Spending Carnival in Northeastern Brazil

While Rio has the most international draw, Carnival in other Brazilian cities have become well known destinations also.

By Stephanie Foden, Contributing Reporter

SALVADOR, BRAZIL – Nearly 500,000 foreign visitors flock to Brazil for its biggest holiday each year, famous the world over, Carnival in Brazil is characterized by a week-long celebration of music, dance, parades and non-stop parties. While customs, costumes and style vary by region, Rio de Janeiro’s get the most attention internationally, but the Northeast is growing a reputation as well.

Salvador Carnival, Brazil News

A famed trio elétrico on a packed street in Salvador, photo by simonmcmanus/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Over the past few decades, while Rio has placed more emphasis on its samba school parade competition at the Sambódromo, Carnival in other Brazilian cities have risen from the shadows for their street parties – perhaps most notable in the states of Bahia and Pernambuco.

Salvador’s Carnival is known around the country as Rio’s greatest rival. The heavily African influenced bash is dubbed the largest street party in the world, with around two million flooding the streets every year. Bahia’s capital has three main styles: trios elétricos, blocos afro and afoxés.

Trios eléctricos are the largest attractions at the Bahian carnival. Huge groups dance while following a truck on top of which musicians perform for several hours as it slowly parades down the road.

Blocos afro are massive drum ensembles which often consist of hundreds of drummers, whose music is heavily rooted to African heritage. Popular groups such as Ilê Aiyê, who were the first bloco afro in the country, and Olodum, who often perform on an international stage at events such as the World Cup, are an essential part of Salvador Carnival.

Another tradition to the Bahian festival are the afoxés, who derive their music and costumes from the African-Brazilian religion Candomblé. The style, which has been around for more than a century, is however more social than religious during the week of Carnival.

“At midnight [at the start of Carnival] a float sets off with thousands of people dressed up as everything you can imagine. That’s about eight hours of pure fun and laughs, free of charge and packed with good vibes. The other two circuits are always on my list to enjoy the traditional folklore, with family and children throughout the day, everyone sets aside their preconceived stereotypes and enjoy the mixture of Carnival together,” said British and Brazilian English teacher, Giselle Schaeffer.

Olinda Carnival, Brazil News

Monsenhor Fabrício square outside Olinda town hall is a favorite spot for many partygoers, photo by Prefeitura de Olinda.

The pairing of Carnivals in Recife and sister city Olinda, both in Pernambuco state, is the third most attended in the country. The party in the two cities share some similar characteristics such as their liking of frevo music, a genre that resemble American polka which originated in Pernambuco and is played in a fiery fast tempo with bass instruments.

However both have a unique feel from each other, and unlike Recife’s Carnival, the festivities in Olinda are best enjoyed during the day. The famed giant puppets that flow through Olinda’s historic colorful streets are a charming attribute of the traditional celebration.

The papier-mâché puppets are an attraction themselves and can reach as high as 15 feet. The most famous puppet is the Homem da Meia-Noite (Midnight Man) who, since 1932, welcomes the festivities on Saturday at midnight.

Unlike other Brazilian cities, there are no stands or roping in Olinda. While the government provides the essential tools such as transportation, security and marketing, people organize their own blocos, play their own music and make their own parade route.

“Pernambuco’s Carnival is the most authentic one. It is totally free and there is no segregation like Bahia’s and Rio’s commercial Carnivals. People from different origins, colors, and economic classes enjoy and play together,” said Igor Denisard, a São Paulo University law student who will return to Pernambuco for the holiday again this year.

Carnival options are seemingly endless in Brazil. While Rio, Salvador and Recife/Olinda draw in the largest crowds, there are several more noteworthy parties in every corner of the country, each offering something unique to the biggest celebration in the country.

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