Tens of thousands of fans packed Rio's
iconic Sambadrome late Monday for a second night of dazzling Carnival parades
featuring lavishly costumed performers, elaborate floats and thumping music.
A shootout between police and a drug gang that left one person dead and
four wounded in a nearby favela failed to dampen the wild enthusiasm of the
capacity crowd of 72,500 at the newly renovated "temple of Samba".
The night parades in the Sambadrome are the high point of the pre-Lent
Carnival festival, which has brought this racially diverse country of 191
million people to a near-standstill.
Singer-actress Jennifer Lopez was one of several foreign celebrities to
lend their star power to the event, appearing late Sunday in skinny red jeans
and a sequined top.
With a deafening burst of fireworks, Sao Clemente was the first of six
elite samba schools to take center stage Monday, taking inspiration from a
selection of popular Broadway musicals such as "The Phantom of the Opera" and
Uniao da Ilha do Gobernador was to follow with a presentation illustrating
the connection between London and Rio, which will host the next two Summer
Olympics in 2012 and 2016.
The schools are vying for the title of Carnival champion. A total of 13
schools are competing for the honor, to be bestowed on Wednesday. Seven schools
held their parades late Sunday.
Several have chosen to celebrate the culture of Brazil's northeast,
particularly the rich Africa heritage of Bahia state.
Salgueiro, which won the title in 2009, will present a tribute to so-called
Cord literature, a genre of folk novels and poems which is very popular in
Mangueira, viewed as the country's most popular samba school, will offer a
homage to a popular Rio Carnival band, Cacique de Ramos, which has just
celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The school has many national and foreign star followers, including
Argentine football great Diego Maradona.
Unidos da Tijuca, which finished 2nd last year, and Grande Rio, one of the
newest schools, will round out the proceedings.
Preparation for the Carnival parades starts months in advance, as each
samba school mobilizes thousands of supporters who must create the various
parts of the school's display.
Favela residents are often members of a local samba school and are deeply
involved with the performance and preparation of costumes.
The Carnival turns the spotlight on the artistic talent, creative genius
and zest for life found in those predominantly black shantytowns which often
lack running water, electricity and sewage systems.
The Sambadrome, which recently reopened after a nine-month makeover, now
has a boosted capacity, elevators, and access ramps for the handicapped.
Seats cost between $50 and several thousand dollars, depending on whether
one sits on packed benches in the open or in air-conditioned VIP boxes stocked
with champagne. Big-name companies invite luminaries like Lopez to their
skyboxes to promote their brands.
The Rio Carnival, billed as "the greatest show on Earth," generates 250,000
jobs and revenues of $640 million for hotels, bars and restaurants, according
to state estimates.
Carnival is celebrated with equal gusto in other cities and towns,
including Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic capital and Latin America's most
populous city, and Salvador, the heart of the rich Afro-Brazilian culture.