Death clouds carnival
BRAZIL'S carnival celebrations kick off today with 700,000 tourists joining the masses of Rio locals participating in the annual parade of dancing, drumming and singing.
But bloodshed has already cast a pall over the event, with the murder of the leader of one of the city's 13 premier samba parade groups.
Guaracy Paes Falcao, 42, vice-president of the parade group Salgueiro, was shot and killed in his car before dawn on Wednesday while leaving the group's headquarters near Tijuca, a middle-class suburb surrounded by slums on the city's north side. His wife was also shot dead.
Police did not suggest a motive for Mr Falcao's death, but reports said there had been a history of bad blood between him and another murdered Salgueiro leader, and it is an open secret that Rio's annual samba parade is funded by an illegal gambling game - the jogo do bicho.
Rio has suffered deadly clashes in recent weeks between police, drug gangs and so-called militias comprising off-duty officers who have expelled gangs from about 90 of the city's slums.
The militias charge residents and business owners for protection.
But tourists have not been put off by the city's violent reputation. For many, merely watching the world's most spectacular carnival show is not enough - they want to be part of it.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Kirsi Salo, 28, from Helsinki, who has paraded with friends in the Porta do Pedra samba troupe.
Finland has the second-largest number of samba schools outside Brazil, and every June they stage a samba carnival parade in Helsinki. Japan has the most.
Some foreigners play in the huge percussion bands, whose pounding rhythms send adrenaline surging through paraders and spectators.
"I've been practising lots with the Vila Isabel band... they're awesome," said Mashu Miyazawa, 36, from Tokyo. He added that a Brazilian friend who founded a samba school in Tokyo taught him to play the caixa de guerra, the samba snare drum.
More than 80 per cent of those parading for Vila Isabel are poor local people who receive their costumes for free. Others pay between 75 to 200.
"It's becoming very expensive but it's worth it," said Anne Laure Tourvieille, 41, who is parading with friends for the second year running.
Vanica Royster, who is organising an American Society group of 25 dancers to parade with Salgueiro, said that you did not have to be a samba expert; just go with the flow. "Go there, be happy, sing even if you don't know what the words are," Ms Royster said.
Some samba schools are more flexible than others in accepting foreigners, whose lack of dancing and singing skills could cost vital points in the keenly fought parade contest.
"We spread the foreigners around the wings so they aren't noticed by the judges," said Vila Isabel's Jean Claudio, adding that most did not come to any rehearsals.
But the Finns say they prepare.
Ms Salo explained: "We don't speak Portuguese, but we bought the CD and learned the samba song on the beach."
THE most sumptuous costumes for prime positions perched on top of the floats can cost around 1,100. But the most eye-catching paraders wear little more than glitter paint, high heels and a dazzling smile.
Top-price box tickets for the Sambadrome on 18-19 February fetch more than 300, while the cheapest tickets provided by the web service are around 46. It's a sell-out.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
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