The language of Brazil’s carnival

1 March 2019
door Regina Coeli

Every year, Carnival explodes onto the scene in Brazil. It officially runs from Sunday to Tuesday, but a lot of partying also happens in the months leading up to Carnival, like at the so-called blocos, street parties in the different neighbourhoods. And samba schools work all year round on their Carnival preparations.

Say Carnival in Brazil, and you get samba music. You can hear it everywhere during Carnival. The many parades of the samba schools are the highlight of the days-long event – Desfile das Escolas de Samba. The floats (carro alegórico), with their beautifully dressed dancers accompanied by exciting samba music, drift through the streets. Each samba school chooses a theme (enredo) and fully works it out into a brilliant presentation (alas). The parades are absolutely gigantic, and the most famous one takes place in the Sambódromo in Rio de Janeiro.
A samba school’s presentation starts with the Comissão de Frente, a group of 10 to 15 participants who greet the audience and introduce the theme with a special coreografia. After that, the rest of the presentation follows, with the bateria, or samba band, forming an essential part. The rainha da bateria, the queen of the carnival, dances at the front of the bateria. Winning a parade is not only an honour for the samba school, but also for the neighbourhood where the samba school is located.
Samba schools are closely connected to their neighbourhoods. All year long, volunteers create costumes (fantasias) with feathers (penas) and sequins (lantejoulas), and build their floats. The music and the dance are rehearsed until they are flawless.
During Carnival, there are theme balls (baile de carnaval) every evening, and entrance fees for these can run quite high.
If you go to Brazil during Carnival, the words below may come in handy.
Sambar to dance the samba
Pular Carnival Carnival
desfilar to parade
Desfile das escolas de samba a parade of samba schools
Esquenta de carnaval warming up for Carnival
Ensaio das escolas de samba a samba school’s rehearsal
Bateria drum band
Comissão de Frente the group that introduces the theme of the samba school and greets the public
Enredo the theme of a parade presentation
ala part of a presentation by a samba school
Rainha da bateria the queen of the samba band
Fantasia costume
Lantejoula sequin
Penas feathers
Carro alegórico float
Trio elétrico band on a float
Baile de carnaval carnival ball
Marchinhas de carnaval carnival music


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