Carnival in Natal - 2006
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Carnival in Natal is still very modest (read more here); in 2006 though it got much better.
Carnival in Brazil.
There are three major carnavals in Brazil:
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. A mega show, aimed at tourists. Plenty of money involved, from television, sponsors, governments, etc. The main event is a parade of samba schools; 60,000 people per night can watch the parade; there is a contest to elect the best samba school, and the winners celebrate the victory as though they had won the World Cup. This show has been broadcasted to the world for years, and fixed the image of Brazil as the country of samba.
Carnival in Salvador. Here, the event happens in the streets. The main attraction are the "trios elétricos", big trucks loaded with sound speakers. A band on top of the trucks plays bahian rythms, such as axé (which is very different from samba), and partiers follow, walking the streets. It is possible to watch the trucks and listen to the music at distance, but to get close to the trucks one must pay. This is almost exactly a description of Carnatal, an off-season carnival which happens in Natal in November or December of each year. Read more about Carnatal.
Carnival in Recife and Olinda. These are still the most popular carnivals in Brazil, in the sense that the populars make the party (not the media, not the bands); the State of Pernambuco has one of the richest cultures in Brazil; read more about Recife and Pernambuco. Olinda is even more popular than Recife: the carnival in Olinda happens in the hills of the city, where there is no room for trucks or stages; people bring their own party to the streets. In Recife, for the past years, the city government has fomented the so-called "carnival poles": the city sets up a stage, hires bands and musicians of high popular appeal, and, more important, pays the marketing of each pole; locals and visitors know where to go, at what time, to have party.
Carnival in Natal.
Carnatal has become the largest off-season carnival in Brazil; this is not little, considering that almost all capitals in Brazil, and many other cities, promote an off-season carnival. The vast majority of people attending Carnatal is of young tourists; to participate, one must pay a fee, which is outside the financial capabilities of most Brazilian families.
Carnival parades, similar to those of Rio, have been happening in Natal for years. There are also samba schools in Natal, which also fight for a championship. It didn't have much support from the government, though, because the middle class of Natal goes to the beaches during carnival and doesn't care about street parades; old timers complain that not even the Mayor of Natal or the Governor of Rio Grande do Norte stay in the city to watch the carnival. Official support is important in a few different ways: support to the samba schools; alocation of public services to the area of the event; divulgation of the event.
In 2006, the government of Natal tried to bring carnival back to the city.
The Samba Schools Parade, which happens in Ribeira, near the port, was well organized; plenty of police and ambulances standing by; transit was made easier (the middle class, as usual, took their cars and chaotic transit to the beaches). Watching the parade is free; few tourists, even fewer foreigners. Many families with their children.
Natal imported the idea which worked wonderfully in Recife: the poles. Four poles were created: Ribeira (place of the parades), Historic Center, Redinha and Ponta Negra. Carnival in Redinha has been for years the most popular in Natal, much like Olinda: people make their own schedule, own music, own parade. In the poles, the city government paid for the stage, the singers and bands, the marketing. Singers, as far as I could see, are locals, who know the culture of carnival in Natal, and talented.
All events happened in peace and order; as usual, caution with valuables is advised, and so is moderation with alcohol.
For good and for bad, carnival in Natal is still far from the grandness of other cities. Hardcore carnival partiers must go to Rio, Salvador or Recife. For travellers who want to have a contact with this important Brazilian festivity, Natal is a good choice.
Below, the material prepared by the City of Natal to divulgate the carnivals in the different poles of Natal in 2006.
Check out some photos of the Samba Schools Parade in Natal.
Check out some photos of the Historic Center Carnival Pole.
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