Samba: The Music of Carnival

Music is a substantial part of Brazilian history and culture, whether it’s the musical sounds of Brazilian Choro, energetic feel of Brazilian Samba, the musical movement dubbed Tropicalismo, or the rooty sounds of Bahian, they have all played an important role in making Brazil what it is today. In this article we are focusing on Samba – the official music of Brazil’s Carnival.

In the early 20th century, music was needed for the Rio Carnival celebrations, thus the Samba de Enredo was born. This type of Samba consists of one or two singers, joined by hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of chorus members and drummers. Samba de Enredo is described as being the loudest form of music you’ll ever experience, and the really amazing thing is it’s all done without any form of amplification. Local Rio Samba schools make a recorded compilation of music from that year’s Carnival every year. Although listening to a recording is nowhere near as powerful as it is live, you can take a listen to this recorded sample with the link below:

Samba-Cancao is another form of Samba derived from Samba de Enredo. While still along the same musical line, Samba-Cancao is much quieter and is performed by only one singer and one back up band. This type of Samba can consist of both fast and slow songs, and is retains more popularity than the grander scale Samba de Enredo in Brazil due to its more relaxed pace. Some of the more popular Samba-Cancao artists are Beth Carvalho, who holds title of Queen of this genre, Alcione, and Clara Nunes, and Paulinho da Viola. Take a listen to the Queen of Samba at the link below:

Dancing to Samba is an entire art-form in itself. In fact, entire schools in Brazil are dedicated to teaching the Samba and this dance is taken rather seriously by many. The Samba is generally danced in 2/4 time, but there are several constantly changing types of Samba:

Samba No Pe – Solo samba dance consisting of right and left leg lifts coinciding with the beat of the song. This is the most popular form of Samba dance used in Carnival events. Take a look at the link below to see some Carnival Samba dancing:

Samba de Gafieira – This is a partner Samba that is often looked at as a combination of the Waltz and the Tango.

Samba Pagode – A more intimate version of the Samba de Gafieira and with less acrobatics.

Samba Axe – An entirely choreographed solo version of Samba.

Samba de Roda – This is an Afro-Brazilian dance that is choreographed and includes singing, clapping, dancing, even poetry.



A Brief History of Carnival

Carnival is one of the best known and oldest traditions to date where cities the world over hold Carnival celebrations before the Catholic time of Lent, which is a time of fasting, self-denial, and prayer. Cities in each continent hold colorful Carnival celebrations each year, with Brazil actually holding the Guinness Book of World Records title of being the largest Carnival celebration in the world.

The exact beginnings of Carnival are still in dispute, but one thing’s for sure – it’s been around a while. The origins of Carnival as we know it today began in medieval Italy, but many of the rituals that are the make-up of this festival date back to pre-Christian times. For instance, the elaborate masked costumes featured in Carnival celebrations are thought to date back to Swabian-Alenannic carnival. Roman Festivals, such as Saturnalia and Bacchanalia, are also thought to have contributed to Carnival.

The Carnival celebrations that really laid the groundwork for present day Carnival began in Venice, Italy. From there it began to spread and take root all over Europe, including France, Portugal, Germany, and Spain, eventually making its way into North American, Latin American, and Caribbean cultures. The celebrations in these areas of the world are probably the ones you are most familiar with, such as Mardi Gras in Louisiana, Carnival in Brazil, and Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago.

How Carnival obtained its name is still in dispute. It’s widely believed that it comes from the Italian word Carne, which means meat, and that it possibly even further derived from the Italian phrase carne levare, which means “to remove meat”. This makes sense because it was common to refrain from eating any form of meat during Lent. Other scholars believe Carnival’s name originates from the Latin expression carne vale which means “farewell to meat” or “farewell to flesh”. There are also some historians that will argue that the name came from the Latin carrus navalis, meaning “ship cart”, and the Roman festival of Navigium Isidis, where celebrations were held to bless the start of the sailing season.

Whatever the true origins of Carnival may be – it’s a pretty phenomenal thing to be such a wide spread celebration of life, love, happiness, joy, and fulfillment that takes place in so many countries throughout the world.