There was a day when those who didn’t enjoy samba, frevo, axé and the other handful of rhythms that fueled Brazilian street carnival were simply out of luck. But over the past few years, Rio de Janeiro has seen a boom of theme blocos (“blocks”) — groups that pay tribute to particular Brazilian or international artists and musical styles with percussion-driven renditions of decidedly non-Carnivalesque fare.
Theme blocos add to the fun with costumes and props centered on their theme of choice, but wacky though they may be, this is also a business: popular theme blocos can turn their hobby into a part-time gig, performing stage shows in Rio and elsewhere before, during and after carnival.
Bloco Aperta Que Eu Gosto
Aperta Que Eu Gosto performs hits by Bob Marley and other reggae greats. They parade in the North Zone neighborhood of Grajaú and have been stoner favorites since 2012.
Bloco Bésame Mucho
Locals and Latin American immigrants came together in a bloco that performs carnival-style renditions of Latin music classics in the Santa Teresa neighborhood.
Bloco Cru has been around since 2009, performing samba-rock versions of alt rock favorites from Nirvana, The White Striped and the like. They started out parading in Botafogo but now play an annual stationary show at Praça XV.
Bloco do Sargento Pimenta
Proving that the drawing power of the Fab Four is undiminished in the 21st century, “Sgt. Pepper’s Bloco” is arguably Rio’s most successful theme bloco. Founded in 2010, they’ve been drawing crowds of over 100,000 to their annual parades at Flamengo Park, in addition to performing in London during the 2012 Olympics and even entertaining Prince Harry and other VIPs during a royal visit to Rio in the same year.
Bloco Love Stones
Guess which other British Invasion group Bloco Love Stones is all about? They’ve been around since 2014, and their agenda is limited to stage shows.
Bloco Thriller Elétrico
Also launched in 2012, Thriller Elétrico specializes in Michael Jackson and Jackson Five hits. They also don’t parade, performing a stationary show in the Vila Isabel neighborhood with about 50 amateur as well as professional percussionists and musicians.
Founded in 2010, Cinebloco specializes in Hollywood blockbuster themes and has earned a large following. They parade through various neighborhoods and also perform onstage.
Go East Orkestar
Go East, an annual festival celebrating Balkan culture in Rio de Janeiro since 2007, spun off this 28-piece brass band that mixes Brazilian and Eastern European music with whatever else they feel like. Alas, is looks like they will be retiring after carnival 2016.
New Kids on the Bloco
Boy-band music goes carnival: it had to be a hit, and it is. New Kids on the Bloco have gained a large following since their 2013 launch, drawing a crowd of 180,000 to Copacabana in 2015, performing several stage shows and even releasing an EP late last year.
Super Mario Bloco
Founded in 2012, Super Mario Bloco parades in the Santa Teresa neighborhood. This geek favorite performs everyone’s favorite vintage video game tunes, with props and costumes to match.