Beatlemania gripped the Rio Carnival as more than 130,000 revelers twist and shouted to samba versions of the Fab Four’s greatest hits.
Street band Sargento Pimenta — Sergeant Pepper in Portuguese — belted out more than three hours of Beatles classics as the five-day fiesta prepared to reach its climax on Tuesday.
More than 100 musicians, including a whole battalion of percussionists, did more than just get by with a little help from their friends — “John Lennon” and “Yoko Ono”.
They propelled the gathering just off Rio’s Flamengo beach into a frenzy as nostalgia for the Beatles and hippies took over.
The group, its theme “Imagine the (World) Cup” in a nod to Lennon’s Imagine ballad, first played in 2010 to a crowd of barely 5,000 people.
“But interest has mushroomed since — we have to keep finding bigger places to play,” joked “John”, in reality illustrator Daniel Gnattali.
“I never even used to like Carnival,” Gnattali told AFP.
“But my sister joined the music group and my mum wanted to see her. I realized I knew most of the group and they said ‘come on in.’ It’s awesome!”
The Beatles’ legendary multi million-selling Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album predated Lennon’s marriage to Yoko Ono by two years.
But Sargento Pimenta paired 28-year-old Gnattali with their “Yoko” in the shape of Lian Tai, a 30-year-old Brazil-born actress with a Taiwanese father and Shanghainese mother.
“Daniel’s been a friend of mine a long time. It was obvious we could match up like this,” she told AFP.
“I love the Beatles — All My Loving is my favorite, but also Lennon’s Imagine,” she confided as “John”, leaped around the stage and strummed a guitar adored with red and white roses.
A dancer dressed up as Paul McCartney kept a respectful distance from the ‘couple’.
David Spector, one of the group’s founders, told AFP they are now a mainstay of Carnival.
“Fans everywhere love the Beatles and we said when we started off, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to perform their stuff in Carnival?’
“The idea suddenly arose — Beatles, Brazilian rhythms. The biggest band in the history of the world meets the biggest party in the world.
“And Sgt Pepper is a such multicolor, happy album.”
Three months out from the World Cup, Brazil is struggling to be ready on time and some protests against the cost of the event and shoddy public services have turned violent.
But the Carnival has been a joyous occasion and Monday’s event was no exception.
Having already played at the Olympic Park ahead of the 2012 London Games the band also have an invitation to star in pre-Rio 2016 Games events.
When Sgt Pepper came out in 1967, Brazil was just three years into a military dictatorship which would only end in 1985
For choreographers Mateus Xavier and Felipe Reznik the Beatles have a message which resonates beyond music.
“Yes, it is a happy, fun album but the Beatles made political songs too. That’s what made them great. Yes, we can work it out, yes it is a long and winding road,” Reznik reflected.
“Carnival is when Brazilians forget about their troubles and cares,” said Xavier.
Such is the group’s popularity it is now a year-round concern employing 23 people.