Carnival history goes way back to numerous mass celebrations were held in honor of the Greek god of wine. It wasn’t long before the Romans began to host a festival in honor of Bacchus and Saturnalia, which were nights filled with drunken revelry where people threw mud with water on each other and soldiers exchanged clothes with their masters.
Later, the Roman Catholic Church toned down the celebrations, making it a festival lasting for five days before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which is a time for abstaining from worldly pleasures. The Portuguese brought the Carnival to Brazil, where the first Carnival ball was said to be hosted by the wife of an Italian ambassador in Rio in 1840. Carnival celebrations at the time were influenced by ‘Entrudo’, a Portuguese festival.
The Carnival got its African influence much later in the early 1900s when samba took over from the polka and waltz at Carnival celebrations. The samba arises from African roots that developed as a distinctive kind of music and made its way into the Carnival history books in 1917. The festival continues to be strongly influenced by black immigrants from Bahia.
The term Carnival is derived from the Portuguese term ‘Carne Vale’, meaning ‘Farewell to meat’, a period when Catholics abstain from meat, alcohol, and other pleasures of the flesh, right from Ash Wednesday to the festival of Easter. Today, no other event in Carnival history is as spectacular and colorful as the Rio Carnival with the Sambodromo being the center of attraction. 12 of the most famous samba schools including Mangueira, Salgueiro, Mocidade, Beija Flor, and Grande Rio put up a spectacular performance in a bid to win the prestigious championship title.
While the samba soon became the highlight of Carnival parades from 1917, the African influence extended to the masks and costumes that are now an integral part of the modern Rio Carnival. With the abolition of slavery many of the African slaves settled in and around Rio and continued their tradition of making costumes from feathers, bones, stones, and grass to invoke the gods and ward off evil spirits. The most gifted musicians and dancers of the time have passed their talents down to the present generation, which we are privileged to witness during the Rio Carnival.
According to Carnival history the word samba is probably derived from the Angolan term, ‘semba’ or ‘mesemba, a religious rhythm. The new genre that originated in the black ghettos did not take time to capture the hearts of millions of people. The first samba recording was said to be ‘Pelo Telefone’ by Donga and Mauro Almeida in 1917. During the days of slavery, the samba was a great antidote for the slaves in times of adversity. With the introduction of the samba at Carnival parades in Rio in 1917, musicians, composers, and dancers soon began to form clubs and associations with the objective to host a healthy competition every year.
This led to the formation of samba schools. The first official parade by samba schools began in 1932, which eventually led to the formation of the Association of Schools of Samba City in Rio de Janeiro, the body that organizes the samba parades at the Sambodromo during the Rio Carnival.
The first samba school in Rio Carnival history was formed in 1928. ‘Deixa Falar’ or ‘Let Me Speak’ was the first school established. Over the years, samba schools have become well organized with large infrastructures to help them prepare for the Rio Carnival each year. This includes a host of choreographers, fashion designers, the finest musicians and dancers, artisans, and a large group of supporters. Today, samba schools are resemble modern corporate structures where each one has a social responsibility in supporting lower income groups with gainful employment.
While the streets of Rio are where the spirit of the Carnival casts its magic spell, the Sambodromo at Marques de Sapucai Avenue is where the toughest of competitions takes place. The event is one of the most televised events in Brazil Carnival history. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the pioneer of modern architecture, the Sambodromo was built specially for the samba parades by the top samba schools that vie for the championship title every year. The stadium consists of concrete structures on either side of the street that doubles up as the samba runway where thousands of sambistas from samba schools strut their stuff in colorful costumes and sway to the resounding beats of the caixa drums.
Each school has 85 minutes to put up an enthralling display in front of a panel of 40 judges, edged on by over 80,000 spectators. The new Sambodromo has room for more spectators that wish to visit Rio de Janeiro during the 2020 Carnival. There are extra seating arrangements including newly constructed luxury suites for the convenience of spectators, in addition to a wider samba runway.
Thousands of members take part in a samba school parade, with each member playing a particular role according to the school’s theme. True to carioca tradition, you will never be spoiled for choice when it comes to entertainment at the Rio Sambodromo. The price of tickets to the stadium varies according to the day of competition. However, you will need to book them early to avoid disappointment. You can also catch up with samba schools at rehearsal parties conducted by them on weekends before the Carnival.
For many years in Brazil Carnival history the event has been celebrated in Rio for a week leading up to Ash Wednesday. While celebrations officially start on Friday, right through to the following Tuesday, there are many events that set the tempo for the celebrations as early as December. The day before Ash Wednesday is known as Fat Tuesday, the last day for many Catholics that observe Lent to enjoy themselves before abstinence for 40 days until Easter. While the type of celebrations that typifies the Rio Carnival is not what the Church may have expected, there is no stopping the biggest party in Carnival history for taking place every year in the city of Rio.
The dates for the Rio Carnival vary every year since it is based on the lunar calendar that has been followed for centuries. Designed by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the same system is followed in determining the Carnival dates. King Momo will signal the start of the 2020 Rio Carnival on february 5th, while the celebrations continue until February 10th. Come and make part of the Rio Carnival History. Rio Carnival is one of those things you have to put on your list of things to do before you die. Seriously! Rio Carnival is indeed the greatest show on earth.