Plan carefully: there’s more festival than meets the eye
You’ve heard about it. You’ve seen pics on TV. So now maybe it’s time to see the Carnival of Brazil for yourself!
The world-famous Carnival (In Portuguese: Carnaval) is an annual festival, celebration, parade and cavalcade that is held every year forty-six days before Easter. And words can hardly describe the wonder that is this colorful event.
Carnival is the most famous holiday in Brazil and has become an event of gigantic proportions. The country comes to a stop for almost a week, and festivities are intense, day and night, mainly in coastal cities.
The numbers are staggering: During this week the consumption of beer accounts for 80% of annual consumption and 70% of annual tourism visits to Brazil occur during this period.
Carnival in Brazil has a long history. “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 “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 these groups are known as Blocos (blocks), consisting of a group of people who dress in costume.
You are probably most familiar with the Carnival that takes place in Rio de Janeiro, but the rhythm, participation and costumes vary from one region of Brazil to another. In the cities of Rio and São Paulo, enormous parades are led by samba schools. In the cities of Salvador, Porto Seguro and Recife have organized groups parading through streets. Crowds follow the trio elétricos floats through the city streets.
Samba schools are very large groups of performers, financed by respected organizations who work year round in preparation for Carnival. 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. Prior to the official beginning of Carnival, you may be able to attend private rehearsals at the schools. This would provide an insiders look at the preparations, time and effort that goes into the competition.
Carnival time in Rio is a very interesting, but is is also the most expensive time to visit Rio. Hotel rooms tend to be more expensive than usual. There are big crowds at some locations and life is far from ordinary in many parts of town. So you may want to attend Carnival elsewhere, and visit Rio prior to or after Carnival.
The musical styles are different at each carnival; in Bahia there are many rhythms, including samba, samba-reggae and axé, while in Rio there is the multitude of samba styles: the samba-enredo, samba de bloco, samba de embalo, funk-samba as well as the famous “marchinhas” played by the “bandas” in the streets. The North East state of Pernambuco features Carnivals in Recife and 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.
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 also holds some important carnival parades, mainly in the historic cities of Ouro Preto, Mariana and Diamantina.
If a great Carnival in Brazil is on your list of things to do, you should take some time and plan your trip carefully. You may want to move from city-to-city to appreciate and savor the regional differences, and at the same time, see more of Brazil than a typical one city trip.
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