By Christine Wipfli, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – With Carnival fever in full swing, Brazilians as well as foreigners alike are celebrating this vibrant festival all over the country. Of course, Rio de Janeiro offers the most popular “desfile” or parade at the city’s Sambódromo (a purpose-built parade area), but hundreds of other cities offer their own unique spin on the samba celebration.
With each different region of Brazil, the culture varies slightly and these differences are reflected in how Carnival is celebrated.
When Carnival first took off in the business and finance capital of Sao Paulo in the Fifties it was a small event that had few samba schools, but over the years has boomed into a sensational experience drawing more than 350,000 enthusiasts from all over Sao Paulo state to the city’s Sambódromo do Anhembi, where the parade takes place.
Most spectators of the parade are lifelong supporters of a particular samba school, similar to the loyalty to the nation’s soccer teams. Unique only among the samba schools in Sao Paulo, two of the most popular soccer teams are represented with Corinthians by Gaviões da Fiel, and the Palmeiras soccer club represented by Mancha Verde. Music wise the samba in Sao Paulo, comically nicknamed the “samba do trabalho” (samba of work) is more influenced by heavier percussion rhythms.
For a more intense and interactive Carnival one can head to Salvador, Bahia, in the northeastern part of the country. Salvador is the largest center of African culture in the Americas.
Amidst the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, there is an unmistakable beat of Bahian drumming. You can hear it in the stereo speakers blasting the latest Axê pop music. (Pronounced Ah-shea, this music features Afro-Caribbean genres, such as Marcha, Reggae, and Calypso).
Bahia’s Carnival is unique in that it is a completely public event, as oppose to some parades in Rio and Sao Paulo where you have to pay to view the Sambódromo performances. Considered one of the world’s largest public festivities, Carnival in Bahia attracts a crowd close to three million participants.
In this festival artists perform on huge, slow moving trucks packed with loud speakers called “trio eletricos”. The tradition began in 1950 when two Bahian musicians, Dodo and Osmar, performed with their electric trio aboard a 1929 Ford pickup truck.
The theme took off in Bahia and now there are around twenty to forty different bands performing on top of moving vehicles through Salvador’s historic streets. Anyone is allowed to participate in this pulsating musical parade, the only catch is that one would need to buy a shirt to match the band that they wish to follow, dancing and parading along with that vehicle all throughout the duration.
The parades last for weeks, and the daily music and dancing begins as early as noon and runs until 7 or 8AM all through the night and into the next morning.
In the interior of the country, several Minas Gerais cities like Ouro Preto, Pompéu, Mariana,and Diamantina, attract large crowds each year with their lively Carnival parades.
These parades are similarly characterized by “blocos carnavalescos” or Carnival floats with varying themes and fantasy styles, almost always accompanied by a brass and drums band.
The city of Ouro Preto is a very popular attraction for young adults during Carnival. The city has a large proportion of students, who during the year live in edifices called Repúblicas.
During carnival, the Repúblicas are packed with residents and visitors from all over the country enjoying the vivacious festivities.
In the south of Brazil, cities such as Curitiba, Florianópolis, Camboriú, and Porto Alegre all have smaller samba school parades and festivities that offer a variety of tastes for all Carnival enthusiasts.
For anyone who doesn’t mind traveling the distance, all of Brazil’s regional Carnival spectacles have something unique to offer.