THE BLOG

Get to Know and Enjoy the World's Biggest Carnival

23/01/2015 12:37 GMT | Updated 25/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Although Carnival is also celebrated in other countries, especially those with a strong Catholic tradition, it was in Brazil that this popular festival found its greatest expression, helping to create the nation's culture. Lasting four days, the Carnival festival takes place 40 days before Easter, starting this year on 14th February and ending on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the western Christian calendar. Although seen by some as a secular event, it is a time of great entertainment and fun for all who take part.

The celebrations are spread throughout the whole country, from the biggest cities to tiny villages, but the most renowned parties take place in: Rio de Janeiro, with the traditional samba schools procession; São Paulo, where its earliest records date back to 1604; in Salvador (Bahia), where the African, Indigenous, afoxé, samba and reggae groups bring thousands of people to the streets; and in Recife and Olinda, Pernambucan cities where the highlight is the frevo dancing that accompanies the largest carnival group in the world and the colourful, gigantic puppets of Olinda, that are more than two metres tall.

In Rio de Janeiro, a city of beautiful beaches, one of the main characteristics of Carnival is the involvement of inhabitants from the poorest communities, who make this festival one of the main events of the year. During two days of procession, the 12 main schools parade past the Sambadrome in a spectacular, colourful procession made up of numerous floats and dancers in costume. Brazilians from every corner of the country, and every social class, as well as visitors from around the world, are also involved. Entertainment is also provided from street groups - there are more than 400 in Rio - where groups of friends, relatives and strangers get together to party. As well as this, clubs across the city organise more private events.

During Carnival time, samba practically becomes the official music of Rio de Janeiro (and other Brazilian cities). Simply explained, samba is one of Brazil's cultural expressions, created by the descendants of the black people that were brought from Africa as slaves during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With an infectious rhythm, samba, a word of African origin, is played with percussion instruments (drums, surdo drums and tambourines) and accompanied by the guitar and cavaquinho guitar. If anyone wishes to learn it, the Carioca schools are an excellent place to visit.

Meanwhile, in Pernambuco, the Galo da Madrugada ('Dawn Rooster'), created in 1978 and considered the largest carnival group in the world, normally brings over 1 million people to the streets of Recife, with its excellent frevo orchestra and plenty of entertainment, which starts in the morning and has no official closing time. Covering at least 10 kilometres, the party ends in Olinda, where one of the main attractions, besides the diverse hillsides of this world cultural heritage city, are the dozens of gigantic puppets, known as the Homem da Meia Noite ('Midnight Man').

Further south at the Salvador Carnival in Bahia, where some say samba was born, the celebrations normally last longer than the traditional four days. Here, as the famous song by Caetano Veloso says: "atrás do trio elétrico só não vai quem já morreu" ('behind the electric cart, only the dead don't go'); in other words, everyone goes. The entertainment options are numerous: with street groups, in the artists' boxes, in the grandstand or in clubs. During the Carnival period, more than 2 million revellers join the party. One of its strengths is the so-called arrastão (trawl), in which electric carts driven by local artists set out from different parts of the city and meet up at a designated point on the city waterfront.

Designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer, the samba stage in São Paulo, in the Southeast region of Brazil, takes place in the Anhembi Sambadrome. The parade by the Special Group of samba schools takes place on the Friday, one day before the official Carnival start date, and Saturday. Every year, more than 100,000 people watch this parade, besides those who are enjoying themselves in the city's clubs and street groups.

In 2014, according to a survey by the Ministry of Tourism, Carnival drew more than 6.6 million tourists, both Brazilians and foreigners, and added R$6.1 billion to the Brazilian economy. According to estimates, Rio de Janeiro was the state that attracted the most tourists during festival days, especially to the capital, Búzios, Cabo Frio, Petrópolis, Angra dos Reis and Paraty. The projection is that 1.2 million tourists visited the region, which represented a movement of R$1.1 billion within the economy.

The second most visited place, according to the survey, was São Paulo and its surrounding areas (Santos, Guarujá, Ubatuba and Ilha Bela), with 960,000 tourists and an increase of R$885 million to the economy. In third place was Recife and its neighbours (Olinda, Cabo and Porto de Galinhas) with 850,000 tourists and R$787 million. According to the Brazilian Association of Events Companies, the Salvador Carnival attracted 550,000 people, with revenue of R$1 billion. In total, events linked to this popular festival generate around 250,000 direct and indirect jobs.

As the music of Bahian composer Dorival Caymmi says, "o samba da minha terra deixa a gente mole, quando se canta todo mundo bole, quando se canta todo mundo bole. Quem não gosta do samba bom sujeito não é. Ou é ruim da cabeça ou doente do pé" ("the samba from my land leaves people soft, when sung the whole world gets up, when sung the whole world gets up. He who doesn't like samba, a good man he is not. Or else sick in the head or ill in the foot").