Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2023: North Zone Street ‘Sambúrbio’ Parades Keep Carnival Alive At Its Roots

Original art by Natália S. Flores

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Rio de Janeiro’s carnival is famous worldwide for its samba school parades at the Marquês de Sapucaí Sambadrome and the big street parties—known as blocos—which attract huge crowds in Central Rio and the South Zone. Tourists from other cities, states, and countries occupy hotels, fill the beaches, dress up in costumes, go around these two zones of the city, and think they know the Rio carnival. Yet, despite this being the carnival publicized in commercials and marketing and which gets extensive coverage by the mainstream media, carnival in Rio is much more that this. Carnival in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone where the festival first developed, isn’t generally seen as part of the tourist carnival circuit. The carnival industry effectively disjoins the festival from its origins.

Gregório (Sambúrbio creator and owner of Casa de Jorge), Tatiana and Wállace (Sambúrbio directors), at the 1st Sambúrbio, 2022. Photo: Personal archive

The first samba school contest was held in the North Zone. In 1929, Zé Espinguela, founder of the Estação Primeira de Mangueira samba school, opened up his home—now the Arranco do Engenho de Dentro Samba School—so that the ranchos carnavalescos [the forerunners of today’s samba schools] of the time could compete and determine the best carnival presentation: Mangueira, Conjunto Oswaldo Cruz (now Portela), and Deixa Falar (the first ever samba school, which led to today’s Estácio de Sá). Almost a century later, there’s a similar movement just a few kilometers away in Quintino Bocaiúva: the Sambúrbio.

Established in 2022, Sambúrbio is the shortened name for the Rio de Janeiro Suburban Street Blocos League. The project aims to revitalize street carnival in the post-industrial, heavily populated North Zone suburbs, recovering its local character and maximizing the potential of the Greater Madureira region. The idea is to host big carnival processions like those of the past. Gregório Filho, 57, is a Quintino resident, creator of Sambúrbio, and owner of the neighborhood samba stronghold Casa de Jorge. He explains:

“The idea of having a parade bringing suburban street blocos together is giving our region a different type of leisure activity. This is why the League is called Sambúrbio. Our aim is for suburban blocos to gain more respect and more life, like the blocos in the South Zone which have public investment and receive support from various entities. We’re trying to do this here, to give more leisure and represent residents.” — Gregório Filho

Three neighborhood blocos took part in the first Sambúrbio parade in 2022. The Suburban League podium had the Alegria de Quintino samba school as champion, Bola Club in second place, and Quem é Corno Me Acompanha in third. According to event organizers, 600 people attended the 2022 Sambúrbio Carnival in the streets of Quintino.

Mário Porto, president of Alegria de Quintino, 2022 Sambúrbio champion, adorned with special award medals for his team: Grabbing the Avenue and Union Team. Photo: Personal archive

As well as the competition trophies for best bloco, the event gave medals to teams as special awards for certain aspects. In 2022, blocos were awarded in the following categories:

  • Grabbing the Avenue (enthusiasm) ⇒ Alegria de Quintino
  • People’s Team ⇒ Quem é Corno Me Acompanha
  • Union Team (fair-play) ⇒ Alegria de Quintino
  • Best Master of Ceremonies and Flag Bearer Couple ⇒ João Fernandes, also known as “Joãozinho Flusudo,” and Ana Vitória, both from Bola Club
  • Best Performance ⇒ Léo Garcia, from Bola Club
  • Best Original Samba ⇒ Neguinho, Tide, Oswaldo de Quintino, Leandro Rocha, and Léo Gargia, from Bola Club
  • Best Rhythm Section ⇒ Mestre Grelha, from Alegria de Quintino
  • Best Personality ⇒ Flauzina Macedo da Rocha, from Bola Club

All the categories are judged by a jury selected by the organization. These are generally renowned samba figures from the region which have no connection with the teams competing at carnival.

For its second edition in 2023, the Sambúrbio parade took place from 3-9pm on carnival Sunday, February 19. The blocos gathered on Rua da República in Quintino and paraded up to the neighborhood bandstand in Praça da República. The Sambúrbio 2023 parade was supported by the Rio de Janeiro State Culture Secretariat which offered trophies for the three top winners and medals for the special awards. The event took advantage of infrastructure supplied by the North Zone Sub-Mayor’s Office for the Praça da República carnival and Sambúrbio supplies sound cars for the blocos taking part.

The League is still growing. Four days before the start of 2023’s carnival, Sambúrbio had six carnival groups confirmed for the parade: Alegria de Quintino, Bola Club, Quem é Corno Me Acompanha, Vem Mamar, Banda dos Emotivos, and Tô na Merda. Of these, only Vem Mamar isn’t from Quintino, coming from Taquara.

Sambúrbio 2022 Carnival prize trophies. Photo: Bola Club Bloco

One of the Bola Club bloco founders, Leandro Rocha, 37, explains the importance of Sambúrbio and initiatives that put the recovery of samba memory in the streets, above all for suburban residents.

“A region that has big samba schools like Império Serrano and Portela, as well as smaller ones like Rosa De Ouro, Arrastão de Cascadura, and Tradição, doesn’t appear in the listings of street bloco guides. Aside from the Intendente Magalhães parade, residents in the suburbs don’t have the means to go to South Zone and there are few options to enjoy the street carnival in our own suburb.” — Leandro Rocha

At the 1st Sambúrbio during the 2022 carnival, Ana Vitória (Bola Club flag bearer), Carliana Muniz (first lady), Leandro Rocha (Bola Club president), Nícolas Vieira (rhythm and under-11 team player), Dayane França dos Santos (vice-president), Guilherme Arthur (rhythm and now under-14 player), Oswaldo de Quintino (composer), Adriano Neguinho (Vem Mamar composer and president), and Bhianca Cristine (mother of the two boys and Bola Club fiscal council president). Behind, Samuel (rhythm) and Mestre Carlos Alberto (drumming director). Photo: Personal archive

The organization is dreaming big: they long for Sambúrbio to be part of Rio de Janeiro’s official street blocos listings for the 2024 carnival, or even for an out-of-season carnival in 2023:

Gregório (Sambúrbio creator and Casa de Jorge owner), Wállace (Sambúrbio director), Oswaldo de Quintino (Bola Club composer), and Leandro Rocha (Bola Club composer and president) at the 1st Sambúrbio in 2022. Photo: Personal archive

“There’s a proposal from the City to do [an out-of-season] carnival with street blocos at the Sambadrome in July 2023 [called CarnaRio]. I don’t know where this proposal stands, but once Sambúrbio has been made official, I think we should ask for recognition from Riotur [Rio tourism body] and the top three blocos should participate.” — Leandro Rocha

Sambúrbio doesn’t yet have social media or official contact channels, like a lot of the blocos referenced in this report. To sign a bloco up for the parade or for more information, get in touch with organizer Gregório Filho via WhatsApp: +55 (21) 992179950. 

About the author: Felipe Migliani has a degree in journalism from Unicarioca with a focus on Investigative Journalism. Working as an independent journalist and freelance reporter at Meia Hora and Estadão newspapers, he collaborates with the Coletivo Engenhos de Histórias, which investigates and recovers history and memories from the Grande Méier region, and with PerifaConnection.

About the artist: Natalia de Souza Flores was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone and is a member of Brabas Crew. With a degree in Graphic Design from Unigranrio in 2017, she has worked as a designer since 2015. She launched a magazine of collective comics called ‘Tá no Gibi’ in 2017 at the Rio Book Biennial. Her main themes are based in African culture, using cyberpunk, wicca and indigenous elements. 

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