RIO DE JANEIRO — English speakers get their moment in the Carnival sun on Monday as a wild, Beatles-themed street party shakes it up, baby, with a samba swing to "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."
"Sargento Pimenta," Portuguese for "Sergeant Pepper," is one of more than 400 raucous street parties that spring up throughout Rio de Janeiro during Carnival season. Hundreds of thousands of people turn out for the largest of the "blocos," packed, sweaty open-air dance parties where the crowd sings along to a repetitive medley of Carnival songs — usually in Portuguese, of course.
As many as 850,000 tourists descend on Rio for the five-day-long Carnival free-for-all, and blocos offer plenty of nonverbal opportunities for fun: If drinking till you pass out doesn't suit your fancy, you might try racking up as many snogging partners as humanly possible during a single street party, a common Carnival game here.
But even with such tantalizing diversions, it must be acknowledged that singing along to the blasting music — usually played live by a band atop a sound truck, with a cordoned-off percussion section trailing behind — is at least half the fun.
Enter Sargento Pimenta, the brainchild of Gustavo Gitelman, a music lover and doctor by trade.
Gitelman quickly rounded up an enthusiastic group of Beatles aficionados — so many, in fact that the Fab Four became more of a Fab 70 at the party's debut last year.
The group gives the Beatles repertoire a Brazilian tweak, adapting "All My Loving" to the peppy beat of a traditional Carnival "marchinha," or march, and infusing "Hard Day's Night" with a Rio funk sound. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" morphs into a samba. Even the melancholic "Hey Jude" is spiked with an infectious upbeat energy.
All the songs are sung in English, much to the delight of Anglophone visitors, many of whom can fully participate in the bloco experience for the first time.
The group's debut last year was so successful that the crowd was packed so tight it became something of a health hazard. It has moved to a more spacious location for Monday's show. Tens of thousands of costumed revelers are expected to flood the Flamengo Park, off of Rio's iconic Guanabara Bay, for the event.
Sargento Pimenta is not the sole offbeat bloco offering. There's also the "Blocao," an animal-themed street party where pet owners in shorts and flip-flops parade their cats and dogs, dressed up as pirates, princesses and cave-pets; and Paraty, a coastal colonial city south of Rio, is home to the "Bloco da Lama," or "Mud Bloco," where revelers tramp through, dive into and otherwise cover themselves in sticky mud.
And for those who like to take a less participative role in Carnival celebrations, Rio's iconic Sambadrome samba school competition moves into its second and final day on Monday night.
Nearly 100,000 paying spectactors turn out for the all-night spectacle, which includes troupes of samba dancers whose costumes consist largely of body glitter and oversized feathered wings, older women in pup tent-sized hoop skirts and giant floats covered in outlandish, oversized decoration. The parade starts shortly after sundown and doesn't finish till dawn, with the winner out of the 13 participating schools announced later in the week.