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Carnival Is Underway In Brazil, So It's Time To 'Let The Chicken Out'

Feb 12, 2018
Originally published on February 12, 2018 10:39 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's Carnival time in Brazil, and NPR's Philip Reeves says there's more to it than the annual parades and costumes. Phil says if you want to really understand what it's about, you have to hit the streets.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Brazilians say Carnival is about dropping your inhibitions and letting your emotions out. They have a phrase for this - soltar a franga, to release the inner chicken. You know this chicken. It's the chicken inside you that makes you moonwalk at a wedding party when you don't know how - that chicken.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: Chickens are certainly coming out here. We're in Rio in a bohemian neighborhood called Lapa. This is one of the city's hundreds of street parties, or blocos, held during Carnival season. There are kings and clerics, pirates and nymphs, dancing rabbits and emperors with almost no clothes. Every few yards someone's selling ice-cold cans of beer to help lure out those chickens.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

REEVES: Brazilians tend to see Carnival as the moment that marks the end of one year and the start of another. Last year was tough here thanks to a stubborn recession, a massive corruption scandal and a surge in violent crime. Yet for many, Carnival's more about releasing tensions created by personal battles in daily life. We've come to Piedade, a suburb of northern Rio. Its low-lying homes and scuffed-up streets have the weary look of a place struggling to get by. Residents here are preparing for their party. They've held one on this street for the past 27 years. Milena Rodrigues went to the first when she was a baby and has never missed one.

MILENA RODRIGUES: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "I'm going to let out my inner chicken," says Rodrigues. "I'll move my hips and samba. This is the moment when everyone's happy." The past year wasn't easy for her. There was joy - she had her second baby - but also worry. She says her husband's a taxi driver whose incomes dropped sharply because of competition from Uber. They can't afford a house around here, so they live in a rough part of town more than one hour away.

RODRIGUES: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Rodrigues says she misses her family terribly. Here in Piedade, she has uncles, aunts and cousins. They're all going to the party. The party is called Uncle Marco's bloco after one of the founders, Marco Nepomuceno. He's 63 and walks with a crutch because of a stroke a few years back. This hasn't stopped him leading the street party. It started out being for kids. Now everyone joins in. They seem to know the bloco's song by heart.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: I ask Uncle Marco if it'd be OK to release that inner chicken at the party.

MARCO NEPOMUCENO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "If that's what you'd like," he says.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

REEVES: Fireworks signal the street party's about to start. The band warms up.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR MUSIC)

REEVES: And a crowd slowly gathers, about a thousand in all, beneath the setting sun with wigs, hats and tutus, ready to release a year's worth of tension.

NEPOMUCENO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Eventually Uncle Marco waves his crutch aloft and leads the party in a slow parade down the street followed by a car loaded with ice-cold beer to lure out those inner chickens. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Portuguese).

(SOUNDBITE OF DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND'S "BLACKBIRD SPECIAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.