Music, sports, and the art of celebration are a way of life in Brazil, as shown in Shirts's five favorite cultural events:
1. The Samba School Parade in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival
Every year during Carnival the top samba schoolsneighborhood groups that get together to rehearse and performparade through Rio's Sambodrome in an exotic walking opera. For about 18 hours costumed dancers, musicians, and elaborate floats make their way past stands filled with revelers. For those who aren't satisfied just to watch the event, tourist agencies can arrange for you to dance with a school. I don't know anyone who has ever seen the parade who doesn't consider it one of the most incredible experiences of their lives. This is Carnival.
2. New Year's Eve in Salvador, Bahia
Bahia is home to the Afro-Brazilian religion known as Candomblé. On both New Year's and February 2 (her own special day), Iemanjá, the Goddess of Water, is the central figure in the state of Bahia. People gather on the local beaches, where some launch small boats filled with offerings while others sing and dance to drum music. Although this is a religious ceremony, it's also a celebration. Brazil is where you'll find the most festive people on Earth; when people congregate on the beach in the middle of summer, it makes for a great New Year's Eve party. [See our feature on Bahia in the August 2002 NGM.]
3. Any big soccer game between rival teams from the same town
It's no secret that soccer is the most popular sport in Brazil; getting my son to support my team was a big victory in my life. To watch the Flamengo play the Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro or Internacional and Grêmio play in Porto Alegre is to witness the spirit of the country. Don't expect to find lots of concession stands or slick marketing, though; in Brazil it's all about the game. Still, unless you don't mind sitting next to passionate fans who spend the game cheering and lighting fireworks, pay a little extra for the more expensive seats.
4. A popular music concert
Popular Brazilian music includes rhythms from samba, bossa-nova, and even rock and roll. Some of the most famous performers include Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, João Gilberto, Marisa Monte, Chico Buarque de Holanda, and Djavan. Outdoor concerts are wonderful but rare. Most performances are indoors in nightclubs, where patrons sit at tables to eat and drink while they enjoy the musicvery much like the old jazz clubs. It's amazing how easy music comes to Brazilians, and music is everywhere.
5. The Baroque art and sculpture of Minas Gerais
In the 18th century the southeastern state of Minas Gerais was at the heart of the Brazilian gold rush. Towns such as Ouro Prêto, Diamantina, Mariana, Congonhas, and Tiradentes were built to accommodate mining activities and house workers. These towns also became important cultural centers, home to artists like Aleijadinho, Brazil's greatest Baroque sculptor. Part of Minas Gerais has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, showcasing beautifully preserved churches, art, and an ornate architectural landscape adorned with the gold that was once so plentiful.