Carnival of Brazil: The Grandest Festival in the World

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro; Parade

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With its pulsating Samba beats, colorful parades and sexy dancers, the Carnival of Brazil is probably one of the grandest festivals in the world. And, we only have about a week towards its celebration. If you want to book your reservation, you must do it without delay now that the people are already coming from all parts of the globe.

The Carnival of Brazil is annually held 46 days before the Easter Sunday. In particular days of Lent, the Roman Catholics as well as other Christians, abstain from meat. This activity was originally called “carnelevare” which literally means to “raise” the meat. In essence, carnelevare means to remove the meat. The roots of the Carnival are traced back to Saturnalia, a pagan festival which was adapted to Christianity. This is the season wherein the Roman Catholics practice discipline in the spirit of repentance. At the same time, the festival is a preparation for Christ’s passing and resurrection.

In other versions, Saturnalia was a local festival wherein masters exchange clothes with their slaves in a day of drunken festivity. The Roman Catholics merged this celebration with their Bacchanalia, the feast in honor of Bacchus who is the Roman counterpart to the Greek Dionysius. Originally intended as a prelude to Ash Wednesday, the Carnival quickly developed into a feast of indulgences and a massive revelry of grasping food, music, sex and alcohol for the last time and just before the 40 days of abstinence, fasting and personal reflection. In this account, the word Carnival comes from the Latin word Carne Vale which means “goodbye to the flesh.”

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And now that the roots are interesting enough and whichever versions you take, you can no longer deny that the Carnival is famous. Nothing can top the parade of countless awesome floats, thousands of drummers, singers and dancers who wear elaborate costumes and sometimes almost no costume at all. Well, that is one thing that the Carnivals of Brazil have in common; the festival has several different versions.

Carnival of Brazil: Rio de Janeiro Style

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro; Parade


In 1961, the modern carnival was born in Rio de Janeiro. Today, we call it the Rio Carnival. This festivity dates back to the time when Entrudo, a Portuguese festival wherein participants used to throw food, water and mud in the streets. This event often leads to riots which are closely similar to the modern Andean Carnival. The first masquerade and ball party was held in 1840. A decade later, the parade included floats that were drawn by horses and military bands.

However, samba was not part of the celebration until 1917. The samba is a mixture of different music such as Cuban habanera, African batuques, European polka, and Angolan semba. The modern samba that we know today is from the black Brazilian who arrived in Rio in 1888, after the slavery in Brazil was abolished.

Today, the carnival is organized by samba schools that in essence are neighborhood associations that provide various community needs such as health care and education. The Rio Carnival is the most famous in the world.

Carnival of Brazil: Salvador de Bahia Style

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Salvador de Bahia is Brazil’s first government capital from 1549 to 1763. And although much has changed, the city remains as the country’s center for music. Aside from being the Portuguese sugar capital, the city flourished because it was the center for slave trade. No wonder why it has become the largest center for African culture in the Americas. It is obvious despite the streets made of cobblestone and colonial architecture because amidst these creations, the remarkable Bahian beat is audible from audio speakers.

This beat becomes overwhelming when hundreds of drummers are out in the streets. The drummer parade begins at noon and ends up the morning of the following day. According to Carlinhos Brown, a Bahian superstar, they play to celebrate happiness because the carnival is for everyone, not only for those who have money.

The Samba

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 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. 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.

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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.

This year (2013), the Carnival will be held on February 19 and 20. You heard it that the carnival is for everybody and if you have planned to be there and march in the parade, there is no reason for you not to indulge in one of the world’s most wonderful festival; and that is the Carnival of Brazil.