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Wednesday, 06 May 2009 09:36


What is samba? Do you want to buy brazilian instruments, or are you researching about samba drums for a school project?


What is samba?

Samba is a form of music and dance from Brazil. Part of Samba's roots are from Africa. Many millions of slaves were transported from Africa to Brazil by the Portuguese during colonial times. They brought with them their traditional dances, music and religions. The Brazilian slave owners let them play their drums and speak their African languages, so these traditions were preserved. But samba isn't an African dance or rhythm. Those African traditions became mixed with European and Brazilian Indian cultures, to become something new and purely Brazilian.

Modern samba comes partly from a type of Afro Brazilian dance, the Samba de Roda, which is still alive in Bahia in Northern Brazil. Samba exists across Brazil in the form of various rhythms and regional folk dances, but not as a distinct musical style. The Samba musical style was developed in the city of Rio de Janeiro in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Rio that the dances practiced by African slaves who had migrated from Bahia mixed with other styles of music popular in the city, to become a totally unique musical and cultural form; the samba carioca.


The origins of Samba music

In the second half of the 19th century, slavery was abolished in Brazil. Many ex - slaves wanted a better life, and they moved from the plantations in Northern Brazil (Bahia) to the then capital of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro. They were looking for jobs and opportunity.  They brought with them their music, dance and culture. One of these dances was called the Samba da Roda, a form of dance accompanied by brief musical phrases and improvised refrains. This became one of the roots of Samba Carioca, the Rio de Janeiro samba. In Rio the Samba de Roda was mixed up with other forms of music popular in the city in the late 19th Century, including the Lundu, the Maxixe and the Polka. The result was the samba.

Various recordings of samba were made from 1910 onwards, but the first to make any impact was a song called ‘Pelo Telefone’. This song came together in music sessions in the house of Tia Ciata. She was an afro - Brazilian 'aunty', a respected elder of the community, who held religious ceremonies in her house in Estacio, near the docks in Rio. Many Afro - Brazilians lived around here - housing was cheap because the land was swampy. After the ceremony there would be a party. In parties like this, across these poor parts of Rio known as 'little Africa', the music evolved into the modern samba. 'Pelo Telephone' was recorded under the name of Donga, one of the many important samba pioneers that frequented Tio Ciata's house.

The samba in its modern form arose at the end of the 1920s. It grew from the work of a group of musical innovators who participated in carnival blocos in the poor districts of Sao Carlos, Estacio de Sa, Mangueira and Osvaldo Cruz. These composers needed to adapt the music for a big outdoor parade. They added instruments such as the surdo, which plays loudly on the beat, making it easier for large groups to dance in time in a carnival parade.

The samba was originally illegal and viewed with prejudice because of its African origins. But it soon conquered the public. Early samba composers such as Cartola, Bide, Noel Rosa and Ismael Silva, sold their compositions to popular white middle class singers. These famous singers took the songs to a white middle class audience. Soon samba songs were being played widely on the radio. Some of these sambas were big hits, earning good money for their singers and producers – but nothing for the original composers, who had sold the rights to the songs.

Other forms of music derived from this original samba include samba de gafiera, samba de enredo, samba de breque, samba cancao, samba-rock, partido alto and pagode.

The development of modern samba

Modern samba has a 2/4 rhythm (although some Rio masters assure me that it is really in 2/2, like Polka). The speed can vary from slow ballads to very fast samba enredos played at up to 160 beats a minute. Traditionally samba was played on string instruments such as the guitar, mandolin and cavaquinho, accompanied with percussion instruments such as the pandeiro, tamborim and agogo. In the 20th century instruments such as the surdo and repinique were added to the mix. After the second world war the strong cultural impact of music from the USA - especially Jazz and big band- led to the introduction of wind instruments and horns (although these are forbidden in Rio carnival sambas de enredo and would attract penalty points from the parade judges, if used).

As well as the musical style, samba also carries other cultural markers; specific foods cooked on special occasions, and a variety of dances, festivals, and events. Samba also supports a large number of anonymous community artists who design and make the costumes, decorated floats, clothing and other aspects of the parades of the Samba Schools.

In 2007 the Samba was officially declared a protected Cultural Heritage of Brazil.

Click here for More information about Rio's carnival and samba schools.


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