The Rio 2016 Olympics organizers promised the Brazilian show in the Olympic handover of the London 2012 closing ceremonies would be “without clichés.” Well, it was close. This definitely wasn’t a Rio postcard with dental floss bikinis from the ’80s! It was far more suave, courageous and yet still grand. However, someone could make the case that their whole piece was full of clichés: samba, foot-ee-bol, and pretty ladies. But before we jump on the show’s producers with our holier than thou critiques, let’s remember that this was a presentation made for an international audience. It’s an audience not as well versed in the vivencia brasileira as we are, and  no one can compare to the absolute horrid cheesiness of what the Brits did (the classic rock and military references!?! c’mon seriously, anybody?). Also, let’s remember this is one of the world’s biggest spectacles. Over the top and cheesy are the name of the game, and  considering the grandness of it all … it was alright.

Ok, the Brazilian show … “Brazil, the country of the multicultural embrace.

Right from the start, with the appearance of (Renato) Sorriso, the man who sweeps the grounds of Rio’s Sambódromo and is famous for his samba, I knew that the Brazilians had gone with a mix of safe and edgy. Sorriso is a real dude, transported from that carnival world where every year he has a few minutes of fame, to something more international. The theatre of the security guard trying to samba was cute, international, understandable by all.

A sudden and abrupt rhythmic stroke by the bateria of G.R.E.S. (aka samba school) Portela and … silence … enter Marisa Monte … the muse of all of Brasil, as the mermaid of the sea, singing a tune incredibly reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to the film The Mission. Her enormous costume and her sweet voice focused one’s eyes and ears to the tube. And right on cue, enter the neon-clad natives performing a ritualistic dance.

Ok… this part I kinda cringed. Having just come back from the Peoples Summit (Cúpula dos Povos) at Rio+20 and having witnessed the speeches about the displacement of native Brazilians, and seeing how there is a movement against the Belo Monte Dam project which would destroy the Xingu river basin and forcibly displace and alter the lives of thousands of natives, this embrace of the heritage that is currently being destroyed, seemed a bit, let’s say … disingenuous and put on for gringo eyes. But, on with the show.

A burst of rhythm and the Caboclos de Lança came from all directions converging on the center stage, and soon after BNegão comes out singing the Chico Science anthem Maracatu Atômico (actually a Gil song) that rocked the maracatu for the international crowd! This was awesome.

Why is this important? Well, maracatu is from the northeast of Brazil and has only come into the popular consciousness in Brazil and the world in the last 10 years. This is a grand departure from the normal standard-issue samba (and only samba), and the inclusion of BNegão brought some street rapper credibility to the experience.  I still think it’s too bad BNegão couldn’t come out as himself rather than as a Chico Science stand-in, but I’m sure he doesn’t mind. Chico is Chico, ’nuff respect.

Alessandra Ambrósio came out looking all sultry and and oh-so-beautiful. I didn’t really get what she was doing there, but hey, I suppose she represents all the beautiful ladies of Brasil and her smile was infectious. She got into it too, singing along, dancing and waving to the crowd. Also, the ‘black power’ samba passistas wearing afro wigs were interesting, a bit comical and totally random, but still indicative of soul music scene in Rio and fun (the most important part).

Then came the capoeira. My capoeira friends, forgive me, but none of them played capoeira. They did execute an enormous amount of flips and moves, showing off their incredible acrobatic skills. The acrobatics and unique style of  capoeira moves never fail to impress, but the art of it was lost in the randomness.

Next to appear was Seu Jorge, the most incredible barritone, singing Wilson Simonal’s Nem Vem Que Não Tem. A modern phenomenon, Seu Jorge is the charme of the malandro in a new Brazil: real, suave,  from Rio, international in his career and with a fondness for the São Paulo urban life. Having hung out with him on his tour bus once, I can honestly say he is a cool man, and his dance moves aren’t too shabby. The ‘black power’ passistas and his dance with Alessandra Ambrosió suddenly made sense of it all. A hype party, sexy and romantic. My favorite part.

Next up: a series of ladies in white holding up plaques and choreographing a visual piece to an incredible track, and wicked live music, all before setting the cards down and recreating the famous calçada or sidewalk of Copacabana and Ipanema. Marisa Monte and Seu Jorge sang an incredible, sweet rendition of Aquele Abraço (or “That Embrace” — kinda like “that sweet hug”).

All of this culminated in the entrance on the stage of a mysterious character, who throws his hat and jacket off at the song peaks: None other than Pelé! The most famous athlete of the world’s most famous sport, singing along and motioning a big hug to the crowds, welcoming them to Rio. Although he never competed in the Olympics, few athletes are as beloved and revered as he is.

So our final verdict? Great-ed cheese. Oh so good, without pretentions, outrageous, and wholly Brazilian in all its glory, even with the problematic issues. The producers played it safe in a lot of ways, as they should have, but they were super contemporary in their execution. There was no Sergio Mendes and no Carmen Miranda (not that I don’t love Carmen Miranda). The music of course was fantastic, well produced and brought together thanks to our man Beto Villares, who also happens to be my personal favorite music producer from Brazil (I was shocked when I learned he produced the music side; I’d already been following him on Instagram! Check his music).

Having been to Rio and over much of the country, we can safely say that there are few places anywhere in the world that receive people with such a warm and friendly embrace as Rio de Janeiro does, hands down.  Positive vibrations to Rio and the Brazilian Olympic Committee!

Check the show for yourself! Show starts at 7min.

Rio is the host for the next summer Olympics, and in many ways it is impossible to avoid. Simply such a beautiful city! RIO2016 BLOG

More photos from the handover ceremony:

Marisa, mermaid on the waves

Sorriso, B Negão, Alessandra Ambrosió, and Beto Vilares

The incredible Marisa Monte