WATCH: The extravagance and politics at this years Rio Carnival

2019-03-05 18:00
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Rio was gearing up on Monday for the second and final night of its celebrated carnival, with the stage set for an event that will blend huge party with political protest.

More than 70,000 people were getting ready to sing at the top of their voices as the seven final samba schools paraded through the city's Sambadrome, the huge concrete arena built by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemayer.

WATCH: The top 10 carnivals in the world

The night before, another seven of the city's competing samba schools - a mixture of trained dancers and enthusiastic neighborhood locals - had staged their own colorful parade, in costumes and with giant decorated floats.

The first school of 2 500 dancers and musicians were due to samba their way past the crowds and the judges at 21:15 pm, with the last school strutting their stuff down the 700 meter strip close to dawn.

samba dancers in carnival costumes

Members of the Portela samba school. (Photo: Mauro Pimentel, AFP)

samba dancers in carnival costumes

A member of Mangueira samba school performs during the second night of Rio's Carnival parade at the Sambadrome. (Photo: Mauro Pimentel, AFP)

As they do every year, Brazilians briefly forget their woes during the world's biggest party, including the economic crisis, bitter political divisions, massive corruption scandals and a sky-high murder rate.

The fiesta serves as a cathartic coming together for the city, reflecting the joy, suffering and dreams of its denizens.

"It's another way of crying. And protesting: we are alive!" said an editorial in the daily O Globo on Monday.

The city had been battered by torrential summer rains in the hours leading up to the start of the parade on Sunday, but the skies cleared, as if by magic, just as the first samba school sashayed into the spotlight.

And the magic of the parade has not dried up either in the first carnival to be staged under the new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. Sunday saw a display of spectacular floats featuring giant flamboyant birds, slave ships, the Roman Colosseum and of course scantily clad dancers in exotic headdresses throbbing to the deafening beat of drum bands.

ALSO WATCH: A colour-filled 3 days of Cliques, confetti and costumes at Basel Carnival 

samba dancers in carnival costumes

Anielle Silva (2-R), sister of murdered council woman Marielle Franco, takes part in the Vila Isabel samba school parade. (Photo: Mauro Pimentel, AFP)

samba dancers in carnival costumes

Members of Portela samba school. (Photo: Mauro Pimentel, AFP)

samba dancers in carnival costumes

Members of Mangueira samba school. (Photo: Mauro Pimentel, AFP)

Criticism and satire

But once again the carnival served as canvas for political messages, sending up the 'circus' of the political capital Brasilia or condemning widespread corruption and a growing intolerance towards the black and LGBT communities.

Those messages appeared to be directed pointedly at Bolsonaro, notorious before the election for race-baiting, sexist and homophobic comments.

The parade on Monday night was due to continue that satirical theme.

The Mangueira school was expected to cause a stir with its promised theme of popular heroes from Brazilian history who do not feature in school textbooks, mostly from the traditionally neglected black and indigenous communities.

The highlight of that parade is to be a homage to Marielle Franco, a black city councilor and human rights activist from one of the city's poor favela neighborhoods that was assassinated last year.

Another highly anticipated display was from the Portela school, which holds a record 22 carnival wins and which partnered with French fashion guru Jean-Paul Gaultier to design its dancers' costumes.

Portela was to celebrate the memory of Clara Nunes, an icon of the 1970s samba scene and the first artist to defend the rights of Brazil's African-Brazilian religions.

SEE: Millions flock to Carnival street parades across Germany

samba dancers in carnival costumes

A flag depicting the image of murdered council woman Marielle Franco. (Photo: Carl de Souza, AFP)

samba dancers in carnival costumes

Members of Portela samba school. (Photo: Mauro Pimentel, AFP)

Budget cuts

The show will also celebrate the resilience of the sambas schools themselves, whose subsidies from the city have been reduced since Marcelo Crivella, a former Evangelical pastor, became mayor in 2017.

The carnival has also clamped down its traditional feel of debauchery, which normally draws around 1.5 million visitors to the 'Marvelous City', including foreign tourists with their much-needed cash.

But for Jairo Machado, a dancer with the Beija-Flor samba school, it would take more than budget cuts or torrential rain to dampen the legendary party-goers' enthusiasm.

"Despite the weak investment by the city, the schools have overcome all that, they have managed to throw a good carnival," he told AFP.

The judges are to announce the winner of the samba contest on Wednesday, their decision based on three criteria: the inventiveness of the carnival floats, the theme of parade, and the quality of the dancing in the sambadrome.

For the schools, that means months of work to make the costumes, build the floats and rehearse their dance steps and learn their songs, making winning a huge prize for a school and its local community.

SEE: Get your Carnival on in staid Sao Paulo

samba dancers in carnival costumes

Members of Paraiso do Tuiuti samba school. (Photo: Carl de Souza, AFP)

samba dancers in carnival costumes

A member of Vila Isabel samba school. (Photo: Carl de Souza, AFP)

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