Politics and protest at São Paulo's street parties

By Katy Watson
BBC South America correspondent, São Paulo

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image captionA carnival-goer wears a headdress decorated with the phrase "Love and Resistance"

São Paulo was always thought of as Rio de Janeiro's boring cousin during carnival. The city that people used to leave to go and have some fun.

But this year, Brazil's biggest city is home to the largest number of street parties, or blocos. There are 870 in all, starting before carnival this weekend and carrying on afterwards. That compares with 384 in Rio.

image captionThousands of people attend the parties every year

The growth in São Paulo's carnival has come about with the support of the city's authorities. They've introduced regulations in recent years to encourage street parties and provided infrastructure to allow them to happen.

image captionOrganiser Ale Natacci says the growth of carnival in Sao Paulo "has a lot to do with the desire to occupy the streets"

"There was a time when they used to say the street was a place just for cars and we said, 'No it isn't, the street is a place for people'," says Ale Natacci, the President of Associação Cultural Acadêmicos do Baixo Augusta bloco - the biggest in São Paulo.

image captionRevellers dance in the streets of Sao Paulo
image captionSo-called "sound cars" drive through the streets carrying party-goers and musicians during the festival

The Acadêmicos do Baixo Augusta bloco was one of the first. It started off as a bit of fun between friends but every year it's grown. It's estimated a million people turned up last Sunday.

And it's paid off.

image captionMusician Simoninha says Academicos has always been an activist concept

"It is big business, people come to Sao Paulo, stay in hotels, go to restaurants, get to know the city," says singer Wilson Simoninha, another of the bloco's founders.

"The city understood that if it was organised, it could earn more, in addition to being able to show our culture and bring free entertainment to people," he says. "We get private sponsors, no government sponsorship, everything is private. We can make this party beautiful."

image captionThe festival has been running for 11 years

Every year there's a theme - it's a very activist bloco. This year's theme is "long live resistance".

image captionMany people mocked the government by wearing T-shirts with the name of a fake "Ministry of Counterculture"

"This year, the theme was easy, it was a gift," says Ale, referring to accusations of censorship by Jair Bolsonaro's government.

"Culture is being marginalised and we thought it was important to say no, culture is very important, it creates jobs. Carnival is culture, it is democracy, so we come to speak in favour of democracy, freedom of expression and culture."

image captionA man wears a cape emblazoned with the phrase "shameless left"

People dress up for the street parties and this year's theme saw people don political outfits, sending up the right-wing government.

image captionCarolina Lazameth says the carnival is a political act for her

Carolina Lazameth is a teacher from Macapa (Amazon) and she wore a headband with the phrase 'Who did you vote for?'

"The government in power has made serious attacks towards culture. For me carnival is as much protest as political act," she says.

"I see my body as a political act. So I think it's important in making fun, that anyone who comes up to me knows who I voted for so there's no surprises."

image captionPeople dress up for the street parties
image captionIt's estimated a million people turned up for the Acadêmicos do Baixo Augusta bloco

Of the carnival's importance, Simoninha is in no doubt.

"There is no more powerful weapon to fight against any of these injustices or these angry manifestations than love and joy," he says. "Carnival belongs to everyone. To children, to liberals, to conservatives."

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