The Brazilian Samba Experience

Finally, Rio Blocos De Carnaval Explained – Rio Street Carnival Bands


Blocos de Carnaval photo

In this article we will review how the first Rio street carnival bands were organized in Brazil and why they became a tremendous success over the last 3 years! Rio Street Carnaval bands, also called “Blocos de Carnaval”, “Blocos de Rua” or simply “blocos” – (pronounced blo´ku sh in Portuguese) are some of the names given to “free for all” popular groups of revelers & merry-makers in Rio. As you will see below, Rio street partying has been re-energized over the last years, and today most of the young, beautiful and lively Cariocas remain in Rio and take part in some of the 450 “Blocos de Carnaval” existing in town. These street Carnival bands, groups or “blocos” are identified by their names, types of songs they play or neighborhoods where they were established in. Some of the reasons for the recent success of these “blocos” is that everyone is free to express themselves in their own style at the “marching routes” and also since there is no competition between the bands. You don´t have to pay a dime to join and it´s, by far, Rio´s most popular, democratic and vibrant carnival expression. Here, you will discover how the Carnival bands/groups were born and survived through the culture of Carnaval in Brazil.

On this small history of Rio´s street carnival, you will also understand why they became an impressive fever over the past 4 years, and recruited in one evening more than 700,000 people in Rio´s most important financial avenue. We will also describe their historical origins, nature, and appoint some of the most famous and irreverent “blocos de Carnaval”.

Origins of the Blocos de Rua – Rio Street Carnival bands

Blocos de Carnaval photo“Blocos de Rua”, in accordance with some carnaval historians, represent modern versions of old “cordões” (earlier forms of Carnival processions and parades in Brazil). At first, only a small group of people used to participate on this popular expression. Initially, most of them were bohemians who spent the nights in Rio´s South Zone bars, where the bands were created – but, independently on the ‘non slept hours’, still had energy to party all day long on the Rio streets….(And sometimes would end up their partying time with a refreshing sea bath at the beach. ) Slowly, these individuals started to organize themselves and draw attention from other members of Rio´s society, including Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) musicians, artists, and workers from very different professional backgrounds.

The first official “bloco” – Banda de Ipanema – arose in the 60’s, inspired by Rio party maker Albino Pinheiro, and some friends who saw in the city of Ubá, ( in the state of Minas Gerais) a small musical band parade on the streets of the tiny city. Albino, who used to get together with famous Rio de Janeiro bohemians like Darwin Brandão, Claudio Pinheiro, Jaguar, Ziraldo, Ferreira Gullar, Ferdy Carneiro, Roniquito, China, Armando Rosário in the bars called “Zeppelin”, “Veloso” and “Jangadeiro”, hurried to get everything organized for the first parade of their band.

This first “bloco” promoted a parade in Rio streets for the first time in 1965, having 30 shy revelers dressed in white suits, carrying musical instruments which they did not know even how to play. (They left this task to the Navy Marines Band, hired to cheer the parade.) From then on, these Cariocas re-discovered the nineteenth century revelers´ formula of having fun, in a free, irreverent and healthy way.

Banda de Ipanema street band inspired the creation of similar bands and “blocos”, all of them aiming at having great enjoyment in a closer environment. These lively revelers also wanted to promote the revival of the neighborhood / local Carnaval merry-making, which was forgotten and had lost some space for the Carnival Balls. Each of these bands also revealed and reveal to a certain extent, the particular way of living and thinking of members of that specific band.

The second street band created in Rio de Janeiro was Leme’s, founded a few years after the “Banda de Ipanema”. Its official 1st parade took place on February 6, 1971 when a small group of revelers delivered the number one member certificate to the Governor in charge Negrão de Lima. Having no competitive spirit, and having many of its components living in Ipanema, Banda do Leme came up with a more ambitious parade program: leaving every Saturday in February and on the four days of the Rio Carnaval. Some directors, like Alfredo Carlos and Pinheiro soon realized there were economical problems in this task. Having no sponsorship, Alfredo thought it would not be difficult to obtain some money from the neighborhood residents, but considered this method inefficient: Who would be in charge? He thought soon the band would lose its authenticity, whilst transforming the band into a “club”.

In 1973 for example, trying to solve this problem, owners from Restaurant “La Fiorentina” at Leme wanted to pay 50 per cent of the expenses case the band gathered in front of that establishment, but this proposal did not move forward since it would break the band´s tradition to gather on Atlântica Avenue, corner of Rua Antonio Vieira Street. Resisting to many obstacles, “Banda do Leme” thrived through the 70´s and 80´s presenting in its parades artists like Emilinha Borba, Clovis Bornay, Brazilian popular singer Tim Maia, conductor Erlon Chaves, Sérgio Bittencourt, Haroldo Costa, and Iris Letieri to name a few. Some of these celebrities and personalities would march in the parade in old and colorful convertible cars, most of them offered by the executive Salomão Saad.

Nature and Characteristics

Blocos de Carnaval photoOne of the main differences from street bands from regular samba-schools is that they include brass instruments in their orchestra. Samba-schools by definition are not allowed to have bass instruments like saxophones, trumpets, trombones and also according to the Carnival Regulation Committees in Rio. Another important differentiation aspect is that the Blocos invite everyone to join at the marching route; you don´t have to be a supporter or affiliated with the band. A third important difference between Samba-schools and the “blocos” is they follow a pre-determined route on the streets, and not at the Sambadrome. (Some of the “blocos” though, prefer not to follow any route and play still on a square or in particular corner of a street.) The fourth important differentiation point is the clothing: Members may come dressed anyway they want, in carnival costumes, bathing suits, plain clothes, special T-shirts, or simply not dressed. Finally, samba-schools have a number of pre-determined of wings and each of these wings are dressed accordingly to the Carnival Producer or Costume Director. In case of the Rio Street Carnaval bands, there are no “wings” – everybody is packed up in a mega flock of people. (The only exception is the musician’s wing.)

The “blocos de rua” today are still being created when groups of friends with a common interest (neighborhood, work place, leisure etc.) decide to march together with a carnival orchestra. At a second moment, the carnival street band usually creates its own flag, color and themes, etc. which will be used at the parade. Finally, they have to register with the tourism department in Rio. You can start up a “carnaval bloco” with 30 members, and if you are lucky and successful, you can find drive more than 500,000 people to your “own” parade. This is the beauty of the street bands. Everything is possible.

Today, we can surely point out that the “Blocos de Rua / Blocos de Carnaval” reflects Rio´s current Carnival charm and style, and are certainly in vogue amongst native Cariocas and Brazilians from all of the country. In 2010, the police department of Rio estimated that 3 million people took part of Rio´s street carnival partying, beating Salvador at Bahia. Some of the best “Blocos de Carnaval” are located at Ipanema, Santa Teresa, Copacabana, Botafogo, Flamengo, Leblon, Gávea, Jardim Botânico, and Tijuca. There is even a street band at the charming Paquetá Island at Rio´s Guanabara Bay! Below, readers can find a current list of the most diverse, lively and fun Rio Street Carnaval Bands in Rio de Janeiro:

  • Badalo de Santa Teresa
  • Bafo da Onça
  • Bagunça Meu Coreto”Banda De Ipanema
  • Bangalafumenga
  • Bloco da Ansiedade
  • Bloco das Piranhas
  • Bloco de Segunda
  • Bloco Imprensa Que Eu Gamo
  • Carmelitas
  • Cordao Bola Preta
  • Cordão do Boitatá
  • Empolga as 9
  • Imprensa que Gamo
  • Mulheres de Chico
  • Orquestra Voadora
  • Simpatia E Quase Amor
  • Volta, Alice

Next time in Rio, try not to miss some of these colorful and diverse “blocos de carnaval”! Authors note: On this article, the Portuguese terms “blocos de carnaval, “blocos de rua” and “blocos” were used at different moments to help the understanding of new Carnival texts readers. They all have practically same meaning and are synonyms to a certain extent.

Also, we used to the word “carnival” to express the general pre-lent festivity expression and “Carnaval” to specify the Brazilian version of the Carnival, which is appropriately called “Carnaval”.

Photo by Casa Fora do Eixo Minas

Photo by Prefeitura de Olinda

Photo by Prefeitura de Olinda

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