Checking in: Carnaval Brasileiro’s 40th Anniversary

Forty years ago, a group of homesick Brazilian exchange students hosted their own version of Carnaval in Austin. This year, the festival is expected to attract upwards of 5,000 people with a night of drinks, Samba and a true Brazilian gem, Dandara Odara.

By Alessandra Rey
Web Exclusive


Austin may be as free-spirited as cities get. Known for its accepting community and affinity for various cultures and customs, it’s no wonder Austin is home to one of the largest Brazilian Carnaval celebrations outside of South America, so much so that Dandara Odara, otherwise known as the “Tina Turner of Brazil,” is eager and ready to celebrate Carnaval Brasileiro’s 40th anniversary at the Palmer Events Center.

What started out as a party hosted by homesick Brazilian exchange students at the University of Texas has grown into a citywide phenomenon, attracting more than 5,000 attendees throughout the course of one night. It’s the perfect environment for the electric Odara, who has been singing and performing since she was 15 years old. 

“We used to do little shows in front of our houses,” Odara says, explaining how she got her start as a performer. “My sister was the drum player and my other sister was the bass player. Then I started with other groups around the neighborhood because people would come, sit and listen to us.” 

Family is still integral to her success in music, Odara says, her thick, Brazilian accent as warm and inviting as she is. When she prepares to travel to Austin with her seven-piece band, Pra Gandaia, she says she is traveling with her family. 

“We are there for each other. Everyone is going to feel this beautiful aura we have around us,” Odara says, referring to her upcoming performance at the Palmer Events Center. “We’re not here to make money. We’re here to have a good show and have a lot of fun. All of the people who work with me think this way. All this time, I have been selective when working with a lot of musicians. We have to be in harmony.” 

Salvador, Bahia, Odara’s hometown in Brazil, is known for its exhilarating and lavish Carnaval shows, which often rival the more famous production in Rio de Janeiro. Odara performed at her first Carnaval when she was 18, and she awed the crowd from the top of the parade’s trio eletricos, or floats. 

“We would do up to 12 hours of performance for about 100,000 people. The trio eletrico is the most difficult place to do music because you have to deal with the environment, the weather and your movements,” she says. 

But Odara took every obstacle presented to her and channeled them into the high energy she brings to her shows today. 

This year’s Carnaval will be Odara’s first experience in Austin. Her performances have led her throughout the world, from San Francisco to Germany, Hawaii and other parts of Brazil, but she is most excited for the crowd Austin attracts. 

“It’s going to be a very important experience for me and for the people in Austin,” Odara says. “Forty years, they have been doing this show there. They have a crowd ready for someone to make them jump around.” 

At an event filled with colorful costumes and a samba beat, jumping around is exactly what her band is looking to do. Odara is determined to bring the feel, the energy and the good vibrations of her hometown’s Carnaval to the states. The theme of the night, in her opinion, is simply don’t be shy. In the past, the festival has encouraged attendees to let loose, break out the body paint and relish in a night of judgment-free dancing, jumping and singing. Odara wants to take it to a new level. 

“Before we start playing the music, I’m going to teach everybody how to dance. Not only that, but how to do the street dancing, how to shake, how to think,” Odara exclaims. “I want everyone to move together. That’s the way we do in Carnaval.” 

After bringing her Brazilian Tina Turner moves to Austin, Odara is excited to take Pra Gandaia to Canada, Hawaii and San Francisco before returning home to work on her album. 

“I want to do more festivals, but we’ve also been working hard to put new songs on a CD for 2018. That’s what I’m doing in Brazil,” Odara says with a laugh. “I want to win a Grammy. Why not?” 

With her free spirit, contagious music and determination to give Austin an authentic piece of Brazil, Dandara Odara is prepared to make the 40th Austin anniversary of a Brazilian tradition the best time of your life.

Carnaval Brasileiro will celebrate its 40th anniversary at 9 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Palmer Events Center. For more info or to purchase tickets, visit sambaparty.com.


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