The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

Brazil Parades into Texas

Carnival Celebrates 50 Years in Austin

Carnaval Brasileiro, or what is described as a “night of craziness”, is a huge,  Brazilian-style Mardi Gras party in Austin that has happened annually for 50 years. With the amount of dancing and music that comes with it, according to their website, it has been described as being “a giant washing machine” with everyone moving and bumping around. It is the largest Brazilian celebration in the world outside of Brazil. The first time the festival was held in Austin was in 1975 when Brazilian students at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) held a party of about 200 attendees. Everyone enjoyed that celebration so much that it was repeated the next year with an even higher attendance and was held earlier this year on Feb. 3. 

Freshman Antonio Passos is a Brazilian student at LASA whose family celebrates the holiday every year. He watches the big parades and calls his cousins in Brazil to connect with them. Carnaval Brasileiro incorporates the cultural diversity of Brazil through samba dancing, which originated among Afro-Brazilian populations during the height of the slave trade. The holiday also incorporates elements of Christianity. 

“It’s like the Christian holiday, but in Brazil, it’s not really as much about the religion and it’s more about celebrating the heritage of Brazilians and the mixed race country,” Passos said. “It’s a symbol of our culture.”

Carnaval marks the period before Lent with celebrations full of eating and drinking. During Lent, Catholics give up something that is enjoyable but can have negative effects, like sugar, social media, or gossip.

“[Lent is] spent commemorating the days that Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert and enduring the temptation of Satan,” Passos said. “Carnaval is over a span of four days of Lent.”

Susanna Sharpe is the Communications Coordinator at UT’s Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS). She led the musical band Susanna Sharpe and the Samba Police for several years, which has performed at Carnaval Brasileiro many times.

“Especially in its early days, the Carnaval Brasileiro had a group of local musicians who would put together a show,” Sharpe said. “I did that for many years myself.” 

Brazil’s culture is formed by a combination of indigenous peoples, Portuguese people who colonized and ruled for centuries, and West African people who were enslaved from as early as 1540 until the 1860s. Catholic Christianity, along with Carnaval, was introduced by the Portuguese. Mike Quinn has been the producer of Austin’s Carnaval since 1978. 

“The difference between Carnaval and Halloween, for example, is that there’s music involved,” Quinn said. “Carnaval in Brazil has a very specific music tradition. And the bands that we have follow along those lines and play traditional Carnaval music.”

Carnaval Brasileiro has also experienced a change in venues. The very first Carnavals were held at Austin’s Unitarian Church.

“[This year] we’re at Speakeasy, which is a nightclub downtown,” Quinn said. “We used to do it at Palmer Event Center, which holds 6,000 people. It’s changed over the years because I think the city has changed, and our attendance has dropped because there are so many new people who just don’t get what we do. They haven’t been around, they don’t know the tradition.”

As Austin has changed and modernized in the past 50 years, Austin’s Carnaval has changed to match it. It has grown significantly in size, from 200 to as many as 6,000 people in the 2010s. This year, tickets for it sold out at Speakeasy, as they often do at much larger venues.

“We’re limited by the capacity of the venue, which is 1,200,” Quinn said. “Not much compared to 6,000.”

A more recent addition to the festival was themes. Each year, since the 2000s, a new theme has been chosen for the attendees’ costumes. Although people do enjoy having similar looks with other partygoers, the need to comply with the theme stifles the creativity that used to be present in the 1980s, according to Quinn.

“The costumes in the 1980s were much more interesting than the costumes that have been around the last 10 or 15 years,” Quinn said. “Penny, my partner, has chosen party animals or animalism as a theme for this year. So we expect a lot of people to come in various permutations of animal costumes, furries if you want.”

Many people who go to Carnaval Brasileiro are longtime Austin residents. They hold a yearly tradition of attending, even if they don’t celebrate Carnaval or Lent themselves.

“We’ll have people there who have been coming almost from the beginning,” Quinn said. “Certainly there are people coming in February who have been to 20 or 30 of these parties.”

Although the origins of this Austin tradition go back to native Brazilians nostalgic for the festivities, these days more people go because of their loyalty to old Austin and “keeping it weird”. Although some of the guests do go to connect with their heritage, most do not.

“I would say at most our attendees are maybe 15% to 20% Brazilian, at most,” Quinn said.

Carnaval Brasileiro took place this year, and will continue to as consistently as it has the last 50 years. Its tickets continue to attract both newcomers and frequenters. For more information go to their website,

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