Carnival may start in February, yet it’s never far away from people’s minds. A carefree week of giddy debauchery under the tropical summer sun deserves a countdown, and playing some classic Carnival tracks is the best way to get into the spirit, whatever time of year it is. If you’re coming to Brazil for Carnival, get yourself in the mood with this ultimate playlist to kickstart your Carnival party.
This music is a type of marchinha – a genre of music popular in Carnivals between the 1920s and 1960s. However, it is still known today as a classic representative of Carnival and is played at the blocos (street parties). ‘Cabeleira do Zezé’ is among the most played marchinhas during Carnival despite its recent controversy that suggests it is a homophobic song. The lyrics are ‘Look at Zeze’s big hair / I wonder if he is? / I wonder if he is?’, referencing that his long, big hair questions whether he is gay or not.
This song is another one of the most played marchinhas during Carnival. While you won’t hear this song at the parades, you will definitely be able to listen to it at the blocos. Marchinhas, known for its contagious and animated beat, represent Carnival’s lively spirit. ‘Cachaça não é água não’ means ‘Cachaça isn’t water, no.’ Cachaça is the Brazilian national spirit made with concentrated sugar cane juice.
While music from Carnival is not all marchinhas, you’re probably beginning to see that marchinhas represent a large chunk of the Carnival music scene. After a couple of days of bloco antics, you are almost bound to hear ‘Aurora’ during the street parties. The music tells the story of a woman who could have had a good life with good things if she had only been sincere.
The title of this marchinha, ‘A Pipa do Vovo Não Sobe Mais’, literally translates to ‘Grandpa’s Kite doesn’t Rise Anymore’. However, the whole song is about Grandpa not being able to keep an erection anymore, no matter what he tries.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise now that this is another marchinha song. This song – ‘O Abre Alas’ – refers to opening the runway for the parades to begin and for the first samba school to step out and give their performance.
Moving away from marchinhas to axé, a music genre from Salvador in Bahia, Chiclete com Banana (which translates to ‘chewing gum with banana’) is a Bahian axé band that produces some of the most well-known songs of Carnival. Created in the 1980s, it mixes several genres with Afro-Caribbean roots, such as reggae, calypso, and marcha, with Brazilian music, including forró and frevo. It is the most commonly played music at the Carnival in Salvador. ‘100% Você’ (‘100% You’) is one of them. The band often performs in blocos in Salvador, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people.
Jammil is another axé band coming from Bahia, with Levi Lima as the lead singer. Praierio, as well as being the title of the song, is the term for someone who goes to the beach a lot. This song is one of their most popular and is played a lot during the blocos and parties at the Bahian Carnivals.
Banda Eva is a Bahian band from Salvador that blends mostly axé with elements of samba-reggae. The band has eight members, and if you go to Salvador for Carnival, it is likely you will see a bloco or performance with them playing live. ‘Menina Eve’ is one of their most popular songs.
Claudia Leitte is a famous Brazilian axé singer and is well known and celebrated in Brazil. Her song ‘Corda do Caranguejo’ translates to ‘rope of the crab’, which has a double meaning. It literally refers to the crabs at Brazilian markets that are hung up together in a long line on a piece a rope, but it also applies to a long line of people clutching to each other and jumping from side to side as they dance.
The band Asa de Águia (which means Eagle Wing when translated) is another famous axé band and one of the biggest in the blocos and live shows at the Salvador Carnival. To date, they have sold more than five million albums worldwide, and ‘Quebra Aê’ is one of their most popular songs.
This Afro-Brazilian group, founded in 1974, originated from a region in Salvador with the largest black population. Their band name comes from the Yoruba language, which translates to Ilê meaning ‘home’ and Aiyê meaning ‘life’, yet the two words together give the meaning ‘eternal heaven’. They are one of the most well-known bands during the Carnival, especially for only allowing black people to join the blocos with the group. Their music is heavily influenced by black culture, history, and beauty.
Produced in 1964, ‘Aquarela Brasileira’ is a samba de enredo – a song written for and performed by a samba school during Carnival – and Silas de Oliveira wrote this one for the Imperio Serrano samba school. Samba de enredos have been around for decades and they are sort of the theme songs of Carnival due to their presence during the parades.
Matias da Rocha and Joana Batista Ramos wrote and produced ‘Vassourinhas’ in 1909. Despite being over 100 years old, the music is still perfectly capable of sending an explosion of excitement through the Carnival street parties. The song belongs to the music genre known as frevo, which is from Recife and Olinda in the Northeast of Brazil. The music is fast-paced and animated, just as you would expect from a Carnival song.
Capiba is considered the master and one of the most beloved frevo artists in Brazil. As an avid football player, a celebrated artist for Carnival music, and an expressive poet, he embraced all things Brazil. His music remains highly popular at the street parties in Olinda, one of the best cities in Brazil to experience frevo in all of its Carnival glory.
Composed in 1966, this is one of the most representative Carnival songs. The lyrics talk about getting rid of sadness and being free to feel happy and sing. It perfectly sums up what Carnival is about.