How to enjoy Rio carnival

Rio carnival (carnaval in Portuguse) is the biggest of it’s kind in the world – it draws two million people onto the streets daily. But what is it? And how can you get the most out of the experience?

Dating back to 1723, this city-wide, five day party has become synonymous with carefree fun and exuberance – one of the things to do at least once in your lifetime. But like most other things related to this city (and Brazil in general), Rio carnival is not something that can be easily explained in a sentence or two – there are many aspects and intricacies not immediately obvious to the casual observer.

I’m not going to be able to tell you everything about Rio carnival here, but what follows will hopefully help you understand what’s on offer and how you can best enjoy the experience.

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Carnival Songs: Marcha do Remador!



The time has come. Rio Carnival 2014 is finally upon us and I have just enough time to squeeze in one more essential carnival marchinha to my growing list. Today’s classic comes from way back in 1964 (incidentally, I got my haircut yesterday and the women in the hairdressers were lamenting that no one makes new marchinhas anymore – why is that?).

I have to admit to a rather childish enjoyment of today’s song because of a naughty piece of crowd participation. But first, let’s hear an unadulterated rendition from the woman who made it famous, Emilinha Borba (remember she was the one that had a fight with another carnival singer over the affections of Orson Welles):

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Carnival Songs: Mulata iê iê iê



It feels like the perfect storm: carnival is nearly upon us, my best friend from England arrives in Rio tonight and to top things off, it’s Friday! It’s enough to make you want sing isn’t it? Well don’t hold back – today I’m adding another classic marchinha to my list of favourite carnival tunes (see under the “Carnival” menu item above).

Being the ignorant gringo that I am, I had some trouble finding this song because I knew it only as ‘that passarela song’. It is often listed as “Mulata Bossa Nova”, but officially it is called Mulata iê iê iê (‘iê’ sounds like ‘yeah’).

The song was written by our old friend João Roberto Kelly (remember Cabaleira do Zezé?) and made famous in 1965 by Emilinha Borba (pictured above). Emilinha sounds like she must have been quite a character, having well publicised feuds with rival divas of the time, including an actual physical fight with Linda Batista over the affections of a visiting Orson Welles! Anyway, let’s hear her sing the song shall we?

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Carnival Songs: Mamãe Eu Quero

Well it’s that time of year again – carnival lovers start planning their fantasias while carnival haters start looking for a quiet country pousada where they can escape the mayhem.

This will be my fourth carnival and I’m really looking forward to it. Contrary to what you might expect, I have enjoyed each carnival more than the one before. This has been due to knowing what to expect, better planning, and getting to know the marchinhas (traditional carnival songs).

That last point might sound strange, but imagine yourself surrounded by thousands of people who are having the time of their lives, all singing their hearts out to what sounds like a really catchy song. Only problem is you don’t even know the tune, let alone the words. Sure there are worse things that can happen to you, but still, it’s more fun when you know the songs.

With that in mind, I’m adding another classic marchinha to my list of classic Carnival Songs that everyone should know. Mamãe Eu Quero, written by Vicente Paiva in 1936, is one of the most popular marchinhas of all time. Paiva was born in 1908 in São Paulo and sadly I could only find one picture of him.


Vicente Paiva may not have left a lot of photos, but his music is still going strong.

As well as being a composer, Paiva was also a pianist, singer and arranger. Mamãe Eu Quero is probably the song he is best known for, though he was no one-hit wonder – he also wrote O Cordão da Bola Preta and Voltei Pro Morro

But let’s get to his greatest success. Mamãe Eu Quero (Mummy I want it) was recorded in December 1936 by friends and collaborators, Jararaca and Almirante. Released in early 1937, the song was a huge hit in that year’s carnival. Here is that original version:

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Response Marchinha: Leave Zezé’s big hair in peace!

Don’t you just love Response Songs? You know, someone writes a song asking “Why don’t you love me?” and then someone else writes a song which says “Because you’re boring and selfish!”.

Well I’ve just discovered a response song I had to tell you about. Remember I recently wrote about the classic carnaval marchinha Cabeleira de Zezé? It’s a super catchy song dating back to the early 1960s – it’s a much-loved song, but the lyrics left me wondering if I should really be singing it. An ‘unconventional’ guy named Zezé, is singled out for his unusually big hair. Various lines of the song seem to suggest that the guy might be this or that, but the crowd’s participation (shouting BICHA!) sets the tone of the song (the suggestion is that the guy is gay). The final line of the song is “Cut his hair!”

Well, the Eat Rio reader consensus was that this isn’t some homophobic bully song, but rather a reflection of the times in which it was composed. I was (and am) happy to accept that, but it seems that one group of people feel that it is time to come to poor Zezé’s defence!


This is A.B.R.A. Pre-Ca. In case you’re wondering, this stands for Amigos Bandidos Residentes no Amor Pré-Carnaval. These guys started writing carnival music in 2011 and they now play at blocos, discos and clubs.


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Carnival Songs: Allah-lá-ô

The first place I set foot in South America was Buenos Aires back in 2009. There are many, many reasons to love Argentina’s capital – the food, the vibrant culture, the beautiful architecture to name a few. You can almost feel history – it seems to seep from every bar and street corner you pass. One of the things I particularly enjoyed seeing there was a certain kind of South American gentleman.

As I wandered the streets I would occasionally pass an old guy dressed in 3 piece suit, walking stick and moustache, all of which seemed to hark back to a bygone era. My South American history was (and still is) very patchy, but these old men made me think of the 1930s-1950s. It was a real pleasure to see these guys and I was lucky enough to get chatting to a couple of them one night in a restaurant. They were friendly, interesting and delighted to hear that I had left everything behind to have an adventure. Speaking to them was like stepping back in time.

Well the performer of today’s carnival marchinha reminds me of those old South American gents. Funnily enough it turns out he was born in Buenos Aires, but soon moved to São Paulo and then Rio. Take a look at Carlos Galhardo:



Carlos Galhardo – the suit, the moustache and that pipe! A handsome fellow reminiscent of David Niven, everything speaks of a rather romantic bygone era. I wonder what he would make of today’s carnival.


So that is our singer. Now let’s get to today’s marchinha de carnaval – it’s a fun one!

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Carnival Songs: Cabeleira do Zezé

Carnival is just a few weeks away people! Time to start thinking about your fantasia, planning which blocos you’re going to attend and of course, learn some more marchinhas de carnaval!

Today’s song is super catchy, but it has also got me feeling a little perplexed. Perhaps I’m being naïve or simply ‘not getting it’ (wouldn’t be the first time!), but there seems to be a bit of a bullying, homophobic aspect to this song.

The title of the song is Cabeleira do Zezé and it was written by João Roberto Kelly (and Roberto Faissal) back in the early 1960s.



João Roberto Kelly, cheeky looking chap, responsible for more than one cheeky carnival tune! I notice his hair wasn’t exactly small…


Kelly was born in Rio in 1938. In 1964, aged just 24, he had huge success with today’s song when it was recorded by Jorge Goulart. We’ll hear Jorge sing the song in a moment, but before that, let’s have a quick look at the lyrics and maybe you’ll get an idea of why I’m a little perplexed.

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