The stars of this year’s Brazilian Carnaval: Current (unfortunate) events

Carnaval celebrations are kicking off this Friday in Brazil. This year, in the midst of a devastating economic crisis, Zika epidemic, and numerous corruption scandals, current events will play an even more prominent role in the celebrations than usual.

In Rio, health care workers are dressing up as mosquitoes and singing songs to raise awareness about Zika.

In Brasilia, groups have been learning the lyrics and choreography inspired by protests that took place in Fortaleza last December.

One of the stars of this year’s festivities is sure to be the police officer Newton Ishii, known as the “Japanese Fed” (o japones da federal), who has become a national hero after being repeatedly photographed during the arrests of prominent figures accused of corruption. There is a popular Carnaval song devoted to him, and he has been turned into a giant figure traditional in the Carnaval of Olinda.

In the country’s most famous Carnaval celebrations, in Rio, one samba school’s parade will feature clowns engaging in a panelaço, a type of popular protest in which people beat on pots and pans, as a way of referencing dissatisfaction with corruption in Brazil.

The current crises are not only being expressed through the themes of the Carnaval celebrations. Financial difficulties have been prominent this year, with important Rio samba schools slashing their budgets because they were unable to secure corporate sponsorships.

Budget cuts and lack of public support have marked Carnaval celebrations all across the country. While the big players in Rio and Sao Paulo, among others, have managed to make do, over 50 smaller cities have cancelled their celebrations entirely, opting instead to devote funds to expenditures on health care, education and infrastructure.