Carnival is the biggest tourist attraction in Brazil and attracts millions of international visitors each year. But Carnival in 2021 was wisely cancelled to reduce the spread of the pandemic, and this year, all official festivities have been tentatively postponed until April.
Street party in the Northeast Brazilian town of Olinda.
Now is not the best time visit in-person so instead we're bringing Carnival to you. Brazilian singer, Tom Jobin famously said 'Brazil is not for beginners'. With that in mind, we've assembled 'Brazilian Carnival for Beginners'. Escama Studio co-founders, Socorro and Sandra Leal will guide you through everything you need to know. Enjoy!
Escama Studio Co-Founder, Socorro Leal
"I think that Carnival for many people, including women in Brazil, is more than just a bunch of crazy and naked people. It is a deep-rooted tradition in many families around the country; each place with its own colors and sounds. Carnival in Olinda (a picturesque town in rural Brazil) is the most traditional and it is celebrated largely by families, children just having tons of fun". - Socorro Leal
In Rio, Carnival is a very big deal. The Sambadrome is a massive spectacle with parade floats, rows of samba dancers, drums and partying. Imagine the Rose Bowl Parade and Mardi Gras all rolled into one. This is an event that is watched from stands. Other festivities throughout Rio and other cities in Brazil are like neighborhood block parties where everyone participates.
A Samba School performs at Rio's Sambadrome
Escama Studio co-founder, Sandra Leal
"I always liked Carnival. Even as a little girl growing up in Brasília, this city, Rio de Janeiro, has always fascinated me. Childhood experiences come to my mind and I remember family friends from Rio,we would meet in apartments to socialize and listen to incredible sambas! I always paid attention to the lyrics and soon I knew how to sing. It happened very naturally. Songs from the Império Serrano samba school Aquarela_Brasileira from 1964 or Bumbum Paticumbum Prugurundum from 1992 are forever in my memory. I know how to samba, believe me!" - Sandra Leal
One of Sandra's favorite songs
The Origins of Samba
Rio de Janeiro is considered Carnival’s capital. While Carnival has European and Catholic origins, the thing that sets Brazilian Carnival apart is the music and dancing of Samba. Samba can be traced back to African roots and it became a prominent feature of Brazilian Carnival in the 1920s.
Here's a super video that explains the central role of Samba in Carnival and the women who devote their life to its Art.
"The samba school parade is truly something to see. It is conceived with the sweat of a whole year by people from the communities that represent them. It's also incredible to go to watch rehearsals at the actual samba schools. With an entrance ticket you're allowed to interact with the entire community. In my opinion this is the best. The proximity to the drums is magical, it takes my breath away". - Sandra Leal
Basic Samba Steps
We may never dance Samba like the dancers of the Samba Schools. But If you'd like to try some basic moves, here's a fun step-by-step dance tutorial from Rio-based dance instructor, Mr. Helio Faria.
During Carnival, there are street parties with performance groups - called 'Blocos' (blocks) - that are organized by people that live within the neighborhood. Blocos are biggest in Rio and Salvador, and usually combine drummers and a brass band to create a joyous cacophony of samba music.
"Traditional street blocks happen all over the city of Rio. It's good if you have a lot of energy and want to have fun wearing a costume. My advice: it doesn't matter if you're on the beach or downtown, the key is to hydrate like there's no tomorrow". - Sandra Leal
Children dance the Frevo in the Northeast town of Recife
"The fact is that, at least once, everyone should try to be part of this great party that is Carnival in Brazil. Whether in Rio de Janeiro, or Recife, or Salvador, or anywhere in this immense country, without a single format, it is something worth living, feeling, being a part of for a few days and simply experiencing" - Sandra Leal
Carnival in OlindaHere is an aerial view of festivities in Olinda, regarded by some as the best town to experience a traditional Brazilian Carnival.