Frevo, which is a rich manifestation of Brazilian culture, articulates itself as a system in its diversity of expressions: music, dance, costumes, information, works, individual and collective performances referenced within the great representation of its Carnival associations. Originated in the urban space of Recife, amongs the social battles, Frevo is spread especially in the street carnival festivities; however, it does not shy away from the stages as a centennial manifestation, whose resistance establishes constant processes of experimentation and change.



The word frevo is derived from a mispronunciation of the verb ferver (boil), and started being used as a reference to the ebullition the people present during the party. It is necessary to measure such agitation in the very own social life of the city at the end of the 19th century. The first mention of the word frevo as a designation of the artistic expression was registered by the media in Jornal Pequeno, edition released on February 9th, 1907. It is important to mention the researcher Evandro Rabello as a source of such record, with the release of his book “Memória da Folia – O carnaval do Recife pelos olhos da imprensa 1822/1925”, which deals with Carnival as the subject to several publications made by newspapers at the time.



As a product of the juxtaposition of several musical genres, such as marchas, dobrados, maxixes, quadrilhas, polcas, peças do repertório erudito e outros, performed by martial bands and fanfarras, music in its beginning is a prenounce to the plural characteristic. Thus, its universal reach and singularity at the same time regards its social-historic place.

At the end of the 19th century, frevo was already strong in the Carnival of Pernambuco. At first called North March or Pernambuco March, and afterwards it was called frevo. The popularization of the rhythm in disc recordings and by radiophonic diffusion (1930) established the subdivision in Street Frevo, Block Frevo and Song Frevo.


Street Frevo

It is always an instrumental track, and constitutes as emblematic in the genre. In it, one can see the predominance of wind instruments (trombones, trumpets and tubes); and woodwind instruments (sax, clarinets, e-flat clarinets, flutes and piccolos); and percussion, bass drums, snare drumses and tambourines. There is no need for lyrics and it is from its execution that the Frevo dance will happen, which is denominated Passo.

The street frevo is usually divided by an uncertain origin, but which is very much accepted among arrangement professional and researchers, as follows: frevo-coqueiro, frevo-ventania and frevo-de-abafo.

Coqueiro – One may highlight in it the metals, trumpets, trombones, with very high notes.

Ventania – On this one, the type of sax has a bigger attention than metals.

De abafo – Executed when two blocks meet ando ne of the orchestras try to overcome the other.

Examples of Street frevos:

  1. Vassourinhas, by Matias da Rocha and Joana Batista;
  2. Último dia, by Levino Ferreira;
  3. Trinca do 21, by Mexicano;
  4. Menino Bom, by Eucário Barbosa;
  5. Corisco, by Lourival Oliveira;
  6. Porta-bandeira, by Guedes Peixoto.


Song Frevo

The instrumentation of Song Frevo is basically the same as Street Frevo, but its execution is more common on stages, studios and other places which may hold singing. It does not stop them from being sungo n the streets, when following the orchestras. Sometimes, the lyrics of this genre are compared to embolada, for its musical build and the fastness of pronunciation, which is almost a tongue-twister.

Examples of Song Frevos:

  1. Borboleta não é ave, by Nelson Ferreira;
  2. Cala a boca menino, by Capiba;
  3. Hino de Pitombeira, by Alex Caldas;
  4. Hino de Elefante, by Clídio Nigro;
  5. Meu vestibular, by Gildo Moreno.


Block Frevo

The typical instrumentation, called pau-e-corda, is very distinct from the other two kinds. It is based on strumming strings or playing them with picks, and the background, usually with guitars or cavaquinhos, and regarding wind instruments, especially flutes, clarinets and sax. Percussion is based on bass drums, snare drumses and tambourines, but may also have rattles, reco-recos and bandolins incorporated. Sung by a female choir, lyrics are usually hymns, telling memories or histories by composers, exulting heroes, personalities and Carnival workers, sometimes evoking the memory of the city and past Carnivals, while expressing the present in a loyal dialogue between what there was and what there is.

Examples of Block Frevos:

  1. Valores do Passado, by Edgard Moraes;
  2. Marcha da Folia, by Raul Moraes;
  3. Relembrando o Passado, by João Santiago;
  4. Saudade, by Irmãos Valença;
  5. Evocação nr. 1, by Nelson Ferreira;
  6. Último regresso, by Getúlio Cavalcanti.



It is the presence of Capoeira – type of martial arts developed by black populations slavered in Brazil Colony – which brings prowess and the new vaults invented directly inspiring the creation of Passo, a type of dance which follows Street Frevo. They are groups of men, usually colored, organized, put in front of the bands, who fight against one another for several interests, including political parties. Due to police repression towards those who practiced it, it is during Carnival when the strikes and blows are mixed up with the spins and pirouettes used for defense or attack to rival groups and, finally, transformed into choreography.

Thus, just as in song, movements from several sources, at first…Hinge, Screw, Scissors, tramela, Pliers, which are connected to the universe of the workplace, designate many of those moves. Subsequently, the influence of other dances and the schooling process which leads frevo to stages. Because it is an unpredictable dance, the dancer is always daring, improvising, without however forgetting the fundamental dialogical relation to the music, both made out of questions and answers, attack and defense, tension and freedom, individuality and collectivity.


Symbols of Frevo

  1. Umbrella: Part of the colorful imagery that overcomes the streets in Recife during Carnival is due to the presence of frevo umbrellas. The artifact integrates the visual spectrum of frevo dances in their performances. But it was not always like that: in the past, besides the conventional use – to protect from the sun -, its presence was linked to the capoeiras and fighters who would follow the festivities, sometimes carrying umbrellas and other instruments, which would eventually be used as weapons. With time, the umbrella was reduced in size and enhanced in colors, becoming an emblematic component of frevo.


  1. Standards: Leading the festivities, one of the most important items of Carnival associations is placed: the standard. The custom of presenting a banner to identify the group is an Iberia heritage, from the Crusades, in Middle Age, when missions with military and religious objectives would hold up flags with allegoric symbols such as crosses and badges, absorbed by us because of colonization. Standards are, usually, made of velvet and taffeta, with satin lining. They bring in evidence the name of the Carnival group, its symbols and the date of foundation. The flag is adorned with golden strings, bedazzles, paintings and embroideries. Many insignias represent work tools, mainly the oldest ones, which would explain the origins linked to the work groups.



Since 2007, the official date for the Frevo centennial, the manifestation was registered in the Book of Means of Expression, becoming an Immaterial Cultural Heritage of Brazil, conceded by the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute (Iphan). Registered in 2010 to run for the title of Intangible World Heritage, on December 5th, 2012 it was recognized by UNESCO on the 7th Session of the  Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible World Heritage, being the only Brazilian representation of that year.

Besides frevo, other Brazilian cultural manifestations integrate the Representative List of Intangible World Heritage: thesamba de roda from the Reconcavo Baiano, the graphic and oral expressions of the Wajãpi tribe (Amapá); the Círio de Nazaré religious ritual (Pará) in 2013 and the Capoeira circle, 2014.



Maestro Ademir Araújo (Formiga)

Carmem Lélis – researcher

Documents for the registry of frevo on the list for Intangible World Heritage – UNESCO.

Available at:
PREFEITURA DO RECIFE. Guia do Folião. Recife: Prefeitura do Recife, 2008.