Sharing the world's unknown mystiques

Brazilian Carnival

It's Carnival in Brazil. Well, in many places around the globe, actually, but the Brazilian Carnival is undoubtedly one of the most famous.

But how did it start?

Carnival was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese colonizers between the 16th and 17th centuries, initially through the Entrudo, a popular game. Over time, Carnaval acquired other forms of expression, such as the masked ball. The emergence of carnival societies contributed to the popularization of the celebration among the poor.

In the 20th century, the popularization of the party contributed to the emergence of samba, a musical style heavily influenced by African culture, and the samba school parade, an event that eventually became official with government support. During this period, Carnival took its position as the largest popular party in Brazil.

Inspired by 19th century Rio de Janeiro.


The entrudo could be performed in several ways, as public manifestations of mockery. The best-known form was the game of molhadelas, which took place a few days before Lent and consisted of a game in which passers-by were wetted or soiled on the street. It could be played publicly or privately.

In the game of molhadelas, containers were made and filled with a certain liquid. This liquid could be flavored, but it could also be odorous, in which case the container was filled with water polluted with flour or coffee, for example, and even urine."

"In public, the entrudo was used as an instrument of ridicule, as people would turn against anyone who crossed the streets of cities. Because it was a very popular practice, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, this game was seen as an opportunity for some families to earn extra income.

These families were dedicated to the production of the containers, which were filled with any kind of liquid and then sold. The game was so popular that even the Brazilian royal family was a fan of entrudo. Despite its popularity, most of Brazil's elite did not like it, so much so that several decrees against entrudo were issued throughout our history.

In the 19th century, there was an intense campaign against entrudo. As a result of the transition from monarchy to republic, the state's more consistent actions of gentrification (expulsion of the popular classes from the city centers) and the repression of popular manifestations, the practice lost strength in the early 20th century.

The press was one of the main actors in the development of the campaign against entrudo in Brazil. While entrudo was repressed in the streets, the empire's elite created the carnival balls in clubs and theaters. There was no music at the entrudo balls, unlike the balls in the imperial capital, where polkas were played.

Rio de Janeiro's elite also created societies, the first of which was the Congresso das Sumidades Carnavalescas, to parade in the city's streets. While the entrudo was suppressed, the imperial high society tried to "take over" the streets.

Cordões, ranchos e marchinhas (Street Carnival)

Even in the face of obstacles, the popular classes did not give up their carnival practices. At the end of the 19th century, in an attempt to adapt to the police's attempts at discipline, cordões and ranchos were created. The former incorporated the aesthetics of religious processions with popular manifestations such as capoeira and the zé-pereiras, players of large bumbos. The ranchos were parades practiced mainly by people of rural origin.

Carnival marches also appeared in the 19th century, with Chiquinha Gonzaga and her song "Ô abre alas" standing out. Samba did not appear until the 1910s, with the song "Pelo Telefone" by Donga and Mauro de Almeida, and over time became the legitimate musical representative of Carnaval.

Afoxés, frevo e corsos

Brazilian woman dancing Frevo.

In Bahia, the first afoxés (musical rhythms) were created at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, with the aim of recalling African cultural traditions. The first afoxés were the "message of Africa" and the "pândegos of Africa". Around the same time, Frevo began to be practiced in Recife and Maracatu took over the streets of Olinda.

Throughout the 20th century, Carnaval became even more popular in Brazil, experiencing a diversity of performance forms among both the ruling and popular classes. Around the 1910s, the corsos emerged, with convertible cars of Rio de Janeiro's elite parading down Avenida Central, now Avenida Rio Branco. This practice continued until the 1930s.

Samba Schools and Trio Elétrico

Brazilian woman at the Carnival parade in Rio. Most likely a "Madrinha de Bateria" of a Samba School.

Samba schools emerged in the 1920s among the popular classes. The first samba school is believed to have been "Deixa Falar" (Let It Speak), founded in 1928, from which the Estácio de Sá school would evolve. Another pioneering samba school was "Vai como Pode", now known as Portela. The samba schools were the evolution of the cordões and ranchos, and the first dispute between them took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1932.

The marchinhas coexisted with samba from the 1930s. One of the most famous marchinhas was "Os cabelos da mulata" by Lamartine Babo and the Valença brothers. This decade became known as the era of the marchinhas. The samba school parades grew in size and were forced to conform to the authoritarian guidelines of the Vargas era. Permits to operate the schools appeared in this decade.

In 1950, the Trio Elétrico appeared in the city of Salvador, after Dodô and Osmar used an old truck to put musical instruments, played and amplified by loudspeakers, in the trunk of the truck and paraded through the streets of the city. They were a huge success. However, the name "trio elétrico" was not used until a year later, when Temistócles Aragão was invited by the two.

The Trio Elétrico was transformed in 1979, when Morais Moreira added the Afoxés drums to the composition. A new success was given to the trios elétricos, which began to be adopted in different parts of Brazil".

Ivete Sangalo, brazilian singer and Carnival Star from Salvador, Bahia,
standing on top of a Trio Elétrico.

Samba Schools

"The samba schools and the Rio Carnival began to become an important commercial activity from the 1960s. Businessmen from gambling and other legal activities began to invest in the cultural tradition. The City Hall of Rio de Janeiro began to build grandstands on Avenida Rio Branco and to charge a ticket to see the parade. In São Paulo, the Samba School Parade also developed during this period.

In 1984, the Passarela do Samba, or Sambódromo, was built in Rio de Janeiro under the former governor Leonel Brizola. With an architectural design by Oscar Niemeyer, the building became one of the main symbols of the Brazilian Carnaval. The Sambadrome hosts the parades of Rio de Janeiro's samba schools.

In addition to being a Brazilian cultural tradition, Carnaval has become a lucrative tourist and entertainment business. Millions of tourists come to the country during the carnival season, and billions of reais are generated in the production and consumption of these cultural goods.

Currently, the main champions of the samba school parades in Rio de Janeiro are Portela (22 titles) and Mangueira (20 titles). In the city of São Paulo, the greatest champions are Vai-Vai (15 titles) and Nenê de Vila Matilde (11 titles).