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Frevo, Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

The Boiling Rhythm from Pernambuco


Passistas de Frevo - Aniversário de 474 anos de Olinda
prefeituradeolinda/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Updated on Feb.10, 2014 

Brazilian Frevo Listed by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Frevo is a signature musical style from Pernambuco, an involving, feverish rhythm played by a brass band. Though widely played during Carnival in Pernambuco, especially famous for the festivities in Recife and Olinda, the rhythm listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco is deeply ingrained in the regional spirit and performed in Brazil and internationally year round.

Dancers who perform elaborate, strenuous steps ahead of the band are called passistas. They wave multi-colored parasols as they leap and twist in a choreography that has its origin in capoeira.

The word frevo comes from frever, a common usage pronunciation of ferver, the Portuguese word for "boil". The term was first used by a Recife newspaper - Jornal Pequeno - on February 9, 1907, so the Centennial of Frevo was celebrated with a bang in Brazilian Carnival 2007.

Paço do Frevo

In 2014, Recife commemorated the state's Frevo Day (February 9) with the grand opening of Paço do Frevo, a cultural space dedicated to the safeguarding of frevo heritage, its diffusion and legacy for the future generations.

Widely celebrated by outstanding frevo artists such as Claudionor Germano, who recorded a document for the center's collection, Paço do Frevo hosts exhibitions, performances and educational activities.


History of Frevo

Frevo evolved from several musical influences, including military marching bands which paraded around Recife during Carnival in the second half of the nineteenth century. Competition between the city's band associations was fierce and revelers who followed their favorite bands often got into violent fights with their perceived opponents.

Bands resorted to capoeiristas, or capoeira fighters, for protection. Since capoeira was illegal at the time, capoeiristas would mask their moves by changing them into dance steps lest they be caught by police. They carried umbrellas under the pretext of being ready for summer showers, while intending them as weapons.

The Frevo Band

The essential instruments in a frevo band are saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and percussion.

In an video interview to journalist Marcelo Tas, musician Maestro Forró offers one of the best explanations for frevo music: a question & answer relationship, created by the different instruments, between a stronger masculine phrasing and a softer feminine one.

In the same video, Antonio Nóbrega shows how capoeira steps evolved into frevo and Naná Vasconcelos, who incorporated frevo into jazz, talks about how frevo compares to one of its antecessors: dobrado was lukewarm; frevo boils.

Great Frevo Videos

Vassourinhas, by M. Rocha and J.Batista, is the signature song of Carnival in Olinda and Recife. The video was shot during a show at Marco Zero, Recife celebrating the 100th anniversary of Frevo.

Watch a passista in action as Loi, of Grupo Frevo Capoeira e Passo, demonstrates his art. Grupo Frevo Capoeira e Passo is connected to Grupo de Capoeira Angola Mãe, created in Olinda by Humberto Ferreira de Mendonça, known as Mestre Sapo (Master Frog).

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