Samba is the artistic landmark that symbolizes an interracial, happy and cultural Brazil. It’s the rhythm that represents our largest popular celebration, carnival. As a music style, samba has evolved significantly throughout history, but to understand its essence we need to go to its roots.
Samba was first registered in 1838 and was influenced by modinha, maxixe and lundu. It’s a musical style with a strong African background, first identified in Bahia. Rio de Janeiro only began to experience samba in the second half of the 19th century, when slaves migrated from the northeast of Brazil to the capital.
The favelas, a mixture of different people and cultures, welcomed the migrants from Bahia with their traditions and culture. Their humble houses served as the stage for parties, religious ceremonies and a rhythm created by a tambourine, a knife and plate, and the clapping of hands. Out of the art of capoeira emerged the samba, its verses and refrains, revealing its true color.
At the beginning of the 20th century, musicians like Noel Rosa, Cartola and Donga adopted the samba and gave it a romantic touch. Pelo Telefone, by Donga was the first recorded samba in 1917. Soon the rhythm began to spread and new composers, like Pixinguinha, came on the scene.
By 1920 there was a growing trend to compose samba for carnival groups. With increasing airtime on radio programs, the rhythm consolidated itself as an expression of modern urban culture and could be heard in Rio’s hillside slums and upscale neighborhoods.
In 1930, samba received an important boost from composers such as Ary Barroso and singers like Carmen Miranda. It evolved in several directions, influencing bossa nova and creating variations such as the samba-canção, samba-enredo and pagode.
Samba’s international success began with the song Aquarela do Brasil, by Ary Barroso, and grew in popularity with Carmen Miranda. The rise of Bossa Nova finally secured a place for Brazil on the international music scene.
Samba’s popularity in Europe and Japan only confirmed its ability to conquer fans. Today, there are hundreds of samba schools in Europe and Japan, and record labels are investing in the release of old samba albums.
With Bossa Nova, samba moved away from its popular roots. The influence of jazz increased and the style incorporated more erudite musical techniques. But throughout the 1960s and 1970s, artists such as Martinho da Vila, Nelson Cavaquinho and Paulinho da Viola defended the return of samba to its traditional rhythm.
Paulinho da Viola played the role of ambassador of traditional samba for a more avant-garde crowd. Musician Jorge Ben Jorge contributed his version of samba-rock, a swinging rhythm that combined samba with American blues.
Traditionally, samba is played with string instruments, like the cavaquinho (small 4-string guitar) and guitar, together with several percussion instruments, such as the tambourine, surdo drum and tambourine. American influence is reflected in the use of instruments like trombones and trumpets, and the influence of choro introduced the flute and clarinet.
Today, samba is recognized as a cultural heritage of Brazil and represents our interracial cultural mix. It is played, sung and danced in various ways. It is so popular that musicians of all kinds of styles and genres can be heard playing samba. Famous Brazilian music stars, like Marisa Monte and Maria Rita, recently released samba albums. New artists like Roberta Sá and Mart’nalia have made a name for themselves playing with local samba bands like Casuarina and Batuque na Cozinha, only increasing the importance of samba as a symbol of our country.
Watch these samba videos:
Brasileirinho – Waldir Azevedo by Toquinho and Luciana Rabello
Sim – Cartola