We in the UK call it Shrove Tuesday (or pancake day), but globally this is a HUGE day of celebration, music, food and coming together to party. Nowhere is this more obvious than at Carnivals such as Rio de Janeiro’s or New Orleans ‘Mardi Gras’. But Carnival itself comes in many different forms, in countries all over the globe, all with a common theme: Celebration! Naturally this manifests itself in music, dance and parties and although many of these events won’t happen in the same way in 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic, MAGNIFICENT BISCUITS hopes to bring this celebration to life through the music, a taste and flavour of these celebrations to ThamesFM airwaves with a special show on Tuesday 16th February. Undoubtedly there will be many other events & online transitions across the world too on Tuesday and the days and weeks preceding it, as many seek to still bring the music and celebrations despite this.
Below is a bit of an insight into some of the roots of carnival, with further links at the end. This links to the ‘Carnival Special’ MAGNIFICENT BISCUITS show on Tuesday 16/02/21 which attempts to bring this celebration to life through the music of carnival, a taste and flavour of these celebrations via the ThamesFM airwaves. Naturally some styles and tunes will be well known - and immediately spring to mind when mentioning carnival - such as Brazil's Samba, but given its global prominence we’ll also take in a few styles from elsewhere, such as the Cumbia of Colombia’s Barranquilla Carnival, and of course the ‘Second Line’ Struts of New Orleans.
Whilst the music featured on the show is uplifting and very much what we associate with Carnivals today, there’s so much more that backgrounds the more ‘upbeat’ celebratory vibe. The words below hopefully highlight some other important and linked aspects of Carnival (and musical) history, from MBP as a protest music, to the impact of slavery. So whilst not intended to be a definitive guide and very much a few words that just focus on a couple of aspects of carnival. I hope it is enlightening and accompanies the musical celebration on the show well, adding a bit of context to the celebrations we know and love today. Musically it has only touched on a couple of aspects, the show will have much more.
Carnival Roots:Carnival is thought to have begun as a Greek spring festival.The Roman Catholic Church later modified the ‘Feast of Saturnalia’ into a festival preceding the beginning of Lent. (It is also widely cited as the roots of Christmas). What evolved is a mass celebration of indulgences in music, dance, food, and drink, (something which surely the Church didn’t have in mind). The term ‘carnival’ itself is believed to derive from the Latin word carnelevare, meaning to ‘remove meat’ and as many of the celebrations roots do, it relates to a celebration ahead of a period of fasting (like the UK’s Shrove Tuesday, many roots lay with the Catholic church and the festival of Lent).
‘Carnival’ is one of the most widely-celebrated events on the planet. It is known as Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) in countries such as France and the United States. Carnival in Brazil, Colombia, Belize and Haiti. Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day) in the UK. No matter what its name is, the day before Ash Wednesday has long been a time for eating and merry making. But while many of these these celebrations have roots in religion, as a precursor to Lent or a period of fasting, as the Greeks festival implies, it also relates to the concept of coming together to celebrate the coming spring, a time where crops grow and food becomes more abundant in the coming months, as winter draws to a close... Reason for celebration in it’s own right eh. Winter was thought of as the reign of the winter spirits; these needed to be driven out in order for the summer to return. So carnival can also be regarded as a rite of passage from darkness to light, from winter to summer: a fertility celebration, the first spring festival of the new year.
In its long history Carnival has played a significant role in the development of popular theatre, vernacular song, and folk dances. None are more obvious now than the Rio ‘Carnival’ in Brazil (tho once upon a time the Italian’s Venice Carnival was the world's biggest). The Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans is also typical of the masquerades and dancing in the streets that take place in many countries on this day as people prepare for the long Lent fast.
Sharing similar (and not-to-be-forgotten) roots with the Second Line’s of New Orleans, the Rio Carnival we know today has links to aristocracy and slavery, (as does much of its music). However Rio de Janeiro’s carnival roots began in 1723 when Portuguese immigrants colonised Brazil. They called the carnival ‘Entrudo’ – meaning entrance. People went out onto the streets soaking each other with buckets of water and threw mud and food, which often ended up in street brawls and riots. The concepts kept changing throughout the 1800s with more organized parades like the grandes sociedades or great societies where the Emperor joined in the celebrations with a group of aristocrats that paraded in masks with luxurious costumes and music. During the 1840s, masquerade carnival balls set to polkas and waltzes became popular. Excluded from the high society carnival, ordinary citizens created a ball for the people and began organising street parades. The beginning of the 20th century saw the end of the entrudo, opening up a space to shape the Brazilian carnival culture in areas such as Rio and Salvador– newly emancipated from the slave trade. Street parades with horse drawn floats and military bands became the centre focus of the carnival. Towards the end of the century, the carnival became a working class festivity where people wore costumes and joined the parade accompanied by musicians playing string instruments and flutes. Carnival was also used during the years of military censorship to express political dissatisfaction. Samba schools used irony and sarcasm to express their displeasure with the government and their desire for freedom.
Beyond carnival and into Brazilian music across the spectrum, this can also be seen in MPB, (short for música popular brasileira). MBP is a loosely defined genre that formed in the mid-1960s as a modernised version of Bossa nova and Samba-canção. Taking influence from many foreign styles of popular music, it nevertheless retains a distinctly Brazilian identity by broad musical connections to local genres such as Samba or Choro, and by lyrics nearly exclusively in Portuguese; this had a marked influence on its initial popularity, as Brazil's military government began to promote it as a sophisticated and middle class "national music", in response to the increasing popularity of Rock.
The short-lived Tropicália movement in the late 1960s, headed by artists such as Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa, saw further development of this blend of genres, leading to the 1970s and arguably the most readily identified period of MPB. This included, for example, musicians like Chico Buarque and Milton Nascimento, in whose music the initial bossa nova influence mostly diminished.
Despite declining in popularity from the 1980s onwards, MPB still remains a significant style, popular in both Brazil and abroad. Today the term is typically used for mostly acoustic music, sung in Portuguese, often vaguely similar to Contemporary Folk, and often using Brazilian instruments, but not in a way specific to a more strictly defined genre. Its complex connections to other genres, however, make a strict definition difficult.
It’s easy to forget or not realise, that the roots of Carnival in Rio are linked with protest. Here’s an example of MBP and a ‘protest song’ from Gilberto Gil - What is mad in this clip is that you will actually see the military police patrolling the audience. This is doubly crazy, since these musicians were singing very revolutionary songs disguised as love songs. When they mentioned, for example, “Maria” in a song and how they had loved and lost, they were talking about democracy and freedom. But the military police amazingly never realised this… Gilberto was (along with many other artists) arrested and beaten, for singing these songs.
It wouldn’t be right or fitting to bring any Carnival show without mentioning Samba and Carnival:
Nowadays Samba IS Carnival. Or at least what many think of musically when thinking of Carnival.
The origins of Samba are linked to African drumming. As with many musical styles across the world its roots trace back to when people were transported to Brazil from Africa to work as slaves in the mines and sugar plantations, bringing aspects of their musical culture with them.
The word "samba" is thought to be derived from the Kimbundu (Angolan) term semba, which referred to an "invitation to dance" as well as a common appellation for the dance parties held by slaves and former slaves in the rural areas of Rio. These dances involved gyrating hip movements (called umbigada) and had roots going back to the colonial period in the Congolese and Angolan circle dances.
Samba style as we know it today developed in the 1950s in the favelas and includes layering syncopated rhythms on multiple percussion instruments. Samba still has many similarities to African drumming music such as polyrhythms and use of call and response. Perhaps one of the most popular music and dance styles ever to emerge from Brazil, samba evolved in Rio de Janeiro and by the early 20th century grew to become the quintessential music and dance form associated with Rio's Carnival. With its rich and syncopated rhythm and its often voluptuous dance moves, samba has circled the globe as one of the most infectious and popular styles from the South American continent.
Here's a classic bit of Samba/Carnival drumming…
Here’s a ‘Second Line’, from Mardi Gras on ‘Fat Tuesday’ a few years back...
Another here that actually happened following the death of Mac, Dr John, rather than on Mardi Gras itself, but a wonderful tribute and definitely shows the ‘carnival’ celebratory vibe as it plays homage to one of NOLA’s best. If these don’t give you the carnival flavour, nothing will.
This is surely even more amazing, when you consider this actually follows a death and funeral.
Hope this has been an interesting read and gets you in the mood for 2 hours of amazing and uplifting Carnival music. Catch the MAGNIFICENT BISCUITS Carnival Special live on ThamesFM, 8pm Tuesday 16/02/21, or afterwards via mixcloud, at your leisure.
MAGNIFICENT BISCUITS radio show goes out live, every Tuesday at 8pm, playing the best in World and Global music, from Argentina to Zimbabwe. Find out more here:
FURTHER LINKS TO CARNIVAL AND MUSIC:
COLOMBIA’s BARRIQUILLO CARNIVAL: https://medellinguru.com/carnaval-de-barranquilla/
NEW ORLEANS MARDI GRAS:
ALL ABOUT THE ‘SECOND LINE’:
CARNIVAL WORLDWIDE: https://www.carnivaland.net/origin-history-carnival-worlds-oldest-party/
HISTORY OF SAMBA: http://www.sambassadorsofgroove.org.uk/history-of-samba.html