By Janet Tappin Coelho in Rio de Janeiro
The oldest and most popular bloco, as local street parties are known in Rio de Janeiro, celebrated its hundredth anniversary during this year’s Carnival and drew in an estimated million revellers who wished it a happy birthday.
Cordao do Bola Preta or Black Ball Cord paraded through the city centre streets on Saturday (10 February) with several trucks carrying the band and Brazilian celebrities to mark its landmark event.
In another part of the city, the world-renowned Copacabana beach was heaving with hundreds of thousands of party-goers as they followed the Favorita Bloco.
Revellers included Bruna Marquezine, actress girlfriend of Paris St Germain’s star footballer, Neymar.
The athlete’s love interest wore a very revealing carnival passita bejewelled bra, which barely covered her assets, and high-waisted white hotpants dripping with crystals, fishnets tights and practical pumps so she could dance and pose as a muse in front of the truck blaring out Brazilian funk.
Marquezine boasted in captions on her videos: “I’m the muse and I did really well!”
The two events were among 80 mega street parties that took place on the day.
To mark its centenary Bola Preta released a series of historical pictures documenting the parade since it began as an idea between a group of friends in 1918, and these images served to complement the 2018 event.
Always accompanied by a live band of trumpets, trombones and horns backed up by guitars and drums, Bola Preta blasted its traditional marches through loudspeakers as revellers danced and jumped around in the massive crowd with temperature hitting 35 degrees centigrade.
Pedro Ernesto Augusto Marinho chairman of the Black Ball Cord said: “I believe the emotion and enthusiasm today is exactly the same as it was when the founders first started the parade.”
A crippling economic crisis in South America’s largest nation has encouraged the rise of blocos.
These low-cost street party extravaganzas are changing the shape of the big bash as thrifty tourists look for cheaper ways to party instead of buying expensive tickets to watch the traditional samba parade in the Sambadrome.
The blocos are largely free and party-goers spend what they want on the food and drink on offer.
“The history of Bola Preta is intertwined with the history of the Rio Carnival and our parades are exactly what people need and want today,” said Heloisa Alves, the Bola Preta producer responsible for the historical photo collection.
Much of the appeal of Rio’s street parties is the variety of themes with Bola Preta’s motif being black dots on a white background. Any costume, or no costume at all, is fine, and revellers can choose according to their musical taste and location.
“We have millions of people willing to take to the streets for the free and vibrant blocos, while the samba school parades have been frozen in time and are very expensive,” Brazilian writer and historian Luiz Antonio Simas said. “For tourists who want to spend less, it is an obvious choice.”
Rio’s tourism agency expects over six million people to attend the festivities over the five day event and a quarter of all visitors to spend less than 100 reais (less than £25) a day, compared to 12 percent who did so last year at an estimated 600 block parties.
Rio authorities and businesses have also shifted their priorities toward the streets and out of the Sambadrome.
Rio mayor Marcelo Crivella increased the number of portable street toilets by a few thousand, to 32,560 while cutting more than 24 million reais (£5.5million) in funding for the samba school parades, which represents almost half the budget of the top tier schools. The money is being diverted to pay for nurseries and school meals.
Meanwhile, the blocos receive no financial help and struggle to secure sponsorship.
“We get no aid from city hall. We hold events that fund our headquarters and employees, but not for the carnival. However, the show still goes on,” said a resolute Marinho.