Facts about the Brazilian holiday carnival

Written by richard ludwig
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Facts about the Brazilian holiday carnival
A Samba school in Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval. (Getty Thinkstock)

Brazil's Carnival, called Carnaval in Portuguese, is fantastically sequinned Samba dancers, mile long parades and four days and nights of revelry. The annual event has attracted a worldwide following. In a build-up to Lent, Rio de Janeiro and the rest of Brazil becomes enraptured by the festivities led by the Samba schools. Understanding the facts about Samba gives insight into the magic of Carnival.

Origins of Samba

Barzil's Carnival moves to the sounds of Samba. The music orginates from an Angolan word which means ritual music invoking past spirits or gods. It was brought to Brazil by slaves during the slave trade period between the 17th and 19th centuries. Over hundreds of years ritual African music melded with traditional Brazilian dance and music to create Samba. The first Carnival event took place in 1723.

Samba Schools

While Carnaval has been celebrated in Brazil for hundreds of years, Samba schools became an integral part of the festivities in the early 20th century. Samba schools are more clubs where people come to dance. They do not teach Samba lessons, but guest are welcome to come watch and learn. Each school designs its own costumes and floats, and develops its own music and dance for Carnival. More than 70 Samba schools are located in Rio de Janeiro alone. The competition between the schools is broken down into six catogeoires with only the top three competing in the Sambodromo.

First Samba School

Deixa Falar, considered the first Samba school, was founded in 1926. They were the first group to call themselves a school due to the fact they were located next to a kid's school. The tradition of refereeing to Samba groups as schools continues to this day. Deixa Mangueira, founded in 1928, is the oldest active school in Brazil.


The Sambodromo, the stadium of Samba, is the heart of Carnival. Designed by famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the Sambodromo saw its first competition in 1984.

The Oldest Samba Group

The oldest Samba group to take part in Carnival is Portela. The group was founded in 1923, and holds the record for victories with 21. Because Portela was never formally a school, it can only claim to be the oldest -- Deixa Fala is considered the oldest school. Through the years the group has gone by many names, but has always retained its characteristic eagle symbol.

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