Brazilian Carnival

For the Texas event, see Carnaval Brasileiro (Austin, Texas).

Brazilian Carnival
Also called Carnaval, Carnival
Observed by Brazilians, communities worldwide
Type Cultural, Religious
(Roman Catholicism)
Significance Celebration prior to fasting season of Lent.
Begins Friday before Ash Wednesday (51 days to Easter)
Ends Ash Wednesday midday (45 days before Easter)
2016 date February 5-February 10
2017 date February 24-March 1
2018 date February 9-February 14
Frequency annual
Related to Carnival, Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, Lent

Carnival of Brazil (Portuguese: Carnaval do Brasil, IPA: [kaʁnaˈvaw]) is an annual Brazilian festival held between the Friday afternoon (51 days before Easter) and Ash Wednesday at noon, which marks the beginning of Lent, the forty-day period 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]

Rhythm, participation, and costumes vary from one region of Brazil to another. In the southeastern cities of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Vitória, huge organized parades are led by samba schools. Those official parades are meant to be watched by the public, while minor parades ("blocos") allowing public participation can be found in other cities, like Belo Horizonte,[2] also in the southeastern region. The northeastern cities of Recife, Olinda, Salvador, and Porto Seguro have organized groups parading through streets, and public interacts directly with them. This carnival is also influenced by African-Brazilian culture. It is a six-day party where crowds follow the trios elétricos through the city streets, dancing and singing. Also in northeast, Olinda carnival features unique characteristics, heavily influenced by local folklore and cultural manifestations, such as Frevo and Maracatu.

The typical genres of music of Brazilian carnival are, in the Southeast Region in general, mostly cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo: the samba-enredo, the samba de bloco, the samba de embalo and the marchinha; and in the Northeast Region including Pernambuco (mostly cities of Olinda and Recife): frevo and maracatu, and Bahia (mostly the city of Salvador): samba-reggae, pagode (also a type of Samba) and the main genre axé music.

Carnival is the most famous holiday in Brazil and has become an event of huge proportions. Except for industrial production, retail establishments such as malls, and carnival-related businesses, the country unifies completely for almost a week and festivities are intense, day and night, mainly in coastal cities.[3] Rio de Janeiro's carnival alone drew 4.9 million people in 2011, with 400,000 being foreigners.[4]

Arguably, this cultural manifestation could be historically traced to the Portuguese Age of Discoveries when their caravels passed regularly through Madeira, a territory which already celebrated emphatically its carnival season, and where they were loaded with goods but also people and their ludic and cultural expressions.[5][6]

Styles by state

Rio de Janeiro

Crowds watch the Carnaval parade in the Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí, in Rio de Janeiro.
Main article: Rio Carnival

In the late 19th century, the cordões (literally "cords", 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 Carnaval 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 neighbourhoods; they include both a percussion or music group and an entourage of revelers. They eventually became the "fathers" of what everyone today knows as the famous and internationally renowned samba-schools in Brazil. Samba-schools (not only in Rio de Janeiro, but in São Paulo and several other cities) are the cultural epicenter of the Brazilian carnival, in terms of the "parading style". The first registered samba-school was called "Deixa-falar", but disappeared later and the first official samba-school contest happened in 1929, with only three groups, and "Oswaldo Cruz" group won the competition, with a samba written by Heitor dos Prazeres. GRES Estação Primeira de Mangueira Samba-School, represented by Cartola, and Estácio de Sá samba School, represented by Ismael Silva, were the other 2 contestants. Eventually, "Oswaldo Cruz" became, Portela Samba School, the greatest winner of Rio's Carnival with 21 Titles. Although many Brazilians tend now to favor other forms of national music culture to that of Rio's samba schools, the carnival of Rio de Janeiro remains the national festival par excellence, and the samba of Rio de Janeiro continues to be an agent of national unification.[7]

Samba (Brazilian dance) at Rio Carnaval in 2008

Carnaval blocos, also known as Blocos de Rua ("Street Blocks") occur in nearly every neighborhood throughout the city and metropolitan areas, but the most famous are the ones 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.

The formalized 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 and is overseen by LIESA.[8] They are part of an official competition, divided into seven divisions, in which a single school is declared the winner, according to ten judging categories[9] that include 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.

All performers at the Sambadrome have to wear a costume. Some honored members of the school or community may receive it free, but normally most will have to pay for their own costume.[10] Tourists can have the same experience on the "Commercial Area" of some Samba Schools but need to buy their own costme from the school, or through an agent, either of which can be quite costly.[11]

Bahia style

Main article: Bahian Carnival
Circuit Barra-Ondina, the most famous circuit of Brazil where attractions sing above the trio elétrico in the city of Salvador, Bahia

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.

Today, Bahia's carnival consists mostly of Trios Elétricos, but there are still Blocos Afros and Afoxês. Every year, about half a million tourists are attracted to Salvador. It's also possible to watch everything from the Camarotes (ringside seats) spread out along the way, offering more comfort to the visitors.

Pernambuco style

Olinda Carnival, in the historic city of Olinda.
Recife Carnival, in the capital city of the State of Pernambuco, Recife.

The North East state of Pernambuco has unique Carnivals in its present capital Recife and in its colonial capital Olinda. Their main rhythms 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. Held 40 days before Lent.

São Paulo style

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

The carnival in São Paulo takes place in the Anhembi Sambadrome on the Friday and Saturday night of the week of Carnival, as opposed to Rio's Carnival, which is held on Sunday and Monday night.

Various "samba schools" compete in a huge parade. Each school presents a different theme, which they expose through their costumes, dance, music, and the allegorical cars or "carros alegóricos", huge vehicles decorated according to the theme designed specifically for the parade.

The schools are responsible for choosing their own themes, which usually revolve around historical happenings or some sort of cultural or political movement.

The most famous (and usually the winners) samba schools are: Nenê de Vila Matilde, Gaviões da Fiel, Vai-Vai, Camisa Verde Branco, Peruche, Mocidade Alegre, Rosas de Ouro, Vila Maria, Mancha Verde, and Império da Casa Verde.

Vai-Vai is the oldest school and has been the First Division champion most times (14 total, including the 2011 championship). It also is the most popular, for it has the most fans.

Espírito Santo style

The Carnival in Vitória are performed one week before Carnival, more precisely in Sambão do Povo. The schools are responsible for choosing their own themes, which usually revolve around historical happenings or some sort of cultural or political movement.

The most famous (and usually the winners) samba schools are: Unidos de Jucutuquara, MUG, Andaraí, Independentes de Boa Vista, and Novo Império.

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, São João del Rei, 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 costume 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 with 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.[12]

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 emergence of industry from the surrounding localities, population growth, and a spike in street traffic have jeopardized 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.[13]


Some southern cities such as Uruguaiana, Florianópolis, Manaus, and Porto Alegre have smaller samba school groups or blocos, but like São Paulo state towns, they seem to prefer balls to street dancing. Curitiba hosts modest carnival celebrations similar to those of other Brazilian cities and events such as Curitiba Rock Festival and a carnival Zombie Walk, all supported by Cultural Foundation of Curitiba which operates under supervision of government of Curitiba.[14][15][16][17]


The Sambódromo of Rio.
Anhembi Sambódromo in São Paulo.

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

The actual amount of spectators in the Sambodromo may be higher than the official number of 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 have equally good views (even though there is a price difference between them). Sector 9 has marked seats and is therefore less crowded. Dress Circle and Boxes are the best, and priced accordingly.[18]



The singer and actress Carmen Miranda led samba to the world in her films.

Originated in Bahia, but developed in Rio de Janeiro between the end of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century, the samba is still one of the most popular music styles of Brazil. From intimate samba-canções (samba songs) sung in bars to explosive drum parades performed during carnival, samba always evokes a warm and vibrant mood. 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 bossa nova, a musical movement initially spearheaded by young musicians and college students from Rio de Janeiro. 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 draw 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 radio. 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 slang. 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.[19]


Frevo dancers. The Frevo was included on the UNESCO's list of intangible heritage.[20]

Frevo is a wide range of musical styles originating from Recife and Olinda, Pernambuco, Brazil, all of which are traditionally associated with Brazilian Carnival. The word frevo is said to come from frever, a misspeaking of the Portuguese word ferver (to boil). It is said that the sound of the frevo will make listeners and dancers to feel as they are boiling on the ground. The word frevo is normally used interchangeably either to mean the frevo music or the frevo dance.

The frevo music came first. By the end of the 19th century, bands from the Brazilian Army regiments based in the city of Recife started a tradition of parading during the Carnival. Since the Carnival is originally linked to religion, they played religious procession marches and martial music, as well. A couple of regiments had famous bands which attracted lots of followers and it was just a matter of time to people start to compare one to another and cheer for their favorite bands. The two most famous bands were the Espanha (meaning Spain), whose conductor was of Spanish origin, and the 14, from the 14th regiment. The bands started to compete with each other and also started playing faster and faster, louder and louder.


The Brazilian axé singer Daniela Mercury.

Axé 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 1998 was particularly fortunate for the artists from Bahia: together, Daniela Mercury, Claudia Leitte, Ivete Sangalo, Asa de Aguia, Chiclete com Banana, Araketu, Cheiro de Amor, and É o Tchan sold over 3.4 million records.[21]


The Brazilian Carnival Parades were first broadcast in the late 1960s on television on Rede Globo, which brought the Rio celebrations live, bringing the celebrations to more people all over the nation. By the 1970s, color broadcasting and satellite transmissions made the broadcasts to be beamed to other parts of the nation in real time, by then featuring the top schools under, since 1984 the Liga Independente das Escolas de Samba do Rio de Janeiro - also known as the Special Group (since 1990), and formerly under the Associação das Escolas de Samba da Cidade do Rio de Janeiro. Now defunct, Rede Manchete broadcast the event on several occasions and mounted a joint broadcast with Globo for the 1987 event.

Now dubbed Globeleza since 1991 Globo's broadcast of the parades at the Sambodrome in Rio and São Paulo has become the center of national and international attention. Fans of the samba schools on parade also expect a short preview of the performances of the schools involved to be broadcast during the duration of the event.

Globo acquired also the rights to air the parade of samba schools of São Paulo in 1990, and victory parades there were later aired in other local TV channels. Parades belonging to the Access Group (5th Division) and the B Series schools in Rio were also broadcast on several TV stations and are still the case today (in 2015 Rede Record and NGT aired the parades of the lower level schools). Since 2014, Globo also has full rights to the Series A (Rio) and Paulista parades, which were co-shared with the Viva Channel before its closure in 2015 (which aired lower-level parades and the victory parades of the two cities' winning schools for the year) and regionally, RBS airs the Carnivals of Florianopólis and Porto Alegre, and since 2015, cable channel TVCOM display the gaucho parades in the south. The Rio parade can also be heard on radio and seen via online streaming as well (thru TVG Rio and from 2015 in G1, which offers an online live streaming of the victory parade).

The Carnivals of Recife and Salvador are shown by Band since the early 2000s, and Band also holds broadcast rights for the victory parade. Both fall under the Band Folia brand. This is also the case for SBT which also broadcasts the events under the SBT Folia banner and is also, since recently, seen via live streaming on YouTube. Globo also has its own broadcast team and crew for the broadcasts of the late night Galo da Madrugada in Recife since 2008.

See also


  1. "Carnival". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. "Carnaval de Belo Horizonte terá público recorde, menos recurso e mais restrições - 23/01/2016".
  3. "Carnival in Brazil". 7 October 2008. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  4. " - Cotidiano - Após recorde de público, Rio limita blocos no Carnaval 2012 - 14/03/2011". 2011-03-14. Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  5. "Carnaval da Madeira poderá ter influenciado festividades no Brasil | Sociedade | Diário Digital". Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  6. "SIC Notícias - Cultura". Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  7. Vianna H, The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro 1995, trans. Chasteen J, University of North Carolina Press 1999. p.107.
  8. "LIESA - Liga Independente das Escolas de Samba do Rio de Janeiro". Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  9. Retrieved 20 November 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. "O Portal de Notícias da Paraíba, Nordeste e Brasil". Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  11. "Buy your Costumes for the Brazilian Costume Parade in Rio". Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  12. "Carnival of Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais". Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  13. "Carnival in the city of Ouro Preto". – photo by Olinda City. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  14. "Curitiba's carnival". Gazeta do Povo. Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  15. Greene, Stephen (2014-03-05). "Carnival in Curitiba: Zombie Walk". The Head of the Heard. Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  16. "Carnaval de Curitiba abre espaço para o rock e zumbis - Notícia - Fundação Cultural de Curitiba". Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  17. "Google Tradutor". (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  18. "Sambódromo Information". Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  19. "Samba in Rio de Janeiro". 7 August 1942. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  20. Source: UNESCO Office in Brasilia UNESCO Office in Brasilia (2012-12-07). "Brazilian frevo dance is inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization". Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  21. "Axé Music in Salvador". Retrieved 4 June 2011.

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