Rio’s carnival dream is not over

Despite the devastation of the fire at the Samba complex in Rio de Janeiro, the schools are picking up the pieces in preparation for this year’s celebrations, determined that the Carnival will go on.

Bursting screams and tears, thousands of Cariocas saw their dreams going up in smoke on Monday 7th February. The city woke up to face a blaze at Samba City complex, where the city’s top 12 schools were preparing for the parades.

The fire destroyed costumes and floats of three schools of samba: Portela, one of the oldest and most traditional schools; Grande Rio, one of the favourites to win the competition this year, and União da Ilha, best known for being one of the jolliest carnival groups.

The estimated value of the financial damage is near £3m, and, remembering that Rio’s most famous celebration takes place on 4th March, Cahê Rodrigues, Grande Rio’s artistic director, made the following sad statement: “We were gearing up to win carnival and I don’t know if in 29 days we can put on a spectacle on the same level as we had hoped. It’s all burned, all destroyed”.

For the Cariocas, it’s far more than just about tourism or money. Carnival is passion, it’s catharsis, it’s overcoming. Everyone in Rio has their own samba school, and the pageants become the subjects of inflamed discussions.

The city has got Carnival written all over it, as these rituals kick off well before the celebration itself, at the beginning of the year. It’s like a big football match; the damage caused by the fire could be compared to having half of your team’s players out with injury before the championship finals.

Having this in mind, the carnival organiser, Liesa, has declared that the damaged schools won’t be rated and that there will be no relegation this year. Besides that, Rio’s Mayor, Eduardo Paes, announced today that the damaged schools will receive an extra help of £3m in total. He expects to receive the resources from the private sector initiative and, if they are not enough, he’ll ask for public support. During a visit to the Samba City Complex, Paes invoked the passion of the communities to say that Carnival will continue.

On the flipside, the decision of not being rated didn´t please everyone. For the drummer of União da Ilha, Pablo Lima, a samba school, above anything, has its own soul. For him, Liesa doesn’t understand anything about Carnival. “They tried to solve one problem and created another. They stole one of the fundamental rights of the Carnival reveller: to be judged”, he says, suggesting that this decision is not fair to the school’s members. “Besides floats and customs, other issues are rated, like samba-plot, drums and evolution, for example. And what about the composers that worked so hard to see their songs selected for the plots and won’t receive a grade this year?”

Despite all the polemic created by Liesa’s decision, in an official report sent to the international press, the Mayor of Rio declared that Carnival won’t be affected by the incident and that, this year, the celebration will be even more special, with the support of the whole population for these three traditional schools. After all, Carnival is worth the sacrifice.

By Bruna Gala

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