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On February 29, the carnival bloco “Bless Yourself, It’ll All Work Out” paraded through the streets of Complexo da Maré, in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone.
The cloudy day did not keep residents from singing and having fun in the favelas that make up the territory.
You could feel the joy in the air even before the bloco began to parade from its concentration point on Rua São Jorge, in Nova Holanda, one of the 16 favelas that make up Complexo da Maré.
From the warming up of the drums to the end of the parade, children and other residents joined in the party, drawing attention and provoking smiles from all those around them.
The bloco, launched in 2005 by a group of residents that included the late Marielle Franco, Councilwoman and Maré resident murdered in 2018, and Renata Souza, currently State Deputy and also a resident of Maré, is now in its 15th edition.
Along with the drum section accompanying the parade was a giant puppet representing Dona Orosina, the first resident of Maré, recovering local memory and entertaining the children passing by.
Renata Souza, present for the 15th edition of the parade, affirmed the bloco’s importance to reaffirm residents’ right to come and go—to circulate—freely.
“The idea came about as a possibility to overcome, with joy and samba, the barriers imposed by armed groups in Maré that dispute the territory, for the right to come and go. But this only grew, becoming a political and cultural movement, with the occupation of the street, with a debate about the city,” she said.
Souza added: “For this reason, sambas have always recovered memory in Maré and made social critiques, especially against the security policy that does not guarantee human dignity in the favela. We always do sign-making workshops with children about the oppressions and revindications of the favela. Our motto is ‘Come out into the streets, residents.’ This stands in contrast to orders given by the police during police operations that say, ‘Get out of the streets, residents.'”
“And our symbol is the leaf of the herb-of-grace plant, in order to protect us and shield our passage. That’s why the bloco’s name is “Bless Yourself, It’ll All Work Out,” said Souza.
Geandra Nobre of Cia Marginal, a Maré theater company, lights up the crowd.
Leonardo Melo, raised in Maré, has participated in the bloco since its first iteration. “The main motivation for the creation of the bloco was residents’ difficulty of internal circulation between the different favelas that make up Maré. When we said that our goal was to cross all of Maré, some laughed and called us crazy. There could be no response other than: ‘Bless Yourself, It’ll All Work Out!'” said Melo.
The “Bless Yourself, It’ll All Work Out” bloco demonstrated that, more than just a carnival parade, it is a political act, as it invites residents to take the streets of their community, showing that the favela is a place of parties and leisure as well.
“The bloco has established itself as an important movement for cultural resistance and contestation around the theme of the criminalization of poverty and social movements,” said Melo.
Concerning the difficulties faced in putting together the parades, Melo said they differed little from those faced by other blocos in the city. “We don’t have any support at all, either from the public sector or private organizations. In one of our sambas, we sing ‘[even] without money, allegory, or rehearsal, we won’t quit parading.’ This has been our history.”
Different from other blocos, however, “Bless Yourself and It’ll All Work Out” has a history that could “be confused for the urban history of Rio de Janeiro,” said Melo. “We had the period of the Pacifying Police Units (UPPs), of the military occupation of Maré, the mega-events cycle. We suffered under the mandates of [Mayors] Cesar Maia, Eduardo Paes, [Governors] Sergio Cabral, Pezão. We witnessed the right and wrong moves of the Lula and Dilma governments (the military occupation, for example, took place during the latter), we went through the parliamentary coup during the time of [President] Temer. And now we have Bolsonaro, who is against everything the bloco believes. This is without mentioning the epidemics of dengue and coronavirus. All of this affects Maré head-on, as the [government] neglect [here] is huge.”
“Anyway, all this became and still becomes an input for the creation of sambas and parades with a critical tone, which help us hold public authorities responsible for actions in Maré. With this, we work with the idea of ‘fun without alienation,'” Melo added.
“And it is with this message that we hope to stay connected to one another and to our Maré, which is one of the most incredible places in Rio de Janeiro. Speaking of Maré as a place of resistance may be the central message that we have built collectively,” he finished.
Gabriel Loiola, born and raised in Complexo do Alemão, in the city’s North Zone, is a photographer and advertiser. He collaborated in the Praça do Conhecimento (Plaza of Knowledge) project in Alemão’s Nova Brasilia favela.
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