Brazil is famous all around the world as “The Country of Carnival.” Everyone has heard about the samba music and the parade in Rio de Janeiro. However, Brazil’s Carnival is different from the celebrations in New Orleans, Venice, Nice, and other cities with famous and traditional Carnivals. Unlike these festivals, in Brazil, the four-day celebration, 40 days before the Christ Passion, is a national party, one celebrated throughout the country. Each Brazilian city celebrates in their own tradition.
If in Rio, the parade and the contest between samba schools (the same as our Mardi Gras krewes) is an international, high quality show that you must pay to see live. In the small country cities, the parties happen in closed clubs, with bands playing traditional and old Carnival marches. In Olinda and Recife, cities in Pernambuco (a northeastern state), the people dance in the streets. The partying rhythms are unique to each city, such as the musical styles “Frevo” and “Maracatu.” If in Salvador, the capital of Bahia (also in the northeast), the Electric Trios (supertrucks with “Axé [pronounced ashay] Music” bands playing exceptionally loud) turn the crowd crazy. Some of these trucks cost upward of six million dollars.
In these four days of official holidays, nobody works – even in São Paulo, a famous business and economic center and the largest city in South America. But in many cities, especially in the northeastern states, the Carnival lasts more than a month. This is the reason for the Brazilian expression, “the year doesn’t begin until after the Carnival.”
The first Brazilian Carnival happened in Rio de Janeiro in 1641, in celebration of Dom João IV’s coronation as king of Portugal. It was inspired by the Portuguese “entrudos,” a festival before Lent introduced in the sixteenth century. At this time, the people danced to old Portuguese rhythms like “quadrilhas” and “chances.” This music was eventually replaced by “polka,” a fusion that created new rhythms like “samba,” “samba enredo,” “maxixe,” “chorinho,” and “marchinha.”
In these four days of official holidays, nobody works.
As time went on, one by one, every Brazilian city started their own Carnival parties, creating different ways to celebrate and beginning new traditions. For example, the introduction of the “Trio Elétrico” (at this time just a 1929 Ford Model T, with two speakers on top) in 1950 on the streets of Salvador changed the face of Brazil’s Carnival. It has now become a “street stage” for important Brazilian musicians such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Daniela Mercury, Timbalada, and Carlinhos Brown.
In Pernambuco, until the 1930s, the “Frevo” was greatly influenced by military marching songs as well as by other Brazilian rhythms such as “maxixe.” But from then on, it started to become a new and singular musical rhythm played almost only in this state.
“Blocos” is another custom practiced in Brazil. Groups of friends join to form “Blocos,” and, wearing matching costumes, march and dance through the streets. Some groups contain over a million people. “O Galo de Madrugada” appears in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest Carnival group, numbering 1.5 million people. In Rio de Janeiro, the first samba school, the “Deixa Falar,” was created in 1928. With the success of the television transmission of Rio’s samba schools’ championships in recent years, São Paulo has created their own samba championship, and these days, it is almost as big as Rio’s.
If you are intending to go to Brazil to enjoy the Brazilian Carnival, don’t forgot to look further than Rio de Janeiro. The party in Brazil is much bigger than just one city. If you would like not just to see, but be in the parade in Rio, you may still have time. In 1998 a samba website called World Samba got the chance to create the first all gringo samba school. Escola de Samba Unidos do Mundo (United of the World Samba School) received the blessing of the Brazilian government to participate in the day of champions parade Saturday, March 11, 2000. The parade takes place in Rio to celebrate Brazil’s 500th anniversary. 150 percussionists were chosen from all around the world, and between 700 and 1500 gringos will dance in the “Sambódromo.” The theme of the enredo (parade), created by the famous Brazilian sambista Martinho da Vila, is one of cultural evolution.