A darker-than-usual parade dedicated to an infamous outlaw-hero from Brazil’s impoverished northeast, bastion of newly inaugurated President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, won the championship of Rio de Janeiro’s colorful, cutthroat carnival parade competition Wednesday.
Samba school Imperatriz Leopoldinense won the coveted title with a parade dedicated to the early 20th century bandit Lampiao, an alternately revered and reviled figure in spectacles and a leather hat known as Brazil’s version of Robin Hood or Jesse James.
It was one of numerous parade displays at Rio’s famed carnival rooted in themes from the northeast, a poor, populous, majority black and mixed-race region whose votes delivered the presidency to veteran leftist Lula in his divisive election battle with far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.
Lula sent his congratulations after the announcement of the carnival contest result, which is watched on live television by millions in Brazil.
“Bravo to Imperatriz for this beautiful tribute to the northeast,” Lula, who was born in the region, wrote on Twitter.
The first family was directly involved this year with Imperatriz, a samba school from the working class neighborhood of Ramos, on Rio’s north side. First Lady Rosangela “Janja” da Silva served as the school’s “godmother,” supporting its social projects in the city’s impoverished favelas.
This year’s parades marked the full comeback of the world’s biggest carnival, after two editions disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed nearly 700,000 lives in Brazil.
The festival was canceled in 2021, and held in a reduced version last year — postponed by two months because of a surge in Covid-19 cases, and with a ban on the epic street parties known as “blocos.”
It was also the first carnival post-Bolsonaro.
This year’s parades were less overtly political than under Bolsonaro, when the samba schools’ shows often included veiled criticism of the ultra-conservative government.
But Leandro Vieira, creative director at Imperatriz, said the choice of theme was inherently political.
“When we talk about the northeast, we’re talking politics,” he told newsmagazine Veja before the parades.
Imperatriz’s parade featured earthier colors and less of the sequins, glitter and feathers that are the trademarks of Rio’s carnival.
It also veered into darker territory, for example with floats featuring giant skulls and heads with slit throats.
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