The Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2024: A Mirror of Brazilian Society
Daily Opinion

The Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2024: A Mirror of Brazilian Society

The Rio de Janeiro Carnival, an explosion of colour, music, and dance, is known worldwide for its dazzling spectacle. This annual event, which attracts millions of people worldwide, became a stage for artistic expression and social protest.

The Scolas do Samba, the heart of the Carnival, use their parades to entertain and communicate powerful messages about Brazil’s challenges and struggles. In 2024, the themes of the trains addressed issues such as police brutality in the favelas, the environmental crisis, and the plight of indigenous people. The Scolas do Samba presented sharp social criticism through music, dance, and visual art and celebrated Brazil’s cultural diversity.

In this sense, the Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2024 was a true mirror of Brazilian society, reflecting its beauty, pain, resilience, and indomitable spirit.

Origins of the Brazilian Carnival

The origins of the Carnival can be traced back to harvest celebration rituals and pagan festivals in Europe. The Roman Catholic Church later adopted these celebrations to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Christian calendar. With the arrival of Portuguese colonisers in Brazil in the 16th century, these traditions reached the colony.

The term “Carnival” is said to derive from the Latin “Carne Vale“, meaning “farewell to meat”. The early carnivals in Italy consisted of masquerade balls with a strong emphasis on costumes. The tradition soon spread to other European countries, including Portugal, where the Brazilian Carnival was born. Samba music and dance have been associated with the Carnival in Brazil since 1917. Originating from Angola and West Africa, enslaved people introduced it to these lands, finding solace in this type of music in difficult times.

Today, the Rio Carnival is one of Brazil’s most influential mass events, with up to 5 million attendees. The city streets are filled with colour, celebration, and samba, and the Sambadrome parade is streamed worldwide.

The Scolas do Samba: Voices of the Community

The Scolas do Samba, which can be translated to “samba schools”, are much more than simple organisations; they are the heart and soul of the community in which they reside. These schools, found throughout Brazil but particularly prominent in Rio de Janeiro, prepare the Carnival parades.

The themes are reflected in all aspects of the train, from the music and costumes to the floats and choreography. These are often a representation of the concerns, hopes, and dreams of the community. In 2024, many Scolas do Samba chose pieces that reflected their communities’ social and political concerns. For example, the Mangueira samba school chose a theme that highlighted the struggle for workers’ rights.

Mangueira told the story of Brazilian workers, their struggle for labour rights, and their resistance to exploitation through their music, costumes, and floats. On the other hand, the Salgueiro samba school chose a theme that addressed gender violence. Through their parade, Salgueiro denounced violence against women in Brazil and paid tribute to women who have fought for gender equality.

These parades are not just a celebration of Carnival but also a form of protest and resistance. Through their art, the Scolas do Samba give voice to their communities.

During the Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2024, some other themes addressed by the Scolas do Samba included:

– The indigenous Tupinambá culture, based on the book “Meu Destino é Ser Onça” by Alberto Mussa, presented by the Grande Rio school.


– The saga of Kehinde, an African woman enslaved in Brazil, inspired by the book “Um Defeito de Cor” by Ana Maria Gonçalves, presented by the Portela school.

– Yanomami mythology and the defence of the Amazon, based on the book “The Falling Sky” by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Alberts, presented by the Salgueiro school.

– The history of popular Brazilian music, from samba to funk, presented by the Beija-Flor school.

– The life and work of Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and philosopher, presented by the Imperatriz Leopoldinense school.

Denouncing Police Brutality

Police brutality is a severe problem in Brazil, especially in the favelas and low-income communities that are often stigmatised and marginalised. This issue was present in the samba lyrics and the parades’ visual representations during Carnival in 2024. Through their art, the Scolas do Samba denounced violence and corruption and paid tribute to the victims of police brutality.

The statistics on police brutality in Brazil are alarming. In 2018, there were 160 homicides of citizens due to police brutality. In 2019, in Rio de Janeiro alone, the police killed 1,810 people, averaging five people a day. During the first six months of 2020, the police killed 3,148 people. 

Over 99% of all victims were men, and nearly 30% were under 24 years old. In Rio de Janeiro, the deadliest state in Brazil in terms of police brutality, 75% of all those killed by the police are People of Colour. These figures are a reflection of the systematic violence and racial discrimination prevalent in Brazil. Through their parades, the Scolas do Samba seek to draw attention to raise awareness and demand justice for the victims of police brutality.

Environmental Crisis in Focus

Brazil, the largest country in Latin America and the fifth most populous globally, faces many significant environmental challenges. During the Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2024, these issues were highlighted through the artistic representations of the Scolas do Samba.

Deforestation is one of the most serious problems, especially in the Amazon region. It leads to a series of negative impacts, such as loss of biodiversity, alteration of the water cycle, soil degradation, modification of local climate, and harm to indigenous populations inhabiting the region. The causes of deforestation in Brazil are varied and include the advance of the agricultural-livestock frontier, logging, mining activity, road and highway construction, forest fires, human settlements, and biofuel production.

Another significant environmental problem in Brazil is waste management. The waste generated in Brazilian territory is a significant concern as it affects the quality of air, soil, and various bodies of water. According to a report by the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimation System (SEEG) in 2019, the tons of waste generated, plus the dumps from homes and industries, caused 4.4% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, mining activity in Brazil, carried out mainly by large companies, also significantly impacts the environment. Mineral extraction often involves the destruction of natural habitats and can result in water and soil pollution. During Carnival, the Scolas do Samba used their parades to draw attention to these environmental issues. Through their artistic representations, the schools urged the Brazilian society to take action to protect the environment and promote more sustainable developments.

Sebastião Salgado’s Reforestation Project

Renowned Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife, Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado, have undertaken an ambitious reforestation project in Brazil. After documenting the genocide in Rwanda, Salgado returned to his home in Minas Gerais, only to find the land that was once a lush tropical forest reduced to barren land. Motivated by the vision of restoring the forest, the couple founded the Terra Institute in 1998.

Since then, they have worked tirelessly to transform barren land into a thriving forest. To date, the Terra Institute has planted more than 4 million trees and has helped reforest Salgado’s estate, planting over 290 different species of native plants from the region on 609 hectares. This project has had a significant impact not only on the local landscape but also on the ecosystem and climate.

Reforestation has rejuvenated several springs in this drought-prone area and has positively affected local temperatures.

Additionally, it has provided habitat for numerous species of flora and fauna, many of which are endangered. Salgado’s work demonstrates the power of individual and collective action to address environmental challenges and underscores the importance of conservation and sustainability.

The Assassination of Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira

During the Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2024, the Salgueiro samba school paid a moving tribute to Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira. Phillips, a British journalist passionate about the Amazon, and Pereira, an indigenous activist and environmentalist, were killed in 2022 while studying the situation of the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon.

Through their parade, The dancers of Salgueiro remembered Phillips and Pereira’s dedication and commitment to protecting indigenous peoples and the environment. This tribute served as a reminder of the risks faced by those who fight for social and environmental justice in Brazil.

The Plight of Indigenous Peoples

Brazil’s indigenous people, comprising a large number of different ethnic groups, have suffered for centuries from land dispossession and the erosion of their cultures. At the time of European arrival in the 16th century, it is estimated that more than 1,000 groups of people inhabited the region, totalling between two to four million people.

Today, 267 groups of people in the Brazilian territory speak more than 150 different languages. These people have faced a long history of colonisation and forced displacement that has led to the loss of their ancestral lands and the erosion of their cultures. Despite these challenges, they have shown remarkable resilience, keeping their traditions alive and fighting for their rights. 

At the Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2024, the Scolas do Samba echoed these struggles. Through their parades, they paid tribute to the rich cultural diversity of Brazil’s indigenous people and denounced the injustices they face. The marches became a stage for the expression of indigenous resistance and the affirmation of their cultural identity. 

These Scolas presented artistic representations that highlighted the beauty and strength of indigenous cultures while drawing attention to the threats they face. In a country where commercial interests often prevail over indigenous rights, these representations were a powerful reminder of the importance of protecting and respecting the rights of indigenous people.

To summarise, art emerges as a powerful vehicle for resistance and struggle in contemporary society. Through cultural manifestations like the Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2024, we see how art not only entertains but also challenges the injustices and brutalities imposed by a ruthless capitalistic system. The Scolas do Samba, with their artistic expression, have transformed the Carnival into a platform for denouncing social inequalities, police brutality, and environmental degradation.

In this cultural trench, marginalised communities find a voice and an identity that allows them to resist and fight oppression. Art not only reflects reality but also shapes and challenges it. Alternative narratives that question the status quo and promote social and environmental justice are constructed through music, dance, and visual art.

Ultimately, art reminds us that creativity and imagination are powerful tools in the struggle for a more just and sustainable world. It invites us to rethink our relationships with ourselves, others, and the environment and inspires us to act in solidarity and empathy. Thus, art enriches our lives and challenges us to be agents of change in a world that so desperately needs it.