In his bossa nova song Felicidade, Happiness, Brazilian singer, songwriter Tom Jobim wrote:
A felicidade do pobre parece
A grande ilusão do carnaval
A gente trabalha o ano inteiro
Por um momento de sonho
Pra fazer a fantasia
De rei ou de pirata ou jardineira
E tudo se acabar na quarta-feira
Which can be loosely translated as:
A poor person’s happiness is like Carnival’s great illusion
People work the whole year for a moment of fantasy
To make a king, a pirate or a gardener costume
And it all comes to an end on Wednesday.
Jobim was, of course, referring to Quarta-feira de Cinzas, Ash Wednesday the date that marks the end of the four-day celebration known as Carnaval, Carnival.
In some states, especially the ones in the Southeast of Brazil, such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, preparations for this festival start at least one year before when the escolas de samba, samba schools or organizations, begin composing the samba enredo, the musical theme that will guide the development of the desfile, parade.
Escolas de samba are now major organizations, but originally they were just a gathering of people from a specific bairro, neighborhood who got together during the year to have fun composing music and dancing and to then compete with groups from other neighborhoods.
Each major escola de samba is comprised of about 5000 participantes, participants who pay for their own fantasias, costumes. There are participants who play important roles in the parade and come regularly to the samba school’s grounds to rehearse, and those who can just put on the costume they chose and show up for the parade 90 minutes before.
Rehearsals happen throughout the year and usually take place twice a week in the evenings. These are open to the public and ingressos, tickets are purchased at the door. Each escola de samba has two main premises: one for production and storage of costumes, floats and musical instruments and a second one for rehearsals, and which also functions throughout the year as a place for dancing and musical instruction.
The parade, which lasts about 80 minutes, is made up of some fixed sections such as porta bandeiras, standard bearers, bateria, percussionists, and carro alegóricos, floats among many others.
Carnival is the most important event of the year in Rio, so visitors should start planning, making reservations for hotels and purchasing tickets for the parades about six months ahead.
While you’re getting ready for this great adventure, listen to Tom Jobim singing Felicidade.
Want more Portuguese to prepare you for Carnival? Start here.