Brazilian Carnival: Wikis


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The Brazilian singer Kelly Key in Samba School Parade in Rio de Janeiro.
Bloco das Baianas

The Carnival of Brazil, properly spelled "Carnaval" in Portuguese, is an annual festival in Brazil held forty days before Easter. On certain days of Lent, Roman Catholics and some other Christians traditionally abstained from the consumption of meat and poultry, hence the term "carnival," from carnelevare, "to remove (literally, "raise") meat."[1] Carnival celebrations are believed to have roots in the pagan festival of Saturnalia, which, adapted to Christianity, became a farewell to bad things in a season of religious discipline to practice repentance and prepare for Christ's death and resurrection.

Rhythm, participation, and costumes vary from one region of Brazil to another. In the southeastern cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, organized parades led by samba schools are influenced in aesthetics by Venice Carnival. Those official parades are specific to be watched by the public, although minor parades (called blocos) allowing participation can be found in other cities. The northeastern cities of Salvador, Porto Seguro and Recife have organized groups parading through streets, and public interacts directly with them. This carnival is heavily influenced by African-Brazilian culture. Crowds follow the trio elétricos floats through the city streets. Also in northeast, Olinda carnival features unique characteristics, part influenced by Venice Carnival mixed with cultural despections of local folklore.

Carnival is the most famous holiday in Brazil and has become an event of huge proportions. The country stops completely for almost a week and festivities are intense, day and night, mainly in coastal cities.[2] The consumption of beer accounts for 80% of annual consumption and tourism receives 70% of annual visitors. The government distributes condoms and launches awareness campaigns at this time to prevent AIDS dissemination.[3]


Styles by State

Rio de Janeiro style

Brazilian Actress Grazielli Massafera wearing a carnival costume.

Modern Brazilian Carnival originated in Rio de Janeiro in 1641 when the city's bourgeoisie imported the practice of holding balls and masquerade parties from Paris. It originally mimicked the European form of the festival, later absorbing and creolizing elements derived from Native American and African cultures.

In the late 19th century, the cordões' (literally laces or strings in Portuguese) were introduced in Rio de Janeiro. These were pageant groups that paraded through city avenues performing on instruments and dancing. Today they are known as Blocos (blocks), consisting of a group of people who dress in costumes or special t-shirts with themes and/or logos. Blocos are generally associated with particular neighborhoods; they include both a percussion or music group and an entourage of revellers.

Block parades have become an expressive feature of Rio's Carnival. Today, they number more than 100 and the groups increase each year. Blocos can be formed by small or large groups of revelers with a distinct title with an often funny pun. (os blocos hj, para os solteiros, s~ao um lugar para conhecer e até beijar pessoas, a safe place to meet people.) They may also note their neighborhood or social status. Before the show, they gather in a square, then parade in sections of the city, often near the beach. Some blocos never leave one street and have a particular place, such as a bar, to attract viewers. Bloc parades start in January, and may last until the Sunday after Carnival.

Mestre Sala e Porta-Bandeira, a double executing typical performance and opening a samba school exhibition.

Blocos parade in nearly every neighborhood, but the most famous ones parade in Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Lagoa, Jardim Botânico, and in downtown Rio. Organizers often compose their own music themes that are added to the performance and singing of classic "marchinhas" and samba popular songs. "Cordão do bola preta" ("Polka Dot Bloco"), that goes through the heart of Rio's historical center, and "Suvaco do Cristo" (Christ's statue armpit, referring to the angle of the statue seen from the neighborhood), near the Botanical Garden, are some of the most famous groups. Monobloco has become so famous that it plays all year round at parties and small concerts.

Samba schools are very large groups of performers, financed by respected organizations (as well as illegal gambling groups), who work year round in preparation for Carnival. Samba Schools perform in the Sambadrome, which runs four entire nights. They are part of an official competition, divided into seven divisions, in which a single school is declared the winner, according to costume, flow, theme, and band music quality and performance. Some samba schools also hold street parties in their neighborhoods, through which they parade along with their followers.

Carnaval time in Rio is a very interesting, but is also the most expensive time to visit Rio. Hotel rooms and other lodgings can be up to 4 times more expensive than the regular rates. There are big crowds at some locations and life is far from ordinary in many parts of town.

São Paulo style

Carnival parade in São Paulo, Gaviões da Fiel Torcida Samba School.

The carnival in São Paulo happens in the Sambadrome of Anhembi and also has some organized "soccer schools." This is the main difference between São Paulo carnival and Rio. The Carnival parades in São Paulo happen on Friday and Saturday night, as opposed to Rio's Carnival, which is held on Sunday and Monday night.

Bahia style

There are several major differences between Carnival in the state of Bahia in Northeastern Brazil and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. The musical styles are different at each carnival; in Bahia there are many rhythms, including samba, samba-reggae, axé, etc, while in Rio there is the multitude of samba styles: the "samba-enredo", the "samba de bloco", the "samba de embalo", the "funk-samba", as well as the famous "marchinhas" played by the "bandas" in the streets.

Carnival circuit of the city of Salvador.

In the 1880s, the black population commemorated the days of Carnival in its own way, highly marked by Yoruba characteristics, dancing in the streets playing instruments. This form was thought of as "primitive" by the upper-class white elite, and the groups were banned from participating in the official Bahia Carnival, dominated by the local conservative elite. The groups defied the ban and continued to do their dances.

By the 1970s, four main types of carnival groups developed in Bahia: Afoxês, Trios Elétricos, "Amerindian" groups, and Blocos Afros. Afoxês use the rhythms of the African inspired religion, Candomblé. They also worship the gods of Candomblé, called orixás. An Electric Trio is characterized by a truck equipped with giant speakers and a platform where musicians play songs of local genres such as axé. People follow the trucks singing and dancing. The "Amerindian" groups were inspired by Western movies from the United States. The groups dress up as native Americans and take on native American names. Blocos Afros, or Afro groups, were influenced by the Black Pride Movement in the United States, independence movements in Africa, and reggae music that denounced racism and oppression. The groups inspired a renewed pride in African heritage.

Pernambuco style

Street Carnival in Recife.

The North East state of Pernambuco has unique Carnivals in its present capital Recife and in its colonial capital Olinda. Their main rhythm's are the frevo and the maracatu. Galo da Madrugada is the biggest carnival parade in the world, considering the number of participants, according The Guinness Book of World Records. It means "dawn's rooster" and parades, as the name suggests, in the morning only. Frevo is Pernambucan-style dance with African and acrobatic influences, as it is fast and electrifying, often using an open umbrella and frequent legs and arms movements.

Unlike Salvador and Rio, the festivities in Recife, Olinda and Itamaraca do not include group competitions. Instead, groups dance and play instruments side by side. Troças and maracatus, mostly of African influence, begin one week before Carnival and end a week later. Some well-known groups have funny names, such as: Tell me you love me, damn eggymann (with a famous giant dancing doll that leads the group), Crazy Lover, Olinda's Underpants, and The Door.

Minas Gerais style

Carnival parade of Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais.

Minas also holds some important carnival parades, mainly in the historic cities of Ouro Preto, Mariana and Diamantina. They are held mostly by students' houses, which attract a majority of young people from the neighbor states. There are also other major parades in the region, such as the one in Pompéu.

Carnival in Minas Gerais is often characterized by blocos carnavalescos with varying themes and fantasy styles, almost always accompanied by a brass and drums band. However, Minas Gerais carnival was first influenced by the Rio de Janeiro Carnival (several cities have their own samba schools). Later some Axé groups from Bahia came to play in the state every carnival season.

The Carnival of the city of Ouro Preto is very popular by college students in the area. The city has a large proportion of students, who during the year live in places called Repúblicas (a rented house maintained and ruled by themselves). During carnival, the Repúblicas are literally packed with residents and many visitors coming from all over the country. The hills prevent traffic of heavy sound trucks, but don't stop people from feasting all night and day.[4]

However, some view the Ouro Preto carnival festivities as a threat to the old and historical harmony of the region. According to one such person: the recent emergencet of industry from the surrounding localities, population growth and a spike in street traffic have jeopardize Carnival as older citizens remember it. One cause for alarm is the street carnival of Ouro Preto, which attracts thrill-seeking students from across Brazil. The students crowd the streets while playing loud and arguably disruptive music.[5]


Some southern cities such as Curitiba, Florianópolis, Camboriú, and Porto Alegre have smaller samba school groups or blocos, but like São Paulo state towns, they seem to prefer balls to street dancing.


The Sambódromo of Rio.
Unidos do Viradouro Samba School and the Sambódromo.
Anhembi Sambódromo in São Paulo.

The Carnival parades in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are taking place in the Sambodromo, located close to the city center. In the city of Rio, the parades start on 20:00 or 21:00 (depending on the date) and ends around 5:00 in the morning. The Rio de Janeiro Metro (Subway), which operates 24 hours during the main parade days.

The actual amount of spectators in the Sambodromo may be higher than the official seats mentioned below. Sector 9 is an exception. Actually the word 'seat' is not relevant. In Sector 1 access is given to the local community at a symbolic cost. Sectors 6 and 13 are the cheapest. Sectors 3, 5 and 7 are equal in quality of view (even though there is a price difference between them). Sector 9 has marked seats and therefore less crowded. Dress Circle and Boxes are the best, and priced accordingly.[6]

Types and capacity of seats

  • BOXES (total 5,992 seats)

Special Boxes: Four buildings between sectors 3, 5, 7 and 9 with up to 20 seats in A Boxes and 18 in B Boxes. Boxes in sectors: 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 4: 24 boxes per sector, in a total of 144 boxes Boxes in Sector 2: Three floors containing boxes A, B and C, each box with 12 seats.

  • Dress Circle (total 6,528 seats)

Uncovered boxes with walls and chairs for six occupants each, in sectors 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 11.

  • Chairs

4,220 chairs are placed in sectors 6 and 13. Of these, 525 are for paraplegics and their escorts.

  • Tiers of Seats (total 16,804 seats)

Uncovered spaces up to 15,80 m high, reached by stairs. Sectors 3, 4, 5, 7, and 11, each sitting 2,900 spectators. Sector 9 with 2,306 numbered seats.

  • Popular Tiers of Seats (Total 25,700)

Sector 1: in the area where the schools organize themselves for the parade; Sectors 6 and 13–at Praça da Apoteose from where the end of the parade can be seen. Sector 1 holds up to 6,500 spectators and Sectors 6 and 13 up to 9,600 each.



The Brazilian actress Luma de Oliveira dancing samba in Rio de Janeiro.

Originated in Bahia from the African rhythms, it was brought to Rio de Janeiro around 1920 and is still together with Samba-pagode and Samba-reggae (the band Olodum from Salvador da Bahia made samba-reggae famous) one of the most popular styles of Brazil. From intimate samba-cancões (samba songs) sung in bars to explosive drum parades performed during carnival, samba always evokes a warm and vibrant mood. Samba developed as a distinctive kind of music at the beginning of the 20th century in Rio de Janeiro (then the capital of Brazil). In the 1930s, a group of musicians led by Ismael Silva founded in the neighbourhood of Estácio de Sá the first Samba School, Deixa Falar. They transformed the musical genre to make it fit better the carnival parade. In this decade, the radio spread the genre's popularity all around the country, and with the support of the nationalist dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas, samba became Brazil's "official music."

In the following years, samba has developed in several directions, from the gentle samba-canção to the drum orchestras which make the soundtrack of carnival parade. One of these new styles was the bossa nova, made by middle class white people. It got increasingly popular over time, with the works of João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. In the sixties, Brazil was politically divided, and the leftist musicians of bossa nova started to gather attention to the music made in the favelas. Many popular artists were discovered at this time. Names like Cartola, Nelson Cavaquinho, Velha Guarda da Portela, Zé Keti, and Clementina de Jesus recorded their first albums. In the seventies, the samba got back to radios air waves. Composers and singers like Martinho da Vila, Clara Nunes and Beth Carvalho dominated the hit parade.

In the beginning of the eighties, after having been sent to the underground due to styles like disco and Brazilian rock, Samba reappeared in the media with a musical movement created in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. It was the pagode, a renewed samba, with new instruments, like the banjo and the tantan, and a new language, more popular, filled with slangs. The most popular names were Zeca Pagodinho, Almir Guineto, Grupo Fundo de Quintal, Jorge Aragão, and Jovelina Pérola Negra. Various samba schools have been founded throughout Brazil. A samba school combines the dancing and party fun of a night club with the gathering place of a social club and the community feeling of a volunteer group. During the spectacular Rio Carnival famous samba schools parade in the Sambódromo. An event that should not be missed.[7]


The Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury during the carnival of Salvador.

This is not exactly about a style or musical movement, but rather about a useful brand name given to artists from Salvador who made music upon northeastern Brazilian, Caribbean and African rhythms with a pop-rock twist, which helped them take over the Brazilian hit parades since 1992. Axé is a ritual greeting used in Candomblé and Umbanda religions, and means "good vibration." The word music was attached to Axé, used as slang within the local music biz, by a journalist who intended to create a derogatory term for the pretentious dance-driven style.

As singer Daniela Mercury began her rise to stardom in Rio and São Paulo, anything coming from Salvador would be labeled Axé Music. Soon, the artists became oblivious to the derogatory origins of the term and started taking advantage of it. With the media pushing it forward, the soundtrack of Carnival in Salvador quickly spread over the country (through off-season Carnival shindigs), strengthening its industrial potentials and producing year-round hits along the 90s.

Tested within the height of Carnival heat, Axé songs have been commercially successful in Brazil throughout the past decade. The year of 1998 was particularly fortunate for the artists from Bahia: together, Daniela Mercury, Ivete Sangalo, Chiclete com Banana, Araketu, Cheiro de Amor and É o Tchan sold over 3.4 million records.[8]


Carnatal in Natal, largest off-season Carnival in the country.[9]

There are also micareta (plural: micaretas), as they are called off-season Carnival. The micaretas are similar to the Bahian Carnival and very different from the samba school parades, popular in Rio de Janeiro. The micareta is like this: during the days of party, a huge truck (called "trio elétrico"), with a band on the top and sound boxes all around, drives slowly along the streets or enclosed space.

The crowd follows the trio elétrico singing, dancing, jumping to the sound of the music. To be allowed to follow the truck, one must buy admittance to one of the several "blocos" (block). A bloco is an enterprise which obtains permission to participate in micareta, hires the band, sells admittance and controls access.

Brazil has several micaretas that take place throughout the year in various cities. They can be done in the streets (traditional micareta) or in closed spaces surrounded (indoor micareta).


Security Camera in the Carnival of Salvador.

Brazil in the 1980s started developing a reputation for violence and crime due to a massive debt that left no money for necessities such as police, hospitals and schools. In the early 1990s, however, things began to turn around, as the government was able to decrease its debt and thus reintroduce money into public services, starting with the police. Officers were stationed anywhere there seemed to be a problem: city streets, beaches, etc and the crime rate began to fall. Huge investments into tourism simultaneously made the protection of tourists a government priority. Tourism throughout Brazil is now a top priority, and everything is done to ensure the safety and comfort of visitors.

Taxis are very safe and available everywhere, but some incidents are occasionally reported. The taxis provided like this are guaranteed to be completely safe. Taxis are the number one most common mode of transportation that tourists use, and with their inexpensive costs and convenience, it is generally the one most recommended.[10]

Although pictures and videos of Carnival in Salvador don't usually focus on police officers, a security system is there. Besides the regular police force, revelers dance amidst a security staff numbering over 600 people in all, hired by blocos to contain the crowds and keep the flow moving as smoothly as possible along the designated circuit. All private security plans are reviewed in advance by the Brazilian Federal Police. Basically, these are the functions performed by security organizations during the parade:

  • Rope Holders: They carry the ropes that separate the dancers who signed up with a bloco from the dancers who didn't (the so-called "popcorn" revelers), and help keep up the pace so bottlenecks don't form. There are about 400 rope holders in all.
  • Rope Inspectors: Each inspector monitors about 10 rope holders.
  • Rope Supervisors: They supervise about 5 rope inspectors each.
  • Disciplinary Supervisors: About 70 supervisors in all walk at the front of the bloco as pacesetters, keeping dancers away from the ropes and monitoring the revelers' access to the support vehicle.
  • Line Monitors: They monitor lines to restrooms, cash registers and bars.
  • Costume Inspectors: They walk among the dancers, making sure that popcorns don't invade the area reserved to registered dancers, and also keep an eye out for falsified costumes and vendors without a license.
  • Security Agents: More than 50 professionals move about as the blocos press on, ready to handle excessive or aggressive behavior. They must work for companies approved by the Federal Police.[11]


External links

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