You are here


The most well-known Afro-Brazilian genre is the samba. Its origin lies in the Angolan or Congolese circle dance. "Samba" comes from the Angolan word "semba" which means "navel". During this dance the navels of the dance partners touch each other. In Brazil this original form of samba is called "samba de roda" (roda = circle). Early 20th century under the influence of immigrants from Bahia the samba develops itself in the slums of Rio de Janeiro as an autonomous musical form. The hit "Pelo Telefone" in 1917 by Ernesto dos Santos "Donga" and Mauro Almeida is generally considered as the first samba recording. The samba "is a predominantly vocal genre consisting of both fixed an improvised verses in call and response format. Its urban carioca form was at its inception a fusion of many of the elements of Rio's rich popular culture: lundu, maxixe, Afro-Brazilian circle dances and rhythms with origins in the northeast of Brazil, and harmonic and melodic influences of choro. In fact, some of the first composers of samba were "chorões" like Donga, Pixinguinha, and Sinhô". ("Inside the Brazilian rhythm section", Sher Music Co., 2001: 18) By the 1920's, samba became associated with the carnival celebration. In 1928 a group of musicians forms the first samba school "Deixa falar". They change the samba so that it fits better into the annual carnival parade. These samba, the music of the samba school, is called "samba-enredo" or "samba de enredo". During the thirties of the twentieth century the samba spreads all over Brazil by way of the radio.

During carnival the various samba schools in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and other major Brazilian cities fight for a first place in the annual parade. The samba school can consist of 3000 up to 7000 persons: drummers, percussionists, singers, dancers, and a float. The presentation of the samba school during the parade is dedicated to a central theme like a historic event or a Brazilian Indian legend. The members of the samba school also write a "samba de enredo" with the same theme. This samba will be presented during the parade. The making of the carnival clothes and the float takes months of preparation. Every samba school has a name. In Rio de Janeiro Mangueira, Estácio de Sá, Beija Flor, Mocidade, Portela, and Salgueiro are the best known samba schools. The term "school" is being used because the first samba schools exercised on a certain school terrain. In her book "Kannibalen in Rio - Impressies uit Brazilië" (Cannibals in Rio - Impressions from Brazil) the Dutch correspondent Ineke Holtwijk gives a clear description of the rise of the samba schools:

"Carnival started in Rio as a white party. Inspired by Venice and Paris the élite organized masked balls. There were clubs who paraded in costumes and opportunity drum bands who paraded in plain clothes". After the emperor [...] had given freedom to all slaves in 1988, Rio became more black and carnival gradually more African. The conservative élite preferred to prohibid the drum sessions and candomblé meetings on the hills. In their parade the liberals, who succeeded in their plea for giving the slaves their freedom, fooled around with the conservatives of the "old r&eacutegime". The heart of the feud was the carnival itself. One had to choose between a "civilized celebration" or an African carnival with drums. Were the well to do negroes, like artisans, who came with the solution. They didn't identify anymore with the African rituals. They wanted something new and invented a mix of the carnival drum band with religious processions, the most important pastime during colonial times. The drums were still allowed to participate, but just as accompaniment for the vocals - no African vocals - and flute solos. Every procession had a theme. Those were ambitious topics like the universe, life at the Asian Court, and the brotherhood of nations. In this way the white people could show that this was "decent African carnival". While the more rich negroes with the progressive white people paraded on the avenues downtown, the poor negroes celebrated their carnival on the hills. They didn´t have the money for beautiful costumes, but they wanted to show that they also were able to give a serious show. Their music was samba, a mix of hip movements from African dance with the syncopated rhythm of different drums who were played all at the same time, and they also depicted a theme like the people below. They called their association samba school, because they exercised near the teacher training college. No one of the poor negroes imagined to go to such a school any time, but nobody should tell them something about samba. They were the experts in samba. This way the name "samba school" came into being. The dancers and composers were called sambistas. The sambistas of São Carlos set the trend in the twenties. They called their samba school "Deixa Falar", "Let them talk". Other favelas {slums; HFdV} took over the idea. Samba became populair, also amongst the whites. In the years that followed, samba schools organized competitions, and there came more rules. To be able to buy more beautiful costumes, local residents asked for money from the middle classes. In the sixties carnival became more professional. One of the samba schools contracted a white designer for the costumes. Everyone praised his work and the example was being copied. In the seventies carnival assumed the airs of a Hollywood filmstar. A designer introduced floats, put half naked women on them in glitter bikinis and invited a socialite to stand on top of the float. She was the highlight, an important person. The socialites were always white. Money was no problem. The middle class did make place for dubious millionaires called "bicheiros". The bicheiros are the owners of the "jogo do bicho", an illegal but popular lottery in Rio de Janeiro. [...]. In Rio nowadays are about threehundred bicheiros. Lottery ticket sellers are on every street corner. The game deals about millions of pounds per week. The bicheiros discovered samba as a double investment. Who finances a samba school will immediately be a hero in the slums of Rio. There are the majority of the clients of the lottery, and the majority of the voters. Thanks to the samba schools bicheiros succeeded to put their own candidates in the city council of Rio. Further, carnival with its dance evenings, merchandising, and music and television rights, is ideal for laundering illegal fortunes. So, bicheiros that are doing well, buy a samba school, just like normal citizens buy a new car or a bigger house if they have money." ("Cannibals in Rio - Impressions from Brazil", fourth edition 1996: 154-158)

Generally samba is being notated in cut time, 2/2 or alla breve. Cut time is a meter with two half-note beats per measure. The accompaniment is very syncopic and sounds funky. Characteristic percussion instruments being used in samba are surdo, repinique, caixa, pandeiro, tamborim, ganzá, cuíca, and agogô. Very characteristic is the deep sound of surdo (a big bass drum) on the second beat of the alla breve measure. This is very different from pop music where the bass drum generally beats on the first and third beat. In Rio's carnival samba is nearly exclusively being played with percussion instruments. In pagode, a form of samba that came into being since about 1980, appear melody and chord instruments. However, often there is no bass guitar, but just the deep sound of the surdo. Characteristic chord instruments in samba are the acoustic guitar and cavaquinho. In a lot of samba types there is a solo vocalist who sings the melody after which the choir answers.

Some important samba composers are: Noel Rosa, Paulinho da Viola, Ary Barroso, Dorival Caymmi, Nelson Cavaquinho, Moacyr Santos, and Martinho da Vila.

Some sambas you should listen to
Title Musician Composer Album Year
Com que roupa? Gilberto Gil Noel Rosa Songbook Noel 1991
É de Deus Ivan Lins Ivan Lins - Vitor Martins Anjo de mim 1995
Camaleão Ivan Lins Ivan Lins - Vitor Martins - Aldir Blanc Anjo de mim 1995
Desde que o samba é samba Ivan Lins Caetano Veloso Anjo de mim 1995
O mestre-sala dos mares João Bosco João Bosco - Aldir Blanc Ao vivo 100 apresentação 1983

Copyright 2011 | Some Rights Reserved | Administrator: Henk Frans de Vries | Powered by Drupal | Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti