Carnaval in Brazil: An Explosion of Rhythm and Color

Daniella Khoory

Carnaval in Brazil

Carnaval in BrazilThe origin of Carnaval is one that is at the center of much debate. There have been studies on the subject and everything seems to indicate that it comes from some of the oldest celebrations known to mankind. They are highly linked to cults that make offerings for a good harvest, to Egyptian festivals and to Dionysus.

The term "carnaval" also has several meanings, according to research. Some say that it comes from the phrase carne vale which means "goodbye meat." Others state that it comes from the words carne levamen which mean "withdrawal of meat." Both theories refer back to Lent, a period of spiritual reflection and abstinence from certain foods, like meat.

Carnaval in BrazilIn Brazil, towards the end of the 18th century, the "entrudo" was introduced by the Portuguese colonists, presenting the precursor of Carnaval. This was a popular form of entertainment during the colonial and monarchical period. It was the type of festival that was permissive, rude and violent. Practical jokes and making fun of the authorities, local customs and daily life were a major part of the festivities. Buckets of water, "limoes de cheiro" (wax balls filled with perfumed water), vinegar and wine were also thrown at people. In the 20th century, these items were replaced with perfume spray, confetti and streamers.

Carnaval in BrazilIn 1890, Chiquinha Gonzaga composed the first song especially written for Carnaval called "O Abre Alas!" This popularized the "marchinhas," which is a musical style typical of Carnaval. This particular song was written especially for a group called Rosas de Ouro, which would parade down the streets of Rio de Janeiro in times of Carnaval.

Carnaval in Rio de JaneiroIn Rio de Janeiro, the festivities officially start the Friday before Carnaval, when the mayor performs the symbolic gesture of giving the keys of the city to King Momo, who is normally represented by a public figure whose appearance in the festivities indicates the start of Carnaval. Among the variety of attractions that this city offers, there is the street Carnaval with its new trend for shows in events like Rio Folia which is celebrated each year in the famously bohemian neighborhood called Lapa. There are also outdoor festivals with popular marchinhas, which last about five days in an old part of town called Cinelandia.

Carnaval in Sao PauloThe Sambodromo, known as the samba parade, is where the samba schools present their monumental parades filled with the grace and mysticism of a people rich with traditions and folklore. This project was started by the renowned architect, Oscar Niemeyer. In Sao Paulo Carnaval grows year after year and is, at the same time, a festival of luxury, color and beauty, becoming a true visual delight. The Sambodromo of the Anhembi area was also a project of this famous Brazilian architect.

Carnaval in Salvador de BahiaThe Carnaval of Salvador de Bahia is another one of the most frequented in Brazil and has about half a million visitors each year. This fascinatingly historic city is the birthplace of Olodum, an Afro-culture group that was founded in 1979 in the city of Pelourinho, which was made famous when the Michael Jackson video "They Don't Care About Us" was shot here.

Carnaval in RecifeThe stars of the Carnaval of Salvador are the "trios electricos" (trailers that are decked out with sound systems), invented by a famous pair from the Brazilian state of Bahia called Dodo and Osmar. Nowadays, this enormous festival attracts thousands of people who follow behind the trio, accompanied by famous singers from Salvador.

Another of the more notorious Carnavals is in Recife, Pernambuco, where the impressive "bloco" (a "trio electrico" with a group of people who are similarly dressed or costumed, partying with that particular group) Galo da Madrugada draws more than a million people to the street, where the music of choice is the "frevo". In Olinda, Carnaval is more popular and draws even more people to the narrow and steep streets of the city, while you can admire the gigantic parade dolls.

Carnaval in BrazilOff-season Carnaval is also a great option for traveling to any of the cities that organize these events. They were inspired by the famous and still-popular "Micareta" of Bahia (a famous off-season Carnaval held in Bahia) and have spread all over Brazil. Among the main off-season Carnavals, there are the Fortal in Fortaleza, the Carnatal in Natal, the Carnabelo in Belo Horizonte and the Maceio Fest.

If you want to see what Carnaval is all about, you can find out all year round and enjoy it in practically every corner of Brazil. Let loose and feel the incredible energy from this unforgettable experience!