Get an insight into the carnival energy by watching a short film of the parade’s 2019 edition above.
“Community, love, and revolution”: An interview with carnival parade producer Rodrigo Guima
Characterized by decadent, colorful costumes, samba dancers, and infectious musical rhythms, carnival is a major celebration in Brazil that takes place on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. This year, however, for the second year running, carnival events across the country have been canceled in response to the global pandemic, with only a few aspects of the parade being postponed until April.
Before the news was announced, we conducted an interview with Rodrigo Guima. affectionately known as Guima, he is the creative director of Tarado Ni Voce, a carnival parade in São Paulo pushing the boundaries of carnival aesthetics and celebrating the work of renowned Brazilian musical artist Caetano Veloso.
As Guima and his team prepared for carnival 2022, he spoke to us about the history of carnival, the differences between parades across the country, and what was planned for this year’s edition of Tarado Ni Voce. He also highlighted the socio-political importance of carnival, how this year’s would have been extremely significant as Brazil faces another presidential election, and even presciently predicted the cancellation. Keep reading to discover the full interview.
COLORS: How would you describe carnival to someone who had never heard of it before?
Rodrigo Guima: The short way to describe carnival is to say that it’s a large celebration that happens once a year for four days. But, for me, carnival is about community, love, and revolution. Physical bodies, and all of the questions relating to physical bodies are at the center of the experience.
Some research says that carnival has its roots in antiquity, and that in Ancient Greece and Egypt they would also have a popular celebration in line with the arrival of Spring. Other people think that it originates from the cult of the goddess Isis. carnival arrived in Brazil as a result of colonization by the Portuguese. It was originally called Entrudo, which translates to English as ‘introduction’. At the time it was basically a violent street game where all kinds of abuse and atrocities were permitted. It was common for the Black slaves to throw water, eggs, powder, and rotten oranges at eachother in the streets, while the rich, white families would have fun in their homes, throwing buckets of dirty water on people from their windows.
Obviously things are quite different now: even though a degree of classism remains, the celebration has become very popular in Brazil and now involves music, local customs, and is more democratic. But the essence of playing games, and being allowed to break away from the rigidity of everyday life and social structures is still very important to the festival.
COLORS: Why do you think carnival still holds so much significance in Brazil today?
RG: Carnival is a time of the year where you allow yourself to do things that would usually be condemned by society, or religion for example. You can externalise the pressure of the oppressive capitalist and fanatically religious world we live in right now. For me, it’s an opportunity to remove social masks—which is ironic as people wear physical masks during carnival—and be yourself. A writer once said: we don’t celebrate carnival because we are happy, but because we are sad most of the time.
“Carnival is an opportunity to remove social masks and to be yourself.”
COLORS: Can you remember the first carnival you ever went to? What was it like?
RG: I’m not sure if it was the first carnival I ever went to, but I remember one year there was a project called Vagaband (a combination of the words “vagabond” and “band”). They had a really small truck. On it there were lots of men dressed like women. We followed the truck around my neighbourhood: at the time I lived in an area in the outskirts of Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Gerais. I don’t remember the music exactly, but it was some kind of “marchinhas”, a type of samba music played specifically for carnival. This is my first memory.
COLORS: You grew up in Minas Gerais but now live in São Paulo. How does carnival differ between states in Brazil?
RG: The biggest carnival scenes are in Rio, Bahia, São Paulo, and Olinda. Some of the biggest differences are in the musical rhythms and local customs. In Rio, there’s the old street carnival where supposedly everything started. There, it’s all about samba: the big samba schools in the city work all year to try to win the parade competition.
Bahia is where axé music comes from, which is really important to the carnivals there. It’s also where they have the culture of Trio elétricos, which are trucks with huge sound systems and bands playing underneath them. Frevo, a musical style, is very prominent in carnivals in Olinda. There, they also create 2 metre high dolls, statues, or figures that are paraded down the streets alongside the people.
I would say São Paulo is special and unique in the fact that it’s a huge cosmopolitan city, so the carnival there is a big mix of all the different cultures, rhythms and musical styles from across the country. São Paulo is a concrete jungle, there are no green areas, or beaches, and the streets were made for cars rather than people. For me, when carnival is on the streets, the people become the fauna and the flora that is missing. We bring the color to this grey city.
“Just being an artist in Brazil right now is political.”
COLORS: You founded your own carnival parade, Tarado Ni Voce, with a group of friends. What inspired you to do this?
RG: It was a combination of things. Me and my friends all wanted to create a new experience and to bring the energy from Bahia to São Paulo. We also wanted to celebrate the work of Caetano Veloso, who is a singer and songwriter. He is from Bahia, and was an important figure in tropicalia: an art movement that arose in the 1960s and mixed together Brazilian and foreign traditions, as well as the popular and the avant-garde. It was really significant, because it came about when Brazil was living under a dictatorship.
For us, Caetano is one of the biggest poets in the country. He’s almost like our David Bowie. No matter what part of society you are from, you know Caetano: his music was actually used for a lot of soap operas when I was growing up in the ’80s. He sings for everyone, so he’s a great starting point. In 2018, our parade was actually asked to do a short performance at Virada Cultural 2018 in São Paulo. We invited Caetano to come and sing with us, and he accepted! It was a beautiful moment.
This year Caetano will celebrate his 80th birthday. It’s a really important year for us because it’s also our parade’s 10th anniversary, a presidential election year, the centenary of Brazil’s modern art week, and 200 years since Brazil gained independence. I shouldn’t say independence actually. I prefer to say 200 years of resilience in Brazil, because we’re still living with the effects of colonization.
COLORS: Where does the name Tarado Ni Voce come from?
RG: It’s the name of one of Caetano’s songs from the 2009 album ‘Zii e Zie’. In English it means something like “I’m crazy about you.” We thought it made sense for our parade because during carnival we always see people we are crazy about, whether they’re friends, crushes, or people you’ve just been pushed up against while dancing. It’s quite a funny name too.
150,000 people join our parade on the streets during carnival. It’s insane! As I was saying before, Sao Paulo really is a city made for cars, so it’s amazing to bring this amount of people onto the streets to dance together, which is what I think they should have been made for! Having all these people together also gives us the opportunity to send a message that can be remembered throughout the year.
COLORS: What kind of messages do you want to send with your parade?
RG: It depends on the year. It’s not about just choosing and creating a message, it’s about observing the world and understanding what people need right now.
COLORS: In 2020 your parade was politically driven, and very critical of the Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. What was this edition of the parade like? What motivated you to respond to the country’s political climate?
RG: Our focus on Bolsonaro actually started in 2018. For that edition of the parade, we chose the theme “profane” to fight against the rise of conservatism in Brazil. At that time, we didn’t know Bolsonaro was going to be president, because the carnival was in February and the election wasn’t until October. But there had already been a lot of cuts to cultural funding, a queer museum was closed down, and some performances were censored.
Since then, most of our parades have been influenced by the shift in Brazilian politics. In 2019 we choose the theme “Gente é pra brilhar!”. In English it means “people are made to shine.” We were trying to reconnect people with light during a very dark period. In 2020, the theme was “Terra Transe”, which translates as “earth trance.” We wanted to talk about politics in relation to the climate crisis, and particularly tragedies that were happening in Brazil. It’s quite overwhelming to think we were talking about “earth trance” just one month before the pandemic started.
Coming back to Bolsonaro, and the year he was elected, I think we realised that we had an opportunity and a platform to alert people, and to unite all the movements that are fighting for a better, fairer world. To build the parade we worked with many different singers and artists, most of whom were involved in politics. Just being an artist in Brazil right now is political. Everything is about politics.
“We need to remember how to dream again, and to dream collectively.”
COLORS: What’s the specific theme for this year?
RG: This year the theme is “Fúria y Sonho”, meaning “fury and dream” in English. Right now, we are living in “fury,” and we need a new force to come in to allow us to create a new world. We need to remember how to dream again, and to dream collectively. Then we’ll be able to move together to the next step.
COLORS: How do you translate your themes into the actual carnival experience?
RG: Once we’ve chosen the theme, we share it with everyone involved in the parade. As I’m the creative director, I create a big moodboard including color, makeup, and costume references so that everyone can understand what we’re going for and the process we have to go through. This year, for example, our color scheme is black, silver, and magenta. Black represents fury and grief, silver represents the metal silver which we have in large quantities in Brazil—we’re using it to represent the country’s Black population too—and magenta represents the dream. Magenta isn’t included in the color wheel. It technically doesn’t exist, it’s a combination of two colors. So magenta represents the dream because it’s something that you can’t see, but you can imagine.
The carnival is going to start in a “fury” state: all the first musicians, acts, performances, and artistic interventions are going to represent fury. Halfway through the parade, we’re going to change to a dream state. The switch from one mood to another will be a very special moment: we want to create a huge ritual to signify the shift. This will probably take place in front of the Municipal Theater, our halfway point.
COLORS: Why do you think that carnival, art, dance, and music are such effective means of protest?
RG: Carnival is all about using the body, heart, and mind to create a cathartic moment where people can realise things in the physical as opposed to the digital world. When you’re on the street for carnival, it’s all about reality. It’s not about mobile phones, computers, or televisions, it’s real life happening through our bodies.
“Dancing is powerful. It gives people a sense of freedom.”