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February 6, 2012

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Carnival means party time

CARNIVAL literally means "farewell to the flesh," and it's the last glorious bash of food, wine and all kinds of revelry before the abstinence of Lent. Nie Xin reports on Rio and Shanghai.

Before the 40 days of sacrifice and reflection on sin and redemption in Lent, it's time to party - and the world's most famous and sinful annual party is the four-day Carnival (Carnaval) in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. This year it starts on February 18.

When people think Rio, they think Carnival, show girls who look like birds of paradise, fabulous samba clubs in slums, extravagant floats, powerful Afro-Brazilian beats, dancing, drinking free-flow beer and sugar cane rum.

There's unrestrained street revelry, there's lots of joking and flirting. And of course, there are always girls in bikinis on pristine beaches and football.

In Brazil they say that the year for Brazilians just begins when Carnival starts. The wild four-day party starts on Saturday and ends on Fat Tuesday (last day of eating rich, fatty food). Then begins 40 days of abstinence and often some fasting for Lent.

Last year 4.9 million people took part in Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, 400,000 of them foreigners.

On each of the four days last year, 61,000 people took to the streets for parades and dancing, according to Joel Sampio, deputy consul general of Brazil in Shanghai.

"Brazilians are laid back, creative and happy people who lead their lives with a lot of sense of humor despite problems in the country. Carnival became such a big event for us because it expresses our way of life," he says.

Brazilians abroad share the spirit, too. Sampio has been posted in Shanghai for more than two years and celebrated two Carnivals with other Brazilians who partied away. The Latina Brazilian Restaurant has a long history in town and there's a Brazilian band in the Xujiahui branch.

Besides the annual party at Latina, there will be a Brazilian-style Carnival ball at Mao Livehouse on February 25, with costumes and live Carnival party music that includes the Brazilian vibraphone.

Led by Brazilian musician Tinho Pereira, the band gave a pre-Carnival live show at the JZ Club on Fuxing Road at the end of last month. They have been rehearsing a rich repertoire of all kinds of Carnival music that will be heard in ballrooms across Brazil at this time of year.

"For the first time, the flavor of a genuine Brazilian Carnival ball can be experienced by people in Shanghai," Pereira says.

"The lively beats and the fun of wearing costumes and celebrating Carnival with friends in Shanghai will be appreciated by Chinese and expats," he predicts.

Rio style

Although Carnival is celebrated in towns and villages throughout Brazil and other Catholic countries, Rio de Janeiro has long been regarded as the "Carnival capital of the world," with the most interesting artistic events and the world's most colorful Samba School Parade.

In Portuguese Rio de Janeiro means the "River in January" - January in South America is summer and it will be hot and vivid for Carnival this month.

Not only will there be big parades, but small bands will play around neighborhoods across the city. Some people meet through wild kisses with strangers on the streets, others are more sedate.

Julia Paletta Crespo, 31, from Brazil's Minas Gerais State, took part in Carnival three years ago in Rio where she met her Brazilian boyfriend "by fate" in the celebration.

After Crespo completed her master's degree in communications at Shanghai University last year, the couple returned together to Rio. This year she and her girlfriend plan to wear Super Girl (a popular Chinese reality TV singing competition) costumes and party in her neighborhood.

Crespo likes Carnival for its exuberance. "It's great to see everyone with a carpe-diem (seize the day) attitude. From the poorest to the richest, everybody dances through the streets wearing funny costumes, playing with people that you haven't met, meeting old friends, dancing and enjoying life in the fantastic city."

Carnival and samba are passions, along with football, for residents of the favelas or shantytowns in Rio. They often join samba schools that make costumes and floats and perform in the Carnival.

Twelve professional samba schools will perform - and compete - on Sunday and Monday during Carnival, six groups each day. Each group contains around 1,200 professional performers. The top three schools will perform again on the following Saturday.

The three main types of entertainment are parades by samba schools, Carnival balls held in social clubs and nightclub parties.

In addition most people take part in block and neighborhood celebrations of music, dancing, eating and drinking.

These parties draw huge crowds and it's estimated that of the five million people taking part in Carnival last year, four-fifths took part in block.


Chinese immigrant Vivian Guan moved to Sao Paulo 15 years ago from Beijing with her family when she was 10 years old. She and her friends will celebrate Carnival in Rio this month.

"Walking on the lovely sands of Copacabana, hearing the sea waves and drinking fresh coconut juice is wonderful," Guan says.

She hopes to attend samba school rehearsals this year. Two years ago she attended the rehearsal of Mangueira, one of the most famous schools along with Beija Flor, Portela and Salgueiro.

"It was a unique experience, especially hearing the drums," she says.

Almost all the Carnival music is samba, a dance that originated in Rio with poor Afro-Brazilians.

Each samba school has 3,000-5,000 participants. Each has 80 minutes to make their presentation along the 700-meter Sambodromo. Each school selects a theme, a historical event or legend from Brazilian literature. The selection of the theme is one criteria for judging, as well as overall presentation, costumes, music, dance and other areas. Schools spend entire years working on presentations for the following year.

Other carnivals

Carnival celebrations take place in virtually every corner of Brazil. Besides Rio, other well-known parties take place in Recife, Olinda in northern Brazil and Salvador in Bahia state.

The most famous singers and dancers in Brazil perform in Salvador for millions of people who dance for four days. Many are pop stars, including Caelinhos Bow who performed at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

The music in Bahia and Perabuco features a lot of percussion, but guitar is favored in Bahia and saxophone is popular in Perabuco.

Brazilian lifestyle

During Carnival across Brazil, people are dancing, singing, laughing, joking, drinking and eating.

"Rio Carnival comes deep from the fun-loving soul of the Rio people and doesn't depend on any authority or sponsor," says Deputy Consul General Sampio. "Carnival in the streets is living proof of this passion. It's free and everyone is welcome to participate."

Partying is a way of life, including drinking cold beer, sugar cane rum, fresh coconut juice and the national cocktail Caipirinha.

Brazil produces powerful, clear, raw rum, Cachaca made from fermented sugar cane. Caipirinha is made of Cachaca plus crushed lime, sugar, and ice. Other fruits can be added.

Carnival Shanghai party

Date: February 25, 10pm

Venue: Mao Livehouse, 3/F, 308 Chongqing Rd S.

Tel: 6445-0086


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