the streets, people want to take ownership of the street," said Pedro Gonza, a musician and one of the founders of the "Bloco Bastardo," created this year.

The mayor has also helped. In 2010, a block party leader almost went to prison because he was accused of "occupying the street." This year, Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad signed a decree giving support to street carnivals, as well as recognizing it as a source of income.

Sao Paulo got help from other famous Carnival cities like Recife, where the biggest street carnival in the world is located. Aspiring block party members were taught how to organize and participate at a conference earlier this year.

Denise Paiero, a researcher of populist movements at Mackenzie University in Sao Paulo, says going back to the streets has been a trend.

"In the 70s, the military regime took people from the streets and the party was transferred to sambadromes, which are easier to control," Paiero says.

Carnival Unleashes Celebrations

"People feel comfortable again to go out onto the streets," Paiero added. "It's a way of reclaiming the origins of Carnival, which is a protest in the
form of a joke, as we can see on masks of politicians and placards."

The explosion of street parties in Sao Paulo even won over Gabriela Ferraz, who was born and raised in Bahia, land of one of the most famous Carnival parties in the country.

"In Bahia, we lost the sense of Carnival because locals can't afford to participate. I think Carnival in Sao Paulo is being made for people who live here," she says.

Despite the success, blocks are still fighting for their place. In a recent pre-Carnival celebration in the bohemian Vila Madalena district, a driver hit and injured six people. Tuesday night, block Bastardo had the help of the police to stop the cars at an avenue.

"I like Carnival, and I've been enjoying the blocks, but it is still not very well organized. The traffic is a mess, they leave garbage and destroy our square," says Rogerio Ribeiro, a neighbor.

Back at the Bastardo block parade, people sing together while walking and dancing the streets of Pinheiros district, usually filled with only cars and motorcycles. Block leaders chose old Carnival marches to keep the tradition while also playing famous Brazilian popular songs transformed in the marchinhas genre, too.

Dermival de Oliveira, known as Conductor Mujica, has been working in Carnival since 1957. He says he is proud to play and compose music for blocks, so he can leave a heritage for the next generations.

Marina Ribeiro, 8, got the message. Dressed as ballerina at her first time at a block, she is having a good time. "I'm really enjoying it, I like dancing and throwing confetti at people."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Paula Moura
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