Brazil’s carnival is one of the biggest and best known parties in the world, with its wild street parties, extravagant costumes, and catchy music that take over the country for a couple of weeks before Lent. However, São Paulo, the country’s biggest city, is not typically thought of as being a good carnival destination, with coastal cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Recife and Salvador being among a tourist’s first choices. Over the past decade, this has changed. São Paulo has developed its own unique carnival culture, one befitting of this massive, cosmopolitan megacity where everything is possible. Now, for the first time, people are actually flocking to the big city for the holiday, something unthinkable just a short time ago.
The backbones of São Paulo’s carnival are the hundreds of themed street parties, known as blocos or more affectionately, bloquinhos. During the weeks surrounding carnival (and the holiday itself, of course), São Paulo’s streets are full of these idiosyncratic celebrations, usually consisting of a whole lot of partying followed by a short parade. Blocos exist elsewhere in the country, but what makes São Paulo’s blocos special is their diversity and variety, particularly when it comes to music. Carnival in Rio means samba. In Salvador, it’s all about axé. In Recife, you’ll only hear forró. In São Paulo, all bets are off. Anything and everything is allowed. Here are some of the bloquinhos which are shaping up to be the best at this year’s São Paulo carnival.
Acadêmicos do Baixo Augusta
Founded in 2009, Acadêmicos do Baixo Augusta was created to celebrate the diversity and revitalization of the Baixo Augusta neighborhood, one of the city’s major nightlife hubs. Nine years on, it has become the city’s biggest bloco, with 2017’s parade attracting an estimated 500,000 revelers. The organization has been militant in the fight to maintain and expand carnival celebrations in São Paulo, as well as advocating for the right to leisure and the occupation of public spaces. Often their parades can take on a bit of a political edge, all in the midst of plenty of glitter, flamboyant costumes and lots of dancing.
The bloco gathers at the top of Paulista Avenue at the crossing with the other major road, Rua da Consolação, and continues all the way down Consolação and into the historic center.
One of the most traditionally themed blocos in São Paulo is Casa Comigo, which literally translates as “marry me”, meaning the costume of choice for girls (and boys) at Casa Comigo is, predictably, a wedding dress and tiara. The crowd is quite young, largely made up of teenagers, and as such is very busy and can get pretty raucous, but the atmosphere is fun and it is the ideal place to find your carnival romance.
Another popular theme for bloquinhos in São Paulo is to honor famous musicians and bands, from all sorts of genres. There’s a Bowie bloco, one in homage of famous crooner Sidney Magal (think Brazilian Tom Jones) and one for forró superstar Alceu Valença. One of the most famous of these blocos is Ritaleena, a party created in 2015 to celebrate Brazilian rock singer Rita Lee – one of the most important figures in the Tropicalia scene of the 60s and 70s.
Making its debut on the São Paulo carnival calendar in 2017, Sereianos goes into its sophomore year already being one of the most talked-about blocos in the city. With its maritime theme (that means sailors and mermaids), it was one of the best parties in town last year and is set to continue that in 2018. Sereianos is 100% LGBT friendly and has an atmosphere which is reminiscent of São Paulo’s massive LGBT Pride Parades. Prepare to hear lots of Brazilian pop music and inhale kilos of glitter.
Started in 2000, Monobloco is one of the most traditional carnival street parties of Rio de Janeiro, which since 2016 has held its own parades in São Paulo and Belo Horizonte. Being from Rio, the music is very typical of carnival in the Cidade Maravilhosa, which means lots and lots of samba. This year, Monobloco will gather outside Ibirapuera Park to the south of the city and it’s probably the closest you will get to Rio carnival in São Paulo.
An excellent example of the curious and diverse parties that São Paulo’s carnival throws up is Bloco Bollywood. Despite not having a notable presence of Indian immigrants in the city, a group of Indian expats managed to put together their own bloco a few years ago and it has been growing exponentially ever since. Parading down Rua Augusta, dancing to bhangra music and singing famous Bollywood songs in an infectious, joyous atmosphere, this is what São Paulo’s carnival is all about.
A Espetacular Charanga do França
Created by Thiago França, member of the excellent Brazilian fusion band Metá Metá, A Espetacular Charanga do França has quickly become one of São Paulo’s favorite blocos. Led by França’s brass band, the party goes through the streets of the neighborhood of Santa Cecilia, playing brass versions of classic Brazilian songs (and a few international pop classics), which are impossible not to dance to.
Tarado Ni Você
Brazil’s carnival is also known for its connection with the concept of free love. What happens at carnival, stays at carnival. In São Paulo, the bloco that best represents this is Tarado Ni Você, which is a tribute to Brazilian pop superstar Caetano Veloso. The name is a reference to one of Caetano’s songs, and literally translates as “Horny For You”, so you can see where this is going.
With a superb atmosphere, great music and a parade through some of the most emblematic spots of São Paulo’s old downtown, Tarado Ni Você never lets you down and should not be missed.