The first attempt to celebrate the Carnival in Rio occurred in 1641. While a far cry from Rio Carnival 2013, it nevertheless involved parties and masquerade balls akin to those held in European countries like France. With the arrival of the Portuguese immigrants in the 1700 the Carnival became more of a street event with revelers getting pelted with mud and water. These street fights eventually turned into the elaborate and prestigious parades of the 1800s. Even royalty enjoyed getting dressed up in elaborate costumes and marching down the streets of Rio.
Extravagant parties and masquerade balls made a comeback in the 1880s. They were an excuse to dance to the newly popular waltz and polka. During the 1890s military bands and elaborate floats were incorporated into the parades. In addition these parades became much more organized and were led by cordoes, groups of people who organized the revelry during the Carnival. Blocos are the cordoes of today and will be hosting many a block party during Rio Carnival 2013. They are easy to identify, as they will be dressed in matching t-shirts or elaborate costumes.
Below, one of the first depictions about the Brazilian Carnival made by a famous painting in Brazil, Debret.
O entrudo no Rio de Janeiro, 1823Jean-Baptiste Debret ( França 1768-1848)Aquarela sobre papelMuseu da Chácara do CéuRio de Janeiro
The idea was basically getting everybody soaked wet. People would go out in the streets with buckets of water and limes, and everybody could be a potential victim. Even Emperors took part in the fun. There's a curious record of a woman being arrested in 1855 for throwing a lime at Dom Pedro I's escorts. Authorities frowned upon the lack of restraints of Entrudo fun, and eventually it was outlawed.
Ranchos Carnavalescos are a contribution of an immigrant from Bahia named Hilário Jovino da Silva. They started in 1872 as working class festivity. People would dress up in costumes and perform on the parade accompanied by an orchestra of strings, ganzás, flutes, and other instruments. They were more organized than the Cordões, and gained popularity around 1911.
Almost all of the music played during Rio Carnival is samba. It is a uniquely Brazilian music originating from Rio, a dance form that was invented by the poor Afro-Brazilians.
The word samba comes from the Angolan world semba referring to a type of ritual music. The word had a variety of meanings to the African slaves brought to Brazil during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. It meant to pray or invoke the spirits of the ancestors and the gods of the African Pantheon. As a noun, it could mean a complaint, a cry, or something like "the blues".