While many Brazilians grow up celebrating Carnival, this wasn’t true for Christiane Silva Pinto. It wasn’t until college when she joined her first bateria that it became an incredibly important tradition to her. “When I was playing in college, I loved the music and practicing with the band, but I also loved that I got to know more about that culture I hadn’t been in touch with when I was a kid,” says Christiane, who played the drums in her college bateria, which is a Brazilian percussion band.
“Some of the people who played with us had experience playing in the Carnival parades, and those stories were contagious.” Today, in addition to working as an Associate Product Marketing Manager for Google helping small and medium-sized businesses in Brazil, Christiane is part of a band that plays every year during the iconic Carnival in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where a sea of spectators gather every year.
Carnival lasts for four days, and much of the celebration happens in the streets. While there are different traditions in different cities in Brazil, people in Sao Paulo enjoy parades, food and most importantly, music. Bands called blocos or bloquinhos (which include the traditional baterias along with other instruments as well as singing and dancing) set up temporary stages or hire trucks and offer free, wandering concerts.
In 2013, Christiane and her friends founded their first Carnival bloquinho and she was excited to see 30 people had turned up for their show. She would’ve never imagined that her band would become so popular that around 10,000 people would gather to watch them play, like they did for last year’s Carnival. In her bloco, where Christiane plays a kind of tambourine called tamborim and the snare drum; they play traditional Carnival songs, original pieces they’ve written and even reinterpret contemporary songs with Carnival rhythms from bands like Pink Floyd or Rage Against The Machine.
Aside from making music, Christiane sees carnival as an opportunity to unite Brazilians and generate equality awareness, as well as connect with her African heritage. “We have a lot of inequality in Brazil. Most people are poor, and most of the poor people are Black. Race is very related to economy, and unfortunately you will probably see that during Carnival the white people are having fun and the Black people are working,” she says.
In fact, in her bloquinho there are only two Black women, including Christiane. While the majority of Brazilians are Black, they’re hugely underrepresented, and she’s proud to bring her perspective to the celebration and give visibility to her culture and ancestors.
Christiane also wants to empower women through Carnival. She recently joined a second bloquinho dedicated to empowering women through music and body positiveness. This bloco is exclusively for women, which is unusual; it was formed in 2015 by one of her friends after she was harassed during Carnival. “We founded a feminist bloco where women could come together to celebrate freedom, to be safe and to be able to express their bodies.” She’s also helping campaign local government to pass initiatives that protect women against harassment.
Christiane’s dedication to Carnival began with her love of music, but through it she’s found a way to make underrepresented voices heard. “Many people say that things are so bad that they don’t understand how some people can still enjoy Carnival and forget about the country’s problems. But that’s the way people who don’t live Carnival think, because they don’t understand its culture. For me, it’s a way of cultural resistance.” she says.
“Music is a powerful way to express your ideas and your values. Being able to create music is very beautiful and powerful. And for me, it’s priceless to keep my culture and my ancestors alive through Carnival.”