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Carnival Styles and Music

January 29, 2009

A unique feature of carnival in Recife and Olinda is the diversity of music styles, unlike carnival in Rio de Janeiro which is dominated by Samba, or carnival in Salvador, dominated music from giant sound systems. The most commonly heard music in Pernambuco is listed below. Each type is also associated with a style of dress and other traditions.


Street Frevo in Olinda Carnival

Street Frevo in Olinda Carnival

Frevo, has its origins in the repertoires of military bands from the second half of the 18th Century. The Maxixe (pronounced masheshe), Brazilian Tango, Quadrille, Gallope, Military Two-Step and Polka are combined in a hybrid dance which is Frevo. It originated in Recife Carnival and continues to evolve as a style, both musically and in the choreography.

It is generally agreed that the name comes from the verb ferver, meaning to boil, but the word is used with an reversal of the letters “e” and “r,” a common error of pronunciation by the lower classes. The word is found being used in the same context in popular 18th Century drama productions.

The size and quality of the brass-bands is important in the playing of Frevo. Ideally there should be 36 musicians in a group, including five C-flat clarinets, two C-flat alto saxophones, two C-flat tenor saxophones, seven C-flat trumpets, ten drums, a tambourine, a reco-reco (a tube, often of undulated metal that is scraped with a stick), and maracas.

 The Street Frevo music usually begins with an introduction of 16 beats, followed by a call, known as the “reply.” The reply has the same number of beats, and precedes the second part, which is not just a repetition of the introduction.

Street Frevo can be divided into a number of types. Drowning Frevo (or the Meeting Frevo) is a series of long, loud notes played by the band with the aim of drowning out the sound of a close rival band.  Coconut Frevo, a version of Drowning Frevo, consists of short and sharp notes in rapid succession. Gale Frevo contains a lively melody, where woodwind instruments feature in the execution of the semi-breves, providing a moderate tone. Ballroom Frevo, popular with new composers, is a mix of the styles mentioned already, and like Gale, is used exclusively in clubs and ball-rooms.

Street Frevo was designed to be played outdoors as its name suggests, but it can be heard indoors during the carnival period.



Maracatu in Olinda

Maracatu in Olinda

Maracatu has its origins in the old institutions of the Black Kings, well known in France and Spain as early as the 15th Century and in Portugal from the 16th Century. In Pernambuco, explorers were already documenting the presence of the Black Kings as early as 1666. Documents on the history of slavery dating from 1674 can be found at the church of Our Lady of the Black Men’s Rosary, Saint Antônio, Recife. They recount coronations in the Congo and Angola.

 The various Maracatu groups each represent “Nations” of Africa. The most famous include Elephant Nation (1800), Crowned Lion Nation (1863), Shinning Star Nation (1910), Indian Nation (1949), Porto Rico Nation (1915) and the Camninda Star Nation (1953). Each group preserves the African traditions of their ancestors.

The assembly of each Maracatu Nation usually comprises a deep bass drum, a tarol (a kind of trombone), two war drums and nine bongos. Sometimes a ganzá (large maraca) is also included.  A musical climax is followed by a single beat, increasing violently with each new beat. The queen is group leader, and her first whistle blow indicates the music is coming to a stop. The second whistle signifies the complete stop which is executed with careful precision by the whole group.




 The rhythms are thought to be evolutions of those from the rituals of native cults which survived despite the persecution of such magic-religious traditions. The instruments include pipes (made of a type of bamboo), caracaxás (like a rattle or marac) and drums.

The clothes are exotic, using headdresses of emu, ostrich and peacock feathers, together with ornate bracelets, arm bands and necklaces.


A Foxé

afoxe oxum panda ballerina

A Foxe Oxum Panda Ballerina

A Foxé is sometimes referred to as “Street Candoblé,” an African-based religion maintained by the Negro population brought to Brazil as slaves. The music is closely linked with Salvadorian Maracatu (from Salvador, Bahia, the state with the largest Afro population). In Pernambuco, they appeared due to the religious influences of the Sudanese, and the name is thought to derive from a Sudanese word “Afohsheh.” A Foxé is also the name given to a profane religious festival, its melodies being almost identical to religious songs sung during the religious festivals. The words are usually sung in solo, then repeated by all.

 A Foxé in Pernambuco has been experiencing a revival, which started in the 70´s with the Negro Unification Movement as a way of raising awareness through music. Today there are four groups in the region: The Araodé, The Alafin Ouó and the Oxum Panda, from Olinda, and the lle de Egbá Afoxá from Recife.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Eliana permalink
    December 16, 2009 01:28

    Can aniybody tell me about OXUM UPANDA??

  2. paulbarnett permalink*
    December 16, 2009 08:45


    There is a lot of listings on google search if you search on these key words. afoxe oxum panda. The results are almost all in Portuguese. But I guess you can use Google translate to get a lot of the key info if you do not speak Portuguese.

    Hope that helps.



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