Rio Carnival 2012: A playlist of traditional Carnival songs

During Carnival, the city of Rio de Janeiro pulses with the sound of percussion. Music is an integral part of the Brazilian festival, and it doesn’t seem like you can turn a corner without hearing the infectious drum-driven beats of samba music or the sounds of drunken celebrants singing traditional marchinhas at the tops of their lungs. Particularly in the blocos, music is a binding force, bringing together people from all walks of life — young, old, rich, poor, black, white — in nostalgic beats and familiar lyrics.

In Rio, the spirit of Carnival doesn’t disappear on Ash Wednesday; the native cariocas manage to embody it year-round. With the following playlist of musical hits from Rio Carnival 2012, you can too.

Unidos da Tijuca 2012 Marchinha
The winner of Rio’s famous samba school parades composed this song particularly for Carnival 2012.

Monobloco Marchinha
The band from the Monobloco bloco became so popular, they now perform year-round in music venues across Rio.

A sub-style of samba, Batucada incorporates African drumbeats. This track, mixed by a popular DJ, will make you hit repeat.

Bloco do Sargento do Pimenta
Beatles, Brazilian-style? The Sargento do Pimenta (Sgt. Pepper) bloco specializes in Fab Four hits with a samba beat.

Marchinha Medley
Still don’t have enough samba? This one-hour medley has you covered.

Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.

Rio Carnival 2012: The hottest drag queen costumes

At Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, it was common to come across fully made-up men who had traded their Havaianas for high heels. Though some were experienced cross dressers and drag queens, others saw the holiday as an opportunity to get in touch with their more feminine sides. Costumes ranged from the elaborate (Sambadrome-style feathers, stilettos, fake lashes) to the scrappy (tiny skirt, hastily smeared lipstick).

Regardless of the intensity of their get-ups, you had to give it up to the cross dressers of Rio Carnival. I certainly couldn’t do a bloco in heels that high. The photo gallery below showcases ten of the hottest drag queen costumes that I encountered.


Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.

Rio Carnival 2012: Backstage at the Sambadrome parades

“Follow the feathers” was my strategy for finding the Sambadrome stadium in Brazil this past Sunday, the first evening of Rio Carnival‘s famed samba parades. The metro exit was packed with crowds moving in all different directions, so I had little choice but to follow the handful of people wearing large, extravagant costumes in front of me. They were obviously going where I needed to go.

The strategy worked out, because my costumed friends didn’t just lead me to the parade venue — they headed straight for the backstage staging area where hundreds of dancers and participants were being outfitted for the main event. As the costumed gentry walked through the security gates, I concealed myself in their feathers and followed along. Backstage access, secured.


The highlight of Rio de Janeiro‘s Carnival festivities, the Sambadrome parades are all-night marathon spectacles of samba school processions that take place over the Sunday and Monday of Carnival. The parades start at 8 p.m. and last until well past dawn, with about seven schools putting on elaborate shows of about an hour each.

Rio’s samba schools spend all year preparing for the parades, constructing huge floats, designing extravagant costumes, and of course, choreographing and practicing complex samba numbers. Each samba school chooses a theme and a story, usually related to some aspect of Brazilian culture. This year, for the first time, booklets were distributed to all guests that laid out each act of the parade, highlighted special celebrities, and listed the lyrics to each samba school’s signature marchinhas, or Carnival songs.

The work pays off. Thousands of people, Brazilians and tourists alike, pay up to $1500 for a chance to view the parades, and the results are followed as closely as the American Super Bowl. Schools are judged by ten categories, including theme, samba song, percussion band, harmony, flow and spirit, floats and props, costumes, vanguard group, flag carrying couple, and overall impression. This year, Unidas de Tijuca took the top prize, with a theme centered around folk singer Luiz Gonzaga and the culture of Brazil’s northeast region.

And the parades themselves? Breathtaking. The floats were massive, with mechanized figures and fountains. The costumes were gorgeous, and with the binoculars I borrowed from my neighbor, I could see the intricacies of the sequins and beading. The dancing was tremendous, and the 3,000 to 5,000 paraders exuded an energy that infected the entire stadium. Everyone was on their feet.

What words and photos can’t describe, hopefully this video can. Or, you could just start planning for next year.

Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.

Rio Carnival 2012: Best street foods for partying all day (and night)

It’s impossible to survive consecutive days of Carnival blocos, parties, and parades without adding hits of nutrition to your daily beer diet. For this, Rio de Janeiro’s street food vendors have you covered.

Street food can be found everywhere in Rio de Janeiro, particularly during big events like Carnival and New Year’s. Mobile carts and stands offer cheap, tasty Brazilian eats — vital for travelers struggling to stay on a budget in a city where a side order of restaurant french fries can cost upwards of 25 reais (US$14). Though much of the fare isn’t healthy by a long shot, there are specialties that will fill you up without throwing you into a food coma that will render you incapable anything beyond a nap on Ipanema Beach. Here’s what’s kept me going all week.

Brazil’s version of shish kabob, espetinhos are tasty morsels of barbequed meat on a stick. The most common are sausage and chicken, and many Brazilians add ketchup or hot sauce and throw some farinha de mandioca, a type of crunchy flour, on top.

Milho verde
After a few days at Carnival, you may start experiencing an intense craving for salad, greens, or any food that isn’t deep fried and over salted. Get your vegetable fix with boiled corn-on-the-cob, served with butter.

Quiejo coalho
For a shot of dairy, try quiejo coalho, a type of salty Brazilian cheese that is served grilled on a stick. Beware addiction.

If you’ve never tried fried tapioca, you’re in for a treat. Vendors cook the tapioca powder in a pan until it turns a pancake-like consistency, then they add a sweet or savory filling, like chocolate or dried meat. The Brazilian guys ahead of me recommended a traditional combination of coconut, sweet cheese, and condensed milk. Delicious.

Okay, so it’s not actually a food. And check out all that sugar! But ask your vendor to cut back on the white stuff and add extra lime, and you have a refreshing beverage that will keep you dancing in the streets late into the night. And that’s what you’re looking for, right?

Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.

Video of the Day: Adorable little girls dancing samba at Rio Carnival

The scene outside the Sambodrome stadium on the first night of Rio Carnival‘s famed samba school parades was madness. Hordes of people moved in all directions while scalpers hawked tickets, street vendors fried food, and costumed paraders maneuvered in huge feathered costumes. As far as Fat Tuesday celebrations go, this was tops.

In the middle of the chaos, these two talented little girls attracted a crowd with their quick samba moves, coy winks, and adorable smiles. What showboats! If Rio’s samba schools are recruiting for future parades, they need look no further. These girls provided as much entertainment as the show inside the stadium.

Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.