Tonight: Carnaval Houston at Planeta Bar-Rio

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Carnaval, the four-day festival that precedes the beginning of Lent for Catholics, is probably Brazil's biggest Holiday. During this period (which officially ends at noon Ash Wednesday - people need their sleep), revelers take the streets and dance to the beat of the Afro-inspired drums of samba, Axe (pronounced a-shE), pagode (pa-go-dji) and other beats. Reportedly, some couples even go their separate ways during the festivities, returning home only after the parties are over - with no questions ever asked once the hangover is cured.

While the U.S. has nothing like that (save maybe Mardi Gras in New Orleans), Houston does get a piece of the action this evening, when Planeta Bar-Rio hosts the Brazilian Houston Carnaval, an event that is happening here for only the second time in response to the city's growing population of party-friendly Brazilians (mostly students and engineers hired by Petrobras, the national oil company of that country).

The party, includes a giant screen with a live feed from Rio de Janeiro (where they have the samba schools parade), scantily clad dancers, typical Brazilian food and drink and music by Los Angeles-based band Samba Ja. We caught up with producer and organizer Lydia Pinto, the event's organizer, who relocated here from L.A. two years ago to start Next Brazilian Productions, whose mission is to spread the seeds of her native country's happy people among Texans, who she describes as "incredibly welcoming" to her people. She told Rocks Off (in Portuguese) about the event's origins and what goes on during that one crazy night.

Carnaval Houston 2008

Rocks Off: So, what is this all about?

Lydia Pinto: This is the second time we are hosting this event. Before last year, there was no Carnaval here, so I met with the local community and realized that there was a need to have this kind of event here. I got support from one of the major Brazilian TV networks for the live feed directly from Brazil, and we will be featuring Samba Já, who are releasing their new CD.

RO: How long has the band been playing together?

LP: They have been playing for five years - they are all Brazilians, with the exception of the keyboard player, who is from Cuba.

RO: How big is the Brazilian community in Houston today?

LP: It is very large, but it is also very dispersed [in various areas] - since there has really never been anything Brazilian going on in the area, they never really connected. But since we began doing events here, like the Djavan concert last summer and the Carnaval party, people began coming together. The biggest Brazilian commerce chamber outside of the country is located here

RO: So it is a group of people quite different from those, say, in Miami?

LP: It's quite different from there - there is a younger group here going to college, and also the employees at Petrobras and other U.S. oil companies who have Brazilian engineers on their staff. Houston is a town where there is always some business going on - last year during the Carnaval party we had a lot of guests who were here on business trips and wanted to do something related to home.

RO: The real thing - Carnaval in Rio last year - what did the audience look like? Was it only Brazilians, or were there people from other countries there as well?

LP: There were people from all over - and that's exactly what we had in mind. I used to promote a similar event in Los Angeles, and the idea was to do something in the same mold - there were people from Korea, India, Russians and local - but the Brazilians are the ones who make it happen.

RO: How does this event affect the homesickness factor?

LP: I received various e-mail messages thanking me for bringing a little bit of home to Houston - they mentioned that they felt like they were back home - you could feel the happiness emanating from the crowd.

RO: What brought you to Houston?

LP: I did some research while I was working with the promotion department of Globo TV, at Dish Network and noticed that there was nothing related to Brazil here, but that there were various subscribers of Brazilian TV here. For many years, I had worked in Los Angeles with a Brazilian promoter there, and we have created a bridge to bring more Brazilian events to Houston.

RO: How did you like moving to Houston?

LP: I love it here. The people in Texas received me really well. They seem to love everything Brazilian - there are many churrascarias [Brazilian steakhouses] here - a new one opens every six months - when I mention Brazil to them, they immediately relate it to the food and Carnaval.

RO: What should we expect of the party?

LP: There will be the band, the big-screen TV, catered Brazilians food and also dancers - some local and a few more that we are flying in from Los Angeles. This year, we will also feature a band from Angola - this is the new thing we are introducing to create a fusion of the Portuguese-speaking communities in town.

The Angolan community here the largest in the U.S. because of the oil companies. The band is called Grupo Conexao (Connection), and they will be opening the Houston Carnaval for the first time.

9 p.m. tonight at Planeta Bar-Rio, 6400 Richmond, 832-630-0637 or visit http://www.braziliancarnaval.eventbrite.com/

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