Frevo is a rhythm from Pernambuco which accompanies a Carnival dance; it appeared in Recife toward the end of the nineteenth century as a combination of various historical cultural elements.
The steps of frevo were inspired by the presence of capoeira fighters in marching military bands which accompanied Carnival associations. Among the participants were the capoeiras, who were usually blacks being chased by the police who disguised their martial arts moves as seemingly harmless gingas. Over time, the passistas (dancers) turned these blows into rhythmic, choreographic moves, both quick and complex in nature, which required a high level of physical skill and came to be known as passo. The main symbol of the passista is a multicolored umbrella; capoeira was not allowed, and the umbrella served as a disguise, replacing the need for an attack and defense weapon.
Military bands played marches and dobrados, and took part in dancing musical groups at the end of the nineteenth century, playing polkas, tangos, quadrilhas and maxixes. Frevo music emerges as a combination of these genres which, in turn, also influenced the diverse elements involved in frevo, especially the use of syncope and tuplets.
One of the main characteristics of frevo is its fast-paced rhythm, which is typical of Carnival dances.
This genre stands out due to the fact that it was created without the formal rules applied to hymns and dobrados, allowing the musicians greater freedom to play rhythmically spirited and diverse variations, and because it established its profile as a new type of music.
Given its strong connection to military bands, frevo does not have a very syncopated rhythm in the bass part; however, the melodies are marked by constant syncope and accents in the counter-tempo. Generally, the melody is played by a piccolo flute (or by wind instruments and an electric guitar), with a strong emphasis on embellishments and melodic counterpoints. The double bass is similar to the walking bass used in jazz music, and its harmonies are quite simple, usually in the form of turnarounds.
In the 1930s, different varieties of frevo were separated according to their music structure; Frevo-de-Rua, Frevo-Canção and Frevo-de-Bloco. A number of composers became famous for their different Pernambuco frevos, especially Capiba and Nelson Ferreira.