February 10, 2002

Carnaval dancers, partyers hit streets of Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) --For Noca de Portela, carnaval lost much of its
shine in 1984, the year that Rio de Janeiro city officials took the party off the streets
and installed it in the Sambadrome stadium.

Now, he thinks he sees it glimmering back to life.

Brazil's carnaval kicks into high gear Sunday night with Rio's samba parade,
featuring 14 costumed dance groups that flow through the Sambadrome in a
seemingly endless procession of sequins, feathers and bare-breasted women. The
groups compete over two nights to be declared carnaval champion.

But Portela, a veteran singer and songwriter who penned five championship samba
songs, won't be parading for the first time in 35 years. He says he can have more
fun in the streets.

"Today, the samba parade is just a party for tourists. The future of carnaval is in the
streets," Portela said.

Carnaval is the last celebration before the Lent season, when Christians are
encouraged to give up luxuries. The same holiday is known elsewhere as Fat
Tuesday or Mardi Gras.

When Rio moved the carnival parade to the Sambadrome, 95 percent of the city's
carnival budget went with it, and for many years it seemed like the only party in
town. The event attracts big-name visitors -- this year, even former First Lady
Barbara Bush will be there.

But fed up with huge prices, the restrictions of being enclosed far away in the stands
and perhaps the officialdom, residents and, even some tourists have begun breaking
away. They say the celebration had become too cold and commercial.

Ticket prices for the stadium party range from $21 for a seat high in the stands to
several thousand for a parade-side table. Costumes, required to parade in the
Sambadrome, cost $150-$200, out of reach for many in a country where the
monthly minimum wage is $75.

In the last year alone, 18 new street "blocos," as the smaller carnival groups are
known as, have sprung up around the city, bringing the total number to around 80.
Their parties have been clogging Rio's streets since Friday and will continue until

"The street blocos are the old formula: Good, good-looking and cheap. All the
sambas are funny and irreverent, the drummers are good and there are lots of
beautiful women," said Paulo Saad, president of Sebastianas, an association
dedicated to preserving street carnivals.

A good example of this irreverence is the bloco called "Suvaco de Christo," or
Christ's Underarm, because they parade in the shadow of a Jesus statue with
outstretched arms.

Suvaco draws as many as 20,000 revelers who spray shaving cream and sing along
to samba songs filled with double entendre and sexual innuendoes.

One of the groups most responsible for the revival of street carnaval has been
Monobloco, led by the Brazilian rock musician Pedro Luis.

Monobloco doesn't parade during carnaval, only in the weeks leading up to it, but
more than any other bloco it has attracted the young middle class who long ago
abandoned samba for rock music.

"We're having fun in the way that we know how. And we're happy, even a little
shocked, at what a success it has been," said Luis.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.