Maracatu is one of the best examples of fusion of Portuguese, African and Native Brazilian traditions. It is, basically, a street procession of a king, his queen and the court, followed by a percussion band. It evolved from the crowning of the Congo king, a popular festival apparently originated in Olinda, Pernambuco state. The music evolved from the chants played during Congadas, folk cerimonies that culminate with the election of the king and the queen of the Black Nation.
The details may vary and may include a multitude of princesses, fake Natives covered in feathers and baianas (women dressed in huge baloon skirts, white turbans and golden necklaces). They may pass around the calunga, a rag doll attached to a baton. The group is followed by the percussion orchestra that plays drums of different sizes, shakers, snares and agogô.
There are three main styles – Maracatu Nação, Maracatu Rural and Maracatu Cearense, this one practiced in the state of Ceará. Maracatu Nação or de Baque Virado originated in the early 18th century in Olinda, while Maracatu Rural, initiated in the 19th century in the countryside of Pernambuco. It includes a pilgrimage and a big reunion in Recife, the state capital.
Have a taste of the party with this video by Marcelo Rodrigues shows a performance of the Maracatu Caboclo de Lança Cambinda Brasileira, from Nazaré da Mata, near Recife.
Also, check this story about a public school in São Paulo where kids learn how to make instruments and play the maracatu.
Check also: Recife and Olinda: Brazilian Carnival beyond Rio