views updated


The first known printed reference to samba music in Brazil dates to 1838. That reference, found in Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil, does not mention peoples of African descent. The next known reference, found in 1844 in nearby Bahia, describes black slaves playing samba, but does not indicate whether those slaves were born in Africa or Brazil.

In the seventeenth century, the Portuguese used the word calundú to describe dances and ceremonies that preceded spirit possession and divination. Beginning at the end of the eighteenth century in Brazil and Portugal, the term lundu referred to a dance performed by free men and women of mixed racial background. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, Brazilian and Portuguese sources also used the word batuque to refer to celebrations and entertainment among slaves.

Descriptions of batuques and lundus coincide on many points: dancers, singers, and observers are arranged in circles; observers participate through palm clapping and singing refrains; couples dance in the middle of a larger circle; and there is a frequent use of umbigada, the movement through which dancers select partners by touching navels. Lundus were also frequently described as including stringed instruments, and they served as inspiration for a genre of cançonetas, or ditties, sold as sheet music for piano and voice beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1944 the author and musical scholar Mário de Andrade declared that lundu was the first Afro-Brazilian cultural form accepted in elite circles, even if ridicule often accompanied that acceptance.

The word samba began to appear regularly in newspapers and literature during the second half of the nineteenth century. The word's roots are most likely Bantu, but more specific details are difficult to trace. The most accepted version suggests that the word comes from the Quimbundo (Angola) word semba, which probably included the pelvic thrusts of umbigada. Other scholars also cite Amerindian origins.

Current knowledge of post-1860s samba is based primarily on research and sources from Bahia and Pernambuco, with Bahia having received the most attention from scholars. Late nineteenth-century references describe a samba quite similar to the one performed today in the Recôncavo (the hinterland beyond the bay around Salvador, Bahia). Recôncavo samba relies heavily on small, rapid steps (the famous miudinho ), is accompanied by violas (guitarlike instruments with varying numbers of strings) and pandeiros (similar to tambourines), and includes a vocal passage known as chula.

Rio de Janeiro

The first references to samba in Rio de Janeiro appear at the end of the nineteenth century. They often mention black immigrants from Bahia, who migrated around the time of abolition, in 1888. As Roberto Moura (1995) and others have shown, a number of those immigrants established themselves in the area surrounding Rio de Janeiro's ports, where they built community networks, developed economic support systems, and maintained traditional religious and cultural practices, including samba. Some of the principal figures of early carioca samba (carioca refers to people or things from Rio de Janeiro) frequented the port scene. Among them were Donga (Ernesto dos Santos, 18891974), João da Baiana (João Machado Guedes, 18871974), Sinhô (José Barbosa de Silva, 18881930), and Pixinguinha (Alfredo Viana Filho, 18971973). The first two were sons of immigrants from Bahia; the last two were sons of cariocas.

The mothers of Donga and João da BaianaTia Amélia and Tia Perciliana de Santo Amaro, respectivelywere initiates of João Alabá's Afro-Brazilian religious (Candomblé) community. Alabá's Nagô (Yoruba) community was one of the most important in early twentieth-century Rio de Janeiro. Ciata, one of the most famous tias (female Afro-Brazilian community and spiritual leaders, often from Bahia), hosted gatherings that often combined musical improvisation and African-influenced worship. An important biography of Pixinguinha by Sérgio Cabral does not mention the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, but, according to Mário de Andrade, the famous musician frequented spiritual gatherings and developed substantial knowledge about Candomblé. It was most likely Pixinguinha who, in 1926, provided Andrade with the information about macumba (a generic term used to refer to numerous African-derived religious practices and music forms) that would form the basis of the chapter "Macumba" in Andrade's modernist masterpiece, Macunaíma (1928). It is also possible that the scar-faced Pixinguinha inspired a character in the same chapter, a drum player described by Andrade as the "the pock-marked son of Ogum [the Afro-Brazilian god of War]" (p. 57).

Pixinguinha was not the only important musician with links to Afro-Brazilian religions. For example, Sinhô was linked to the spiritual leader Henrique Assumano Mina do Brasil, also known as the Prince of Alufás (an alufá is an Islamic-Brazilian cleric). According to one researcher, "the first performance of [Sinhô's] music took place in Assumano's residence. Sinhô believed that his own popularity was due to Assumano's spiritual influence" (cited in Alencar, 1981, p. 42). References to Afro-Brazilian religion are also found in the titles and genres of numerous early twentieth-century compositions, including Sinhô's "Ai Ué Dendê," "Bofé Pamim Dge," "Ojaré," and "Oju Burucu," as well as Pixinguinha's "Que querê" (with Donga and João da Baiana, 1932); "Xou, curinga" (with João da Baiana, 1932); "Yaô africano" (with Gastão Viana, 1938); "Uma festa de Nanã" (with Gastão Viana, 1941); and "Benguelê" (with Gastão Viana, 1946); and Donga's "Sai, Exu" (with Pixinguinha's brother, Otávio "China" Viana); and "Macumba de Iansã" and "Macumba de Oxóssi" (with Zé Espinguela).

Types of Samba Music

Samba music can be compartmentalized into various categories. Generic samba music is played mostly with different percussion instruments, acoustic guitar, and the cavaquinho (small guitar) and is the easiest type of samba to dance to in couples. The music tends to be energetic, but melodic at the same time. Samba de roda is one of the earliest forms of samba. Standing in a circle, one person creates a melody while the others clap and improvise on the atabaques, a type of drum. Samba enredo, used often in Carnival, is upbeat, has a quick tempo, and features a variety of drums played simultaneously.

In the 1950s bossa nova became popular. Heavily influenced by jazz, bossa nova is a softer style of music. Choro is mainly instrumental using the flute, guitar, miniature guitar, and clarinet. Like bossa nova, it, too, has a jazzy sound, but is a bit more melancholic. Improvisation is one of its defining characteristics as the musicians enjoy testing each other with their creativity and ability.

From the parties in the backyards of poor areas, where people would play, sing, and drink, came samba de pagode. It became popular in the 1970s and 1980s and contains loud, energetic dance rhythms. Other famous types of samba music includes samba paulista, samba breque, and samba rock.

"Pelo Telefone" and the Oito Batutas

The first song labeled as a samba to achieve success in Rio de Janeiro was "Pelo telefone," released during Carnival in 1917 by Donga and Mauro de Almeida (18821956). (The song is often called the "first recorded samba," even though, since the 1960s, researchers have noted the existence of samba recordings from the early 1910s.) In his meticulous study of "Pelo telefone," Flávio Silva shows that the song's release was strategically orchestrated by Donga, who sought to transform into "popular music" what had up until that point belonged to a select group, organized by the Bahian tias around Praça Onze (like the port area, a geographical landmark of early samba ). Donga incorporated traditional motifs previously played only independently and asked Almeida (a white journalist) to write the lyrics. He then registered the work at the National

Library (citing himself and Almeida as authors), had the song arranged for a band (at the time, the principal means for publicizing music), and then recorded the song. In some respects, Donga's efforts resulted in a resounding success, turning samba into the music of the moment and paving the way for the genre's future consecration. But even this success failed to alter Donga's economic situation. His claims of authorship of "Pelo telefone" were contested by Tia Ciata and other important figures of Afro-Brazilian music in Rio, such as Sinhô and Hilário Jovino. In 1933 the writer Vagalume declared that "Pelo telefone" was the creation of musicians at Tia Ciata's gatherings, and had simply been adapted and registered by Donga and Mauro de Almeida.

It is difficult to gauge whether the population of Rio de Janeiro thought of "Pelo telefone" as an Afro-Brazilian musical production. Aside from Donga's presumed authorship and the fact that the song was called a samba, there is little about the song that is specifically African-Brazilian. Despite the official samba label, the song was often referred to as either a tango or a modinha. In fact, there were no racist reactions against "Pelo telefone," as there would be a short time later against the musical group Os Oito Batutas, another enterprise organized largely by Donga.

With four whites and four blacksDonga, Pixinguinha, Pixinguinha's brother China (Otávio Viana, 18901927), and Nélson Alves (18951960)the Oito Batutas were created in 1919 and began playing in the lobby at the Palais cinema in downtown Rio de Janeiro. The Palais was frequented by rich cariocas with cosmopolitan pretensions (the French-named theater showed mainly North American films). Despite playing music that Europhile elites often dismissed as "national" or "rural" and wearing clothes associated with poor folk from Brazil's interior, the Batutas still appealed to would-be cosmopolitans. However, not all the elites approved of the Batuta's appearance, and various journalists publicly criticized the group, often including racist attacks in their criticism. Negative reactions were exacerbated in 1922 when the millionaire Arnaldo Guinle financed a trip to Paris for the Batutas, even though the group's success in Parisian cafés and clubs delighted numerous Brazilians, including those elites who had followed the band since its days at the Palais. Interestingly, the group's repertoire did not highlight samba, although the genre was represented. Further, there exists no record that the group played "Pelo telefone" a single time.

While the Oito Batutas were becoming famous in Brazil and abroad, the career of Sinhôthe most prolific and original individual composer of the 1920stook off. Sinhô enjoyed success in the streets, especially during Carnival and the Festa da Penha, the then widely-popular religious celebration held on Sundays in October. His success also came through the sale of sheet music for voice and piano and in the teatro da revista, the musical theater, which enjoyed its apogee during the 1920s. (The radio would not become the most important vehicle for music until the 1930s.) With compositions like "Jura!," "Gosto que me enrosco," and "A favela vai abaixo," Sinhô consolidated the principal characteristics of samba 's first period of popularity more than any other artist.

The 1930s

The death of Sinhô in 1930, and the success of musicians from the Estácio de Sá neighborhood, such as Bide (Alcebíades Barcellos, 19021975), Brancura (Sílvio Fernandes, 19081935), Nílton Bastos (18991931), and above all Ismael Silva (19051978), signaled important transformations in Rio de Janeiro samba. These composers belonged to the Carnival group Deixa Falar, which, according to most accounts, was the first group to parade during Carnival while singing sambas and using instruments that would become the basis for modern samba school drum-lines: the surdo (bass drum played with a felt-headed wooden stick with Iberian origins); tamborim (also Iberian, a small tambourine with no jingles, played with a single or double stick); and cuíca (friction drum, originally from sub-Saharan Africa).

It was also at the beginning of the 1930s that these instruments began to find their way into the recording studios. A historic landmark often cited is the samba "Na Pavuna," a Carnival success from 1930 recorded by the Bando de Tangarás (a group of middle-class white musicians) with the accompaniment of the rhythmists Canuto and Puruca (ritmistas, as those who played the surdo, cuíca, and tamborim came to be known), who were both black and lived in the morro (hillside shantytown) Salgueiro.

From a rhythmic perspective, the Estácio group's principal contribution was the repeated use of an accompaniment pattern two times longer than those previously used in recordings and sheet music for carioca samba. That new pattern resembled more clearly the rhythmic characteristics of African music noted by ethnomusicologists such as Nketia, A. M. Jones, G. Kubik, and S. Arom than did the samba forms that preceded it.

The Estácio composers also introduced malandragem (guile and street-hustling associated with zoot-suited malandros ) into samba lyrics, which became a staple of popular culture in Rio de Janeiro during the first half of the 1930s. The malandro of the 1930s notoriously avoided work and familial obligations and survived through shady means, like gambling and pimping. An activity often associated with malandragem was the pernada or batucada, a type of capoeira practiced to samba rhythms, in which one fighter attempts to knock down an opponent with a single strike. The most feared and respected malandros known as bambas reportedly dressed in white suits as a sign of confidence that they would never fall.

Malandragem became an important theme in Brazilian social thought, consecrated in the literary critic Antonio Candido's influential essay "Dialectic of Malandroism" (1995) and anthropologist Roberto DaMatta's equally famous text, Carnivals, Rogues, and Heroes (1991). Neither work explicitly discusses 1930s malandros from Rio, instead focusing on earlier figures, like Pedro Malasartes (a rural character in popular stories, discussed by DaMatta), and Leonardo, from the classic nineteenth-century novel Memórias de um Sargento de Milícias.

Samba Schools and the Post-1930s Era

The 1930s were also marked by an association between samba and Rio's morros then, as now, inhabited predominantly by the poorest groups, who were mostly black. Many observers saw samba as the "melodious soul of the morro " and the morro as the malandro 's domain. By extension, samba was often seen as the malandro 's melody. Samba created by the Deixa Falar group spread through the shantytowns, influencing composers such as Cartola (19081980) and Paulo da Portela (19011949), and Carnival groups, which came to be known as samba "schools" (e.g., Estação Primeira from the morro Mangueira, and Acadêmicos from Salgueiro). In 1933 the mayor's office of Rio de Janeiro designated financial support for the Carnival clubs for the first time. The following year, samba schools united to form the first umbrella organization to protect and defend the schools' interests.

Estácio samba also influenced professional composers not linked to the samba schools, including middle-class whites like Noel Rosa (19101937, perhaps the most celebrated samba composer of the twentieth century) and Ary Barroso (19031964, author of the classic "Aquarela do Brasil"), as well as black composers from humble origins, such as Ataulfo Alves (19091969) and Geraldo Pereira (19181955).

The process through which samba schools secured the dominant position that they now hold in Rio's famous Carnival celebration was a slow one. Only at the end of the 1950s did the parade come to be held on the thoroughfare Avenida Rio Branco, and it was not until 1962 that spectators had to purchase tickets to witness the festivities. The year 1968 saw the release of a record that included sambas-enredo, the songs played by each school during their turn in the Carnival parade. The initiative was repeated in following years, and the annual recording is now one of the perennial best sellers in Brazil's enormous music market. Construction of the Sambodrome (Sambódromo ), a massive runway surrounded by concrete bleachers, began in 1983 and was first put to use for Carnival parades a year later.

The trajectory of Rio's samba schools has generated much controversy, both inside and outside the academy, about supposed "commercialization," "domestication," and "whitening." Critics of samba and Carnival transformations include Maria Isaura Pereira de Queiroz (1999), Nei Lopes (1981), and Alison Raphael (1980). These critics often point to the increased presence and decision-making power, especially after 1960, of middle-class and university-educated white outsiders within the schools. This includes carnavalescos (professional choreographers charged with conceptualizing and unifying the visual and theatric aspects of the school's parade) and bicheiros (illegalnumbers kings who sustained many schools economically, often through money laundering, in the process gaining social prestige as patrons of national culture). Other authors, such as Maria Laura Cavalcanti (1994), Hermano Vianna (1995), and Samuel Araújo (1992), have pointed to the fact that, since the schools' earliest existence, their representatives appear to have adopted growth strategies based in social, political, and ethnic alliances. These scholars also argue that independent of any judgment about those strategies, a large percentage of Rio's Africanderived population continues to see the schools as an expression of their identity and of their joie de vivre.

The most important samba composers from the 1960s and 1970s include Paulinho da Viola (b. 1942), associated with the samba school Portela, and Martinho da Vila (b. 1938), part of Unidos de Vila Isabel. Paulinho da Viola is perhaps the most respected living samba musician, known for honoring traditional styles and predecessors, such as Cartola and Nelson Cavaquinho (19101986). Martinho da Vila reinvigorated the increasingly commercial language of 1970s samba, producing hits like "Casa de bamba" and "Canta, canta minha gente."

The 1980s witnessed the success of underutilized samba styles like partido alto (improvisation-based group song organized around short refrains) and pagode (a variety of styles played most often in informal settings, such as familial gatherings). Both genres were popularized through groups like Fundo de Quintal, composers like Jovelina Pérola Negra (19441998), and performers like Beth Carvalho (b. 1946). Pagode was also used as a label for 1990s commercial samba groups famous for their romantic style and timbre and vocal elements typical of North American soul music. At the turn of the millennium, the most popular composer and performer was Zeca Pagodinho, a holdover from the days of Fundo de Quintal but also versed in more traditional samba forms.

It is also worth mentioning the development in Bahia during the 1980s of samba-reggae, a genre closely related to Afro-Brazilian Carnival groups from Salvador. In this context, the vindication and valorization of black identity and affiliation with Africa, through song lyrics and composers' political discourse, is more evident than ever was the case in carioca samba. Samba from Rio de Janeiro was always associated ideologically with a more inclusive and nationalist posture, leaving room, for example, for the famous praise of racial mixing made by anthropologists like Gilberto Freyre (Vianna, 1995) and Darcy Ribeiro, who was responsible for pushing through legislation for construction of the Sambodrome.

See also Carnival in Brazil and the Caribbean; Music in Latin America


Alencar, Edigar de. Nosso Sinhô do samba. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Funarte, 1981.

Andrade, Mário de. Macunaíma: O herói sem nenhum caráter (1928). Paris: ALLCA, Brasília, Brazil: CNPq, 1998.

Andrade, Mário de. "Cândido Inácio da Silva e o lundu." In Revista Brasileira de Música, X. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Instituto Nacional de Música da Universidade do Rio de Janeiro, 1944.

Araújo, Samuel. "Acoustic Labor in the Timing of Everyday Life: A Critical Contribution to the History of Samba in Rio de Janeiro." Ph.D. diss., University of IllinoisUrbana, 1992.

Barbosa, Orestes. Samba: Sua história, seus poetas, seus músicos, e seus cantores (1933). Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Funarte, 1978.

Cabral, Sérgio. Pixinguinha: Vida e obra. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Edição Funarte, 1978; 2d ed., Lumiar, 1997.

Candido, Antonio. "Dialectic of Malandroism." In On Literature and Society, edited and translated by Howard S. Becker. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Cavalcanti, Maria Laura Viveiros de Castro. Carnaval carioca: Dos bastidores ao desfile. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: UFRJ, 1994.

DaMatta, Roberto. Carnivals, Rogues, and Heroes: An Interpretation of the Brazilian Dilemma. Translated by John Drury. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press. 1991.

Donga, Pixinguinha, and João da Baiana. As vozes desassombradas do museu. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: MIS, 1970.

Lopes, Nei. O samba na realidade. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Codecri, 1981.

Lopes, Nei. O Negro no Rio de Janeiro e sua tradição musical. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Pallas, 1992.

Marcondes, Marco Antônio, ed. Enciclopédia da música brasileira: Erudita, Folclórica, popular. São Paulo, Brazil: Art, 1977.

Moura, Roberto. Tia Ciata e a pequena África no Rio de Janeiro (1983). Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Secretaria de Cultura, 1995.

Mukuna, Kazadi Wa. Contribuição Bantu na música popular brasileira (1978). São Paulo, Brazil: Terceira Margem, 2000.

Raphael, Alison. "Samba and Social Control: Popular Culture and Racial Democracy in Rio de Janeiro." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, New York, 1980.

Sandroni, Carlos. Feitiço decente: Transformações do samba no Rio de Janeiro, 19171933. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: UFRJ/Zahar, 2001.

Silva, Flávio. Origines de la samba urbaine à Rio de Janeiro. Paris: EPHE, 1975.

Siqueira, Batista. Origem do termo "samba." São Paulo, Brazil: UBDC, 1978.

Tinhorão, José Ramos. Os sons dos negros no Brasil. São Paulo, Brazil: Art, 1988.

Vagalume (Francisco Guimarães). Na roda do samba (1933). Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Funarte, 1978.

Vianna, Hermano. The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil, translated by John Charles Chasteen. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1999.

Waddey, Ralph. "Samba e Viola and Viola de Samba." Latin American Music Review 1/2 (Fall/Winter 1980): 196212; and 2/2 (Fall/Winter 1981): 252279.

carlos sandroni (2005)


views updated


Samba, the most famous Brazilian musical form and dance. Musically, samba is characterized by a 2/4 meter with the heaviest accent on the second beat and features pronounced syncopation, a stanza-and-refrain structure, responsorial singing, and many interlocking rhythmic parts. Samba has African roots, but its exact origins are unknown. Samba's true parent may have been the lundu song and circle dance, featuring the umbigada navel-touching movement, which came to Brazil from Angola. A primitive type of samba may have developed in Bahia from African musical elements and then brought to Rio de Janeiro by slaves and former slaves in the late 1800s.

Samba began to crystallize into its modern form in the early 1900s at the homes of Bahian matriarchs such as Tia Ciata, who lived near Rio's Praça Onze. There, musicians like Pixinguinha, Donga, João da Baiana, and Sinhô developed the budding form and added influences from the maxixe and marcha styles. The first recorded samba was "Pelo telefone" (On the Phone), composed by several musicians (but registered to Donga) and performed by the Banda Odeon in 1917.

Near Praça Onze was Estácio, the neighborhood of the sambistas Ismael Silva, Nilton Bastos, and Armando Marçal, who added longer notes, two-bar phrasing, and a slower tempo to samba, and solidified what would be samba's standard form for decades (later called, in the 1950s, samba de morro). It was they who also founded Deixa Falar, the first escola de samba (samba school), in 1928. Later important samba composers include: Noel Rosa, Caninha, Heitor dos Prazeres, Ataulfo Alves, Assis Valente, Geraldo Pereira, Lamartine Babo, Ary Barroso, Braguinha, Dorival Caymmi, Martinho da Vila, and Paulinho da Viola.

Samba's primary rhythm and its cross-rhythms can be carried by drum and percussion playing (the batucada) involving numerous instruments such as surdo (three different sizes), caixa, repique, tamborim, pandeiro, prato, cuíca, frigideira, agogô, reco-reco, and chocalho. Samba is also typically accompanied by guitar, four-string cavaquinho, and—less frequently—brass instruments.

Different styles of samba include samba-canção (a slower, more sophisticated style with more emphasis on melody and harmony than on the rhythm); samba de breque (a samba that features a "break" in which the singer dramatizes the story told in the lyrics); samba de gafieira (a dance-hall type of samba, usually instrumental, with horn arrangements influenced by American big-band jazz); samba de roda (a circle-dance samba, accompanied by hand clapping and batucada); samba-enredo (a "theme" samba, performed by samba schools during Carnaval in Rio); pagode samba (a "street"-type of samba popularized in the 1980s by composers from Rio's Ramos neighborhood, who added tan-tan and banjo to the instrumentation); and samba-reggae. In addition, bossa nova mixed simplified samba rhythms with harmonies influenced by American West Coast "cool" jazz and classical music.

See alsoBossa Nova; Samba Schools.


Sergio Cabral, As escolas de samba (1974).

Rita Caurio, ed., Brasil musical (1988).

João Maximo and Carlos Didier, Noel Rosa: Uma biografia (1990).

Chris Mc Gowan and Ricardo Pessanha, The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Chasteen, John Charles. National Rhythms, African Roots: The Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004.

Guillermoprieto, Alma. Samba. New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1990.

McCann, Bryan. Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

Naves, Santuza Cambraia. O violão azul: Modernismo e música popular. Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Getulio Vargas Editora, 1998.

Shaw, Lisa. The Social History of the Brazilian Samba. Brookfield: Ashgate, 1999.

Vianna, Hermano. The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music & National Identity in Brazil. Trans. John Charles Chasteen. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

                                       Chris McGowan


views updated

sam·ba / ˈsambə; ˈsäm-/ • n. a Brazilian dance of African origin. ∎  a piece of music for this dance. ∎  a lively modern ballroom dance imitating this dance. • v. (-bas , -baed / -bəd/ or -ba'd, -ba·ing / -bəˌing/ ) [intr.] dance the samba.


views updated

samba. Brazilian dance in two forms: rural samba, African-influenced, and urban samba known as the ‘samba-carioca’, developed from the maxixe, a type of tango. Also a song-form. Modern dance-form, closer to maxixe, has simple 2/4 rhythm. Popularized in Brit. in 1940 by Edmundo Ros.

About this article


All Sources -
Updated About content Print Topic Share Topic