Carnival Economics/Schools of Samba

By: Vince Moran, Jack Mullin, Xiaowei Wang, Becky Transue

Brazil was a country that used to be a combination of enthusiasm and prosperity. Ten years ago when somebody thought of Brazil, they would think of  two things, the carnival of Rio and  Brazil’s thriving economy. Numerous capital investments were established from other countries, which made Brazil’s GDP boom in the past years. But at the same time, the industry, transportation, and finances of Brazil were controlled by foreign capital. Local companies and communities didn’t have a strong connection with government, which greatly reduced the competitiveness of Brazil’s industries. The taxes in Brazil were large and infrastructure constructions fell behind, which made Brazil’s economy gradually decline. With the current economic crisis in Brazil, many fear for the future of the country, though Carnival gives hope for a brighter future through community engagement and national pride.

The fear of recession of economy permeates into Brazilians. From macro perspectives, the GDP is declining recent years. In 2015, the Brazil’s GDP decreased to 1774.72 USD in  billions, which was roughly equivalent to the GDP in 2008. From a micro view, citizens were heavily influenced by unemployment. According to the Economy Trading website, the following is a chart, which shows the rising trends of Brazil unemployment rate.

Carnival has the potential to bring back hope to Brazil. Despite common belief that it did not originate in Brazil, carnival has gradually become a symbol of Brazil. According to The History of Carnival in Brazil, Carnival is a Catholic event originating in the 1600s, but is also rooted in European pagan traditions. Originally, Carnival was a food festival, because it was the last time to eat abundantly before the 40 days of Lent, a period of frugality starting on Ash Wednesday. The word ‘Carnaval’ was derived from the Latin expression ‘carne vale’ that translates as ‘farewell to the meat’. Many Africans moved to Brazil, contributing their own unique rhythms, music, and dance to the festival. All of the individual community parties around Brazil gradually evolved into the current carnival we see today, filled with elaborate floats and beautifully crafted costumes. National pride creates hope through the many different influences that have gone into the development of Carnival.


Music styles of Carnival vary greatly from region to region. Variations in style include rhythm, participation, and costumes. Some regions are led by samba schools that compete during the days of Carnival and others are more friendly where individuals and groups can improvise and join in. Some Carnival’s, like Rio de Janeiro are much bigger and more extravagant, while others are more minor.

        Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival is one of the biggest celebrations of the festival. It is considered to be the most extravagant out of all the celebrations. Participants are members of samba schools that compete during the festival and are voted upon. The Portela samba school currently holds the title of the most wins in Rio’s carnival. Blocos de Rua, or street blocks, are common in Rio, with over 300 participating bands from every neighborhood in the city. These street blocks generally organize and compose their own music to add to the singing of popular samba songs. The samba schools perform in the Sambadrome for their competition, which has seven divisions. Winners are chosen based on costumes, flow, theme, and music quality and performance.

        Bahia’s Carnival includes many more different rhythms compared to Rio’s. It has a heavy African influence, which integrates reggae and other traditional African rhythms with traditional samba music and dancing. Four main groups of Bahia’s Carnival include Trio Eletricos, Blocos Afro, Indian, and Afoxes. The most commonly seen group today is Trio Eletricos which is characterized by trucks equipped with giant speakers and platforms. The Indian group is heavily influenced by U.S. western culture and movies. Blocos Afros were influenced by the U.S. Black Pride Movement, while Afoxes is derived from African inspired religion.

        Samba schools of different themes compete against each other in Sao Paulo’s Carnival. Themes are chosen by each school and are usually based on historical or political moments, or mythological experiences. The Vai-Vai samba school is the oldest and has been crowned champion the most times out of any of the schools. Carnival parades in Minas Gerais are held in multiple cities, mostly by students. This helps attract a younger crowd, which has seen some backlash in the past few years. Many older citizens in Ouro Preto believe it is jeopardizing the traditional Carnival approach. Most styles are accompanied by brass and drums bands. Most of their influence comes from Rio and Bahia styles.

        Pernambuco’s Carnival also has heavy African influences. Their main rhythms are Frevo and maractu. Frevo is a Pernambuco style dance that has African and acrobatic influences. Dances are fast and electrifying with some using open umbrellas and leg and arm movements. Many groups in Pernambuco do not compete and some individuals join in the celebration with improvised dancing side by side. There are many similarities and differences between the regions and how they celebrate Carnival. Each has something different to offer and a unique story of their influences, which aids in bringing the country together through community engagement and pride of past influences.

In the early 1900’s, a new style of music broke out in Rio, and it took the streets by storm. Consisting of syncopated beats and elaborate dances, Samba has had and continues to have a major influence on Brazil. The dance involves the movement of the legs, feet, and especially the hips. Originating from Brazilian’s with African descent, samba has evolved greatly over the last century. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Samba was slow and intimate. This style, called samba-canção, had a heavy emphasis on romantic and passionate lyrics. However, this slower style started to lose its popularity in the 1940’s, and was eventually replaced by a faster, more powerful style of Samba. Samba-de-batucada started in Brazilian favelas, and had a very different vibe. It had significantly more percussion instruments, with strong beats and a faster tempo. In the late 1950’s, samba-canção was revived through a new style called bossa nova. Bossa nova contained the same slow tempo and romanticism as samba-canção, however, it also drew ideas from American jazz artists. Many would consider the 1970’s the peak of Samba music. It was heavily influenced by rock and jazz, but it still kept the same Brazilian style and feel. It became mainstream not only in Brazil, but also got play worldwide. Samba was all over Brazil, and it was something that every citizen could take part in. It brought the country together, especially during Carnival.

A samba school is simply defined as a school of dance, but it is so much more than that. The first samba school, Deixa Falar, was created in 1928. They started a movement that has been transformed into one of the most electrifying performances in the world. Over the years, the samba schools have become more intricate and complex, and are now a beautiful representation of the different parts of Brazil. There are hundreds of samba schools in Brazil, and being in one is a major commitment. The schools represent different favelas from all over the nation, and give communities a reason to come together for something great. They consist of thousands of people, and each person has a specific job. Members of the schools spend countless hours creating spectacular costumes and practicing their routines, with the goal of competing at Carnival. Rio alone has over 100 schools, and each one competes for a chance to make the Special Group. The Special Group are made up of the top twelve schools, and it is considered an honor to be a part of it. Samba schools are an extremely important part of Brazilian culture. They create a sense of hope and purpose in even the poorest areas. Rio’s official website states, “the most popular samba school in the country sprung from the impoverished Favelas of Rio”.  Members spend what little money they have to create the costumes, and their performance every year gives them a sense of immense pride in their communities. It shows how important Carnival is to the people of Brazil by giving favelas with little opportunity a massive stage to perform for millions of people across the world.

The celebration of Carnival has typically been a source of national revenues for Brazil. In 2012 the main Carnival in Rio contributed $638 million to the national economy.  It draws in the most tourist’s Brazil will get all year, all excited to see the extravagance of the festival. With Carnival comes new music that artists all throughout Brazil have been waiting to release in the hopes their song will be chosen to be the main song of the year, which normally results in global success. This is another way carnival had made money in the past, although the past few years have not been as successful. Brazil is currently going through its biggest economic crisis in more than three decades. Many smaller cities within Brazil decided to cancel their local carnival celebrations because nobody had the money to do it justice. Although all contribution to the preparations of carnival are done by volunteers, Brazilians do not have the money to buy the elaborate costumes and props they would normally buy to get into the spirit.

The Samba schools have to buy cheaper fabric and scale back on floats. This has severely impacted the small business owners who count on carnival traffic to make a lot of money. There are also far fewer sponsorships for the schools, taking away the incentive to participate. To add onto the economic crisis, brazil has also been struck by the zika virus which has spread throughout the country. Because of this many tourists were afraid to travel to watch carnival in person. If the economic crisis doesn’t resolve soon, the major carnival celebrations will have to scale back on size or cancel it all together. This has all contributed to the fear that has spread throughout the nation regarding the future of the country.

Although the economic crisis and zika virus have the country on edge many are still uniting around the celebration of carnival. Citizens may not be able to afford to buy their own equipment, however, thousands of volunteers are offering their time in order for the celebration to continue. Many are glad to hear about the talks of scaling back the elaborate size of carnival, because to some it has become too flashy. This recession will bring carnival back to its roots of celebrating the culture all not just about the sequins and sparkle.

Carnival was meant to celebrate the different cultures of Brazil and how the variation of culture blends together in unity. Carnival has still been going strong despite the current economic crisis. Many citizens are still heavily involved and tourists bring in more money for Brazil. Even though Carnival may be scaling back, it still brings people together. With all that’s going on in Brazil currently, the continuation of Carnival will give hope to a brighter future and reduce the fear of ongoing economic struggles.