Due to the pandemic, one of the most famous parties in the World, Rio de Janeiro's Carnival, was postponed to start next week (April 20th to April 30th). The Samba Schools are rehearsing like crazy and everyone is so excited to see what will be paraded in the Sambodrome (the venue where everything carnival happens, the parades from samba schools and we get to see every detail really close), after a two-year gap!
We got excited about this too and since our founder Rita Avellar is vacationing in Rio, we thought it was a good idea to bring a little bit of this party's inspiration and curiosities to you! It is one of the most creative businesses in Brazil and it keeps growing each year. Get your samba dance lessons ready, because you will not resist!
Origins of Brazilian Carnival
Carnival is a festival of pagan origin, dating back to ancient times. In view of one of its main characteristics, the inversion of social roles during celebrations – such as slaves dressing up as masters, for example – the origin of Carnival can be found in Mesopotamia, Greece, or Rome.
In Brazil, historians date back to the Portuguese who possibly started the first celebrations of what we know today about the carnival. This happened around 1641 with the Entrudo, a party that could be very violent and consisted of throwing all kinds of liquids and a powder at others. Entrudo means entrance, marking the beginning of the period preceding the religious Christian tradion of Lent. In Brazil, it was practiced since the colonial period, mainly by slaves and the lower classes.
In 1841, the Entrudo was banned due to its violence and the people adapted the event in order to continue it. From 1855 to 1890 the early Brazilian carnival after almost being banned, was embraced by the elite (mostly because they wanted to censor the satires and criticism that came from the people and their costumes and messages) and started to be held in closed paid venues inspired by what was the Venetian Carnival, also with French inspiration. People in lower classes began bringing the party once again to the streets taking instruments and parading by foot, starting what we know today as Rio's street carnival, or Blocos. This way, as we can observe until today, Carnival plays an important social role and ooints out different layers of society while being ironic, satiric, and also celebrating the cultural inheritance such as African ancestry and religions who built the city's cultural background. In 1917 the first samba was created and in 1932 the first samba school contest took place. It was only in 1984 that the Sambódromo was made the main stage for the samba school parades.
Until 1980, Carnival didn't have a fixed place to happen in Rio, and was distributed around the city's streets and sometimes in closed hotels with paid balls for the richest people. In 1980, with the disorganized growth of the Samba Schools, and with the need to improve the parades, Leonel Brizola, the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro at the time, ordered the renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer a project including in it an enormous capacity of the public who could be able to watch the show, from every spot. The worldwide known Sambódromo was created and, until today, that's where the magic happens in Rio's biggest party and is televised to the whole world.
The term “carnival” comes from the Latin expression “carnem levare”, which means “to move away from the flesh”. The expression became popular because the celebration of the feast, as already said, precedes Lent, a period of 40 days before Easter, in which meat is not to be eaten.
The Sambadrome where the parades take place in Rio de Janeiro has the official name of Avenida Marquês de Sapucaí. The place was designed by renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer and its structure holds up to more than 72,000 people.
The Venice Carnival is one of the oldest in the world. The party was created in 1094 by Vitale Falier, a member of one of the most influential families in the city at the time, and had the objective, before Lent, to offer the population a period of play, games, and fun.
At the end of the 1920s, some carnival blocks began to organize themselves, giving rise to the first samba schools.
The first samba school parade organized in Rio de Janeiro took place in 1932. Each school could present up to three sambas and the champion was Mangueira.
Mestre Sala and Porta Bandeira couple (photo above). The couple always has to dance together. The man can never turn his back on his mate, but must always be twirling around her, in the role of protector. Costumes must be impeccable, always wearing white closed shoes or another color that matches the entire theme. She can't let the flag curl up. They need to always be smiling, and emitting pride as they have a duty to show the love they feel for their Samba School.
The Drum Queen (Rainha de Bateria) has the role of introducing the drums and motivating the percussionists, who continue to play behind her. The Queen does not have an item evaluated by the commission, only her costume is evaluated. As drum queens are usually national celebrities, they are an important marketing element for schools. With their black heeled sandals, they command the party and enliven the revelers.
The first "marchinha" was created by a woman. The first carnival march was created by the pianist Chiquinha Gonzaga. In 1889, she created “Abre Alas” for the carnival group Rosas de Ouro, and this march is, to this day, one of the most popular and recognized in Brazilian culture.
Street Carnival in Rio in 1960 footage: