Party Time: Carnival in Brazil
Carnival is perhaps the biggest draw for tourists to visit Brazil and this is no surprise! Forty days before Easter, the country comes to a halt as people take to the streets to don flamboyant costumes, drink Caipirinha and dance each night away for this week long hedonistic national party. Every town and city up and down Brazil has its own carnival with its own local traditions and styles.
Even though it's uniquely Brazilian, however, they aren't precious about visitors coming to enjoy the carnival party for themselves! Whether you want to see the out-of-this-world costumes and parades at the Rio carnival, or get down on the street and party at the more democratic "people's" carnival in Salvador de Bahia, you'll be welcomed with open arms and glasses of caipirinha!
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Carnival occurs all over Brazil but perhaps the most famous one takes place in Rio de Janeiro. During carnival week the city grinds to a halt as its inhabitants prepare to party for four days.
Rio Carnival is famous for its grand parades which occur in the city's Sambodromo, designed by Brazil's world-famous architect, the modernist Oscar Niemeyer. This ‘stadium of samba’ consists of a parade avenue lined with stadium style seating, along which participants perform in an effort to wow the crowds with their original songs, lyrics and costumes. Able to accommodate 70,000 spectators, it truly is an assault on the senses as the party begins and the Sambodromo fills with the roar of the crowd and the sound of the samba.
The performers at the Rio Carnival come from the samba schools; groups set up, usually in Rio’s poorest neighbourhoods, the favelas, who practice all year in the lead up to the four days of carnival when they compete to be crowned number one samba school in Rio. They gain their inspiration from traditional samba rhythms and songs but modify them in a humorous way, usually to reflect the area of Rio which they come from. An example of this being "Suvaco do Cristo", meaning Christ’s statues armpit, and a reflection of the angle at which this samba school can see the famous Christ the Redeemer statue from their neighbourhood.
While the parades take place at the Sambadromo, there are parties all over the city that you can get involved in both during the 4 days of parades but also before and after it. These parties take place in many of the hotels around the city, as well as the nightclubs and all have their own feel, with DJs and live musicians providing the soundtrack. And if you really want to get a feel for the samba, then you can head to one of the samba schools who open up their dance halls at the weekend from November onwards. Once inside these schools, you can get acquainted with their songs and lyrics so that you can chant and sing along with the crowd when they perform them in the Sambadromo.
One aspect of the Rio Carnival that many people aren't aware of is the Carnival Winners Parade. Taking place the weekend after the main Carnival is finished, this is where the champion samba schools of the year's Carnival get their moment in the sun as they parade one last time through the Samabdromo, with all the floats, music, dancers and atmosphere - just like the main carnival. In fact, many Rio residents will tell you that they almost prefer the Winners Parade to the main Carnival because of the more relaxed atmosphere, and it's certainly a great deal cheaper both for tickets and hotels.
The main carnival in the state of Bahia takes place in its capital, Salvador. Carnival in the state of Bahia differs to carnival in Rio de Janeiro in that the focus is not just solely on samba styles as rhythms. It features many Bahian styles of music such as Axé, the term given to artists from Salvador that make music based on north-eastern Brazilian, Caribbean and African rhythms with a pop-rock twist. Bahian carnival also more obviously celebrates its black history. In the 1880s the Bahian black population celebrated carnival by dancing and playing instruments in the street, this was looked down on by the ruling white elite. However, the black population defied the ban and the spirit of this lives on in Bahian carnival groups such as the Afoxês, who take inspiration from the African religion Candomblé.
Compared to the carnival in Rio, the Salvador carnival is much more inclusive in its parade with there being a variety of ways allowing you to get involved; the ‘pipoca’ option, allowing you dance on the streets for free, the ‘camerote’ option allowing you to watch from a fixed cabin, with food, drink and your own DJ provided, or you can buy an ‘abada’, a colourful t-shirt which will allow you get involved in its corresponding trio/bloco (the name for the different sections of the parade) and dance along with the performers.