The Brazilian Carnival (Portuguese: Carnaval) is an annual celebration in Brazil held 40 days before Easter and marking the start of Lent. During Lent, Roman Catholics, which constitute the majority in Brazil, are to abstain from bodily pleasures.
Brazilian Carnival as a whole exhibits some differences with its counterparts in Europe and other parts of the world, and within Brazil it has distinct regional manifestations.
Rio de Janeiro
The Brazilian citizens used to riot the Carnival until it was accepted by the government as an expression of culture. The modern Brazilian Carnival finds its roots in Rio de Janeiro in the 1830s, 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, over time acquiring elements derived from African and Amerindian cultures.
In the late 19th century, the cordões (literally laces in Portuguese) were introduced in Rio de Janeiro. These were groups of people who would parade through the streets playing music and dancing. Today they are known as blocos (blocks), consisting of a group of people who dress in costumes according to certain themes or to celebrate the Carnival in specific ways. Blocos are generally associated with particular neighbourhoods or suburbs and include both a percussion or music group and an entourage of revellers.
During the Carnival, a fat man is elected to represent the role of Rei Momo, the "king" of Carnival.
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is known worldwide for the elaborate parades staged by the city’s major samba schools in the Sambadrome and is one of the world’s major tourist attractions.
Samba schools are very large, well-financed organizations that labor year round in preparation for Carnival. Parading in the Sambadrome runs over four entire nights and is part of an official competition, divided into seven divisions, in which a single samba school will be declared that year’s winner. Blocos deriving from the samba schools also hold street parties in their respective suburbs, through which they parade along with their followers.
There are several major differences between Carnival in the state of Bahia in Brazil's Northeast Region 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.
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, "Indian" 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 "Indian" 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.
The state of Pernambuco, another Northeast Region state, has a unique Carnival in its capital of Recife, as well as in other cities like Olinda. Frevo, a type of music from Pernambuco, is especially popular.
Unlike the Carnivals in Salvador or Rio, Pernambuco's festivities do not include competitions between parade groups. Big groups in magnificent parades dance side by side with improvised others. "Troças" and "maracatus", mostly of African influence, begin one week before Carnival and end on the Sunday after Carnival up until Ash Wednesday. There are well-known groups with funny names such as: "Tell me you love me, damn it", "The Midnight Man" (with a famous giant dancing doll that leads the group), "Crazy Lover", "Olinda's Underpants" and "The Door."