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Obama, Beyonce honoured at Rio Carnival

Rio de Janeiro’s top samba schools paid tribute to black people who have made their mark on world and Brazilian history as the city’s Carnival parades kept the party vibe going for a second night.

Representations of politicians such as Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama and artists such as singer Beyonce and actor Chadwick Boseman were part of the Paraiso do Tuiuti parade on Saturday.

Paraiso do Tuiuti was one of 12 schools in the so-called Special Group that provided music and colour to the Sambadrome, a 700-metre catwalk in the centre of Rio de Janeiro.

Crowds were delighted with the return of Carnival, which was cancelled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was first time the event had been cancelled since the inaugural Carnival in 1840.

The Paraiso do Tuiuti parade also highlighted personalities such as American activist Angela Davis and showed stories of struggle, such as that of Mary Winston Jackson, NASA’s first space engineer, who, at the beginning of her career, had to work in a “black-only” division.

Prominent Brazilian figures honoured included Mercedes Baptista, the country’s first black ballet dancer, and Zumbi dos Palmares, the warrior who led a slave rebellion.

El enredo – as the stories narrated by the parades are known in Brazil – began by showing the essence of black people, their origin, culture and achievements. It was an invitation to break down barriers and stereotypes and for people of African descent to feel proud of their origin.

Each parade of the samba schools of the Special Group, a kind of “first division” among these artistic groups, has about 4000 people who tell their story using samba, stunning costumes and a high dose of creativity.

The diversity of their costumes and the majesty of the allegorical floats – some more 10 metres high – help make the parades of the Special Group the main attraction of the Rio Carnival.

Each of these schools has up to 70 minutes to cross the Sambadrome, with juries assessing them on criteria such as creativity, harmony, costumes and composition.

The champion samba school will be announced on Tuesday, which will mark the end of the 2022 edition of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival.

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