From parties in frevo clubs, with masks, confetti and streamers to the parties that fill the streets of Recife and the hillsides of Olinda, little has changed in Pernambuco’s Carnival. Even today the celebration carries many signs dating back to its very beginning, in the 19th century when, after slavery was abolished in 1888, authorities allowed the first Carnival groups to appear, made up of urban factory workers in the old commercial districts.
The first signs of ‘Momo’s trumpets’ in the state came about in the 17th century, when workers from the Companies of Sugar and Merchandise Carriers got together for the Festa de Reis, forming processions carrying wooden boxes and improvising ballads in a marching rhythm. Only in the 19th century did the party become popular and start to take on the format we know now.
In 1887, the Club dos Caiadores was founded, the first Carnival group known to exist in the state. The February 17th edition of that year’s Diario newspaper published the news of the celebrations. The newspaper wrote, “Official Notice – 80 year [?] Caiadores Carnival Club. The club mentioned above, wishing to provide more distractions to the respectable public, in the three days of Carnival festivities, comes to the press to make it known that on these three days it will pass through the streets of this city in complete order. This very group requests that residents of Rua da Senzala Nova (Domingos José Martins) light up the front of their homes at night, being thankful thenceforth for the value it aims to have.”
Researcher and director of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation’s Memory, Education, Culture and Art, Rita de Cássia Araújo, explains that during the colonial time, the party happened during the three days prior to Lent and was called entrudo, a word that comes from Latin, meaning “introduction”, referring to the period that introduces the period of Lent. “Thus, Carnival would be ‘the fat days’, times of an abundance of wine, meat and sex. In Brazil, this official calendar of Carnival festivities remains practically unaltered”, she pointed out.
Over time, a series [?] was incorporated into the party. Around the 1850s, Portuguese shoemaker José Nogueira de Azevedo Paredes, or Zé Pereira, brought together friends and played in the streets of Rio de Janeiro on one Saturday, to the sounds of drums. This is what was missing in order to “increase” the festivities for one more day. Thus, what arose was the Sábado de Zé Pereira.
“It’s important to take note that it started in the 1870s, timidly, to configure a determined predominant style of groups that organize and participate in the Carnival party. I’m talking specifically about the Carnival groups with all of their variety of music, dance, symbols and insignia, garments, ornaments and jewelry”, the researcher stresses.
In recent years, the trend in Pernambuco’s Carnival is to create blocos committed to a cause. Against racism, homophobia, sexism, and even in protest to the ‘verticalization’ of Recife, the more recent groups include political themes, such as with Eu Acho é Pouco (PT) in the 1970s for party-goers to protest against the military dictatorship.
“Carnival reflects and expresses differences, tensions and conflicts that are present in the day-to-day. Thus, the experience of Carnival as a social practice, by different social classes, ethnic and racial groups, carriers of their own cultural traits, always carried within it a political act or gesture, intentional or not, conscious or not. When a social group occupies a public space that is denied to them in their daily lives, this is a political act. When one searches for social recognition from another through a group’s own values and culture, this is also a political act”, highlights Rita de Cássia.
Eight unforgettable frevos from Pernambuco’s Carnival
Phonology researcher Renato Phaelante, a member of the Academia Pernambucana de Música, listed
eight seven songs for Diario.
“This frevo was already known by almost every band in Recife and in the interior of the state before even being recorded in 1950. It is, in my opinion, a frevo that’s as important as Vassourinhas.”
“It’s a street frevo, composed by Joana Batista e Mathias da Rocha. It’s famous throughout Brazil and abroad, and it’s the most played one in the world.”
3. Último Dia
“Frevo from one of our most important Carnival composers, competent high-quality music. Levino Ferreira who came from the orchestras of Nelson Ferreira and from the pioneering Rádio Clube de Pernambuco.”
“Street frevo from musician and composer Lourival Oliveira, author of several frevos.”
5. They forgot this number
6. Recife (or Frevo nº1 do Recife)
“From composer Antônio Maria, it carries in its lyrics an immense longing for Recife, its folklore, its traditions, and its popular characters, who the poet rubbed shoulders with.”
7. Voltei, Recife (post)
“Another frevo song that highlights the competence of one of the great MPB composers, Luiz Bandeira. It’s another moment of longing for Pernambucans far from their native lands, missing their people and Carnival. This frevo was background music to a political campaign in the state.”
8. Bom Demais
“A frevo by J. Michiles, a composer that is one of the most important in the history of frevo song. Created in the 1980s, it made the biggest commotion in Carnival, mainly in Olinda.”