Gearing up for the ‘world’s largest party’

Carnival preparations in full swing, despite Brazil’s economic woes

Photo by: TRTWorld
Photo by: TRTWorld

Unidos de Vila Isabel workers rush to get everything ready in time.

Updated Feb 4, 2016

"Welcome to our dreams factory!" 

The warehouse is packed with metal structures: giant sculptures attached to car chassis. There are clown faces, angel wings, crowns, bull heads and two baby dolls that, seated, are the size of a three-story building.

It is almost frightening… but it is also one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Unidos de Vila Isabel pavilion where floats are built for the big parade. [TRTWorld]

The "dreams factory!” is samba school Unidos de Vila Isabel’s pavilion - where floats are being build for the big parade.

Vila Isabel agreed to open its doors for TRT World under one condition: that we respected the "confidentiality clause"… 

That meant we were allowed to access only certain areas. We were guided, and carefully monitored.

Rousemarir - the school’s secretary - explained the rules to us. And the reason behind them: "Carnival is only magical if we surprise people. They know the school’s theme for the year, but that’s about it. We work in secret so that the public - and judges - are marveled."

Rousemarir Henrique showed us around at Vila Isabel. [TRTWorld]

Carnival is big business in Brazil. It’s expensive. But also lucrative.

Each samba school gets a 90-minute show. For that, almost 4 thousand people are needed. 

And millions of Reais are spent.

Workers are well-paid; costumes cost a fortune; and secretive sponsoring deals are the subject of a lot of speculation. 

But this year, ostentation and excess have been replaced by inventiveness and frugality. 

Because of Brazil’s worst economic crisis in decades, money is scarce.

Rio mayor’s office delayed the payment allocated to schools from transmissions rights. 

And Petrobras - one of Carnival’s main sponsors - has been marred by Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal in history. 

Each samba schools represents a disenfranchised community at big Carnival parades. The competition is century-old tradition in Brazil. [TRTWorld]

Main schools have been forced to scale back.

And carnival parades have been canceled in some cities.

But because partying is in the Brazilian DNA, the samba schools' workers agreed to unpaid extra hours. And expensive imported material was replaced by cheaper national alternatives.

At Vila Isabel, costumes were sold online to help finance some of the costs of the parade: "people paid anything from USD 1,000 to 70,000 for a place at Vila’s ‘desfile’."

With hundreds of costumes still being sewn, the outbreak of the Zika virus has yet to worry the workers at Vila. So far Rosemarir said no one has cancelled their trip: "people are traveling from Switzerland, from France, from the United States… from all over really."

Rousemarir - and the rest of the team at Vila Isabel - say they are likely to spend the next few nights at the school's pavilion so that everything is done in time for the party. "We’ve been sleeping here for a while now."

They tell me entire families are involved. And that this is what they live for.

Carnival's February 5 whistle is near.

And few weeks after that, by March, these workers will be meeting again to discuss next year’s parade theme.

"The party here" - they tell me - "never really ends."

Author: Anelise Borges