Last week, 46 million people—both domestic and international visitors—attended Carnival parades across Brazil, marking the first time since the pandemic. In Rio, a city known for its iconic, grand scale festivities, nearly 80,000 tourists from abroad attended the event at the Sambadrome, bringing in an approximate revenue of $1 billion dollars. Meanwhile, over 150 street parties, known as blocos, were predicted to take over the streets.
Carnival, which began as a pagan festival in the early 15th century, is an annual celebration beginning the Friday before Ash Wednesday, marking the start of Lent. The word Carnival itself stems from the term “Carnevale,” which means “farewell to meat,” referring to the practice of abstinence from meat during the passage of Lent. Today, the festival is Brazil’s most popular national holiday and a central feature of Brazilian cultural heritage.
The tradition of Carnival represents a wealth of cultural diversity, as it brings together European, Indigenous, and Afro-Brazilian influences. The popular music and dance style of Samba, as a central feature of Carnival, has its roots in the oral and religious traditions brought over by West African slaves beginning in the sixteenth century.
Its diffusion and consumption over the following centuries transformed it into a lasting and significant feature of Brazilian culture. Furthermore, European instruments like pandeiro and cavaquinho are essential for creating the rhythms and melodies characteristic of Carnival, while the performers’ costumes borrow inspiration from traditional Indigenous garb.
Aside from embodying the racial and ethnic diversity characteristic of Brazilian society, Carnival represents regional diversity as well, as the style of music, dance, and costumes vary according to region. In the Southeast, cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo hold enormous organized parades led by competing samba schools.
Other minor parades, however, are open for public participation. Meanwhile, Northeastern cities like Recife, Salvador, and Porto Seguro are known for organized street parades, which allow for direct engagement with the public. Furthermore, every Carnival celebration is uniquely influenced by different local folklore and cultural elements.
While, in the Southeast, Samba takes center stage, in the Northeast, other forms of music are more prevalent, including Frevo, Maracatu, Samba-reggae, and Pagode—rhythms that, like Samba, were developed by Afro-Brazilians and their descendants.
Ultimately, while 2023 has seen a Carnival unlike any other, the festival continues to showcase Brazil’s rich cultural heritage and brings people from around the world together for a time of joy and celebration.
My name is Clara Rabbani and I am a rising Junior at the University of Chicago, majoring in Anthropology with a minor in Environmental Studies. During my time with Latina Republic, I worked as an Environmental Writer with a focus on Brazil. My stories were primarily centered on activism, indigenous life, current environmental crises and innovations, and national NGOs. The conservation of nature and native biodiversity, as well as the preservation of indigenous voices have been major themes in my work. Working as a Latin American Correspondent has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Bringing attention to such urgent environmental topics has really informed my own understanding of our current social systems and governments and influenced the path I want to follow professionally. As I pursue my studies in the fields of Anthropology and Environmental Studies, I hope to continue building on the many skills I have developed in my time with Latina Republic. I truly appreciate the work the organization is doing as a platform for students to explore a variety of relevant themes while developing their own writing and voice.