By Harold Emert
(additional editing by Phylis Huber )
It is that time of year again: Carnaval, Rio's 126th
since it first began in 1892.
When I first came to Brazil over four decades ago, I
thought that four days and nights of dancing ,
singing and revelling in a nation which was once
called 'underdeveloped 'and today is'developing' was
a big waste of time.
Weren't there supposed be more important things to
Wasn't this prolonged event. -which begins on Friday
evening (9 February) and ends this year 14 February,
Ash Wednesday when the vote that announces
which"school" has won the Carnaval parade
competition — too long and tedious?
But then I attended the Carnival/Mardi Gras in New
Orleans which has a 24 hour life span.
I was not quite satisfied with the American version
of the ancient European/pagan ritual of Carnival: It
felt too organized and static and not as varied when
compared to Carnaval in Rio
Once, a very LONG ago, I actively
participated in Carnaval pretending to sing
and dance while dressed in the same costume
as 1000 other revellers. This was for the
Villa Isabel school. We didn't go "onstage"
until about five in the morning. I carried a
small flask of water to prevent myself from
drying out while I pretended to sing the
lyrics and music of our Carnaval enredo/or
script.(I didn't go to rehearsals like the
others, but simply paid for my costume which
included a pointed hat and gave me a right
to parade down the Sambodromo ).
My participation was as great a spiritual
moment as any concert I have ever performed
That exhilarating experience of dancing and
singing for the fifty minutes of fame it
takes to complete the parade convinced me
that Rio' s Carnaval is indeed the greatest
show on earth!
This was also confirmed by my participation
in 'blocos,' or blocks including that of
the' imprensa ,'or media , or the odd
gathering in Santa Teresa, where
participants dress as Carmelite sisters,
dancing and singing the samba of the '
bloco’. The bloco Simpatia quase Amor,
(Sympathy is almost Love) parades through
various parts of Ipanema. There is no
denying that something vibrates within and
without when participating with a large
multitude marching through the streets as
observers open their windows to applaud.
Another positive Carnaval experience i had
was fom the 'perch '--the best one at the
sambodrome at the Praca XI sambodrome--of
the press/ media box. I was allowed on the
field to watch and listen first hand to what
we don't see on Tv., and I must say it was
marvellous: watching the parading players of
(a Brazilian percussion instrument which is
pulled and makes a mewing sound), observing
the dressmakers put the final touch to their
creations, the floats with old-fashioned
wooden wheels which carry various stars of
Carnaval being prepared to enter the
revelling at the sambodrome as the tv
cameras air the event to the whole world.
The author accompanied by Ana Maria Emert at
And then there are all the unexpected international
celebrities who suddenly appear to witness first
hand the greatest show on earth.This has included ,
among others in my time on this planet called Rio de
Janeiro , filmmaker Godfather Francis Ford Coppola,
pianist/arranger Quincy Jones,. Luciana Gimenez, the
mother of Mick Jagger's love son , Lucas, who has
headed a samba school and last but not least ,a
tribute to the great Brazilian star of the
Metropolitan Opera house, Bidu Sayao.
** Working for a British tabloid newspaper, I spent
one unforgettable Carnaval following literally
Chelsy Davy , the Zimbabuense girlfriend (
2004-2010) of England's Prince Harry.The assignment
was to watch Chelsea and her chaperone brother
literally minute, day and night in order to try to
discover--as the London tabloids love--if she was
having some secret romance in Carnaval city (during
an epoch when 'secret' romances are an accepted part
of the pagan ritual).
With a taxi cab waiting I met up.with a top reporter
and ace photographer from London and Los Angeles and
we tailed like investigating detectives Chelsy's car
to an Ipanema hotel.My assignment was to sit on the
beach and watch the door of her hotel to discover
when she and her brother--or possivel
admirers--departed.As I am always concerned about my
musical career, I brought a composition I was
orchestratingcwith me on the beaches of Ipabema and
worked on it occasionally as we watched the
Nice work if you can get it!( title of a Gershwin
The ace photog for his pictures of Xhelsy swimming
in Ipajema and the top reporter breathlessly ran
after her up to Christ on the Mountain.
My job included following Chelsy's taxi departing
Rio and ending up in....Buzios, the local coastal
version of the French Riviera.On a hunch I visited
one of Buzio's most panoramic beaches and who should
show up there? CHELSE AND HER BROTHER !
A pity we didn't have cell phone cameras during this
But getting back to this essay on Carnaval.The fete
is also an excellent time for many of these beer
companies and others hosting camarotes to do good
business and public relations for their wares.
And fortunately for the good being of the Municipal
Theater it's gala balls are no longer held at the
house of opera and ballet but at the ballrooms of
the city's many hotels.I recall how I was horrified
to see Carnaval revellers throwing beer bottles on
the floor of the same Municipal Theater where the
great musicians, dancers and opera singers usually
Invited to Salvador,Bahia for Carnaval I found
myself in a strange dilemna: for four days and four
nights I didn't have to anything but swim , watch
Carnaval parades , eat and drink with everything
paid for, in what I had thought was a poor part of
Brazil ..... But I admit here that overdose of
idyllic pleasures can result in boredom.
Odd customs often fill the air during this bewitched
period including the Carnaval love affair which at
end of the gala means you never see each other again
; prominent politicians attending Carnaval parades
during which they sometimes get themselves in hot
Witness the late former President Itamar Franco, a
bachelor, inviting a Carnaval reveller to his box/
Camarote with her being photographed without her
calcinha/panties.That samba dancer subsequently rose
from being an entirely unknown to instant fame and
went into exile as a model in Italy. Despite
Brazil's supposed moral flexibility, Itamar was
almost impeached for the incident.
I find a bit difficult to swallow the fact that
Rio's current Mayor , Marcelo Crivella, an
Evangelical minister and former missionary in
Africa, is Not a fan of Carnaval ,didn't appear at
Carnaval 2017 and dances the samba like a gringo.
Crivella seems out of place as mayor of the city of
As oldv(er) age approaches, this observer usually
flees Carnaval city for the peace and quiet of the
mountains of Teresopolis. Somehow the noise , heat
and possibilty of being a victim of a crime during
these hectic days are too overwhelming as one gets
older.Never mind that there is more policing of Rio'
s streets during Carnaval than other times of year
and that most persons encountered are in a festive
mood, there is always a possibility of some hedinous
Nevertheless something within me misses Carnaval in
Rio, and even although the chance to celebrate the
event exists in the mountains and other parts it is
not quite the same.
There is something to be said for dressing up ( or
down) in a costume, abandoning the routine and logic
of everyday life to parades, singing and dancing
like children for a few days with the banks closed
and no one delivering bills to your post office box.
And the music of a Carnaval incentivates great
composers like Noel Rosa , Nelson de Cavaquinho, Ary
Barroso (composer of ' Brazil')among others.
Speaking of Ary, when the Orquestra Sinfonica
Nacional-Uff celebrated the composer's 100th
birthday in 2003, we had the pleasure to accompany
His voice without a microphone had more strength
than Pavarotti, with whom I performed twice in
During Carnaval in Rio one discovers that-- like in
my native city of New York where would-be
actors,actresses, dancers,singers and musicians
often work as waiters or waitresses , taxi drivers
and other ' practical' profession-- everyone in Rio
seems suddenly to be in show business .
BOTTOMS UP and a Happy Carnaval!
Text: Harold Emert (contact)
Cover photo: Roberto Carelli
(Any views or opinions expressed in
this article are personal to the
author and do not necessarily
reflect the views/opinions of the