Samba Music
Samba Music
by on 07.06.2015

Brazil coconut treesCariocas (Rio natives) say everything ends up in samba…

And with good reason!  It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to imagine doctors taking a sample and finding samba dancing in Brazilians’ blood.  To be sure, you’d find variations, but it’s a joyful “virus” that, if it didn’t create the Brazilian world view, certainly defines it.  It is, all at once, “solace, celebration, escape and abandon, and it is culture, philosophy and tradition.”

The origins of samba?  Well, our composer/producer Sherese Timeless has a different take than most on this subject.  (She has this story in the works, but we don’t want to give it away!  Stay tuned!)  Suffice it to say her ear stumbled upon a clue completely on the other side of the world from Brazil.  But until it’s revealed, we’ll focus on the threads already in the debate.

The word samba appears to have come from Angola, where the Kimbundu word semba refers to the umbigada, the “invitation to the dance.”  Some scholars believe that samba was originally a variant of the same theme as other Afro-Brazilian circle dances that feature or once featured the umbigada.

Then there are those who argue that lundu, present in Brazil since the 18th century, birthed samba. Brazil Salvador Bahia Others think that a primitive form of samba, or at least it’s bare essentials, was brought to Rio from Bahia in the fingers and voices of African slaves and former slaves more than one hundred years ago.  Some scholars cite “Moqueca Sinhá,” (a lundu), “Laranjas da Sabina” (Sabina’s Oranges), and “A Morte do Marechal” (Marechal’s Death), from 1870, 1888, and 1893, respectively, as early songs they believe “tended rhythmically towards samba.”

The enduring mystery of samba’s roots is complicated further by the fact that the word was used in the late nineteenth century both as a synonym for various Afro-Brazilian dances and to designate parties held by slaves and former slaves.

One thing is certain.  The samba the world knows and loves today was born in Rio.

Most of the slave and former slave immigrants to Rio made their way from Bahia after two laws were passed: the Law of the Free Womb in 1871 (which declared all children born to slaves free), and the abolition of slavery in 1888.

Brazil Rio CorcovadoMost of the new imports settled in a central area of Rio called Praça Onze, bringing with them African and Afro-Brazilian batucadas (percussion jams) and dances, both usually referred to as batuque.  By 1915, the Praça Onze (Plaza Eleven) was depicted as “a true Africa in miniature,” where immigrants and their children gathered to make music, dance, and worship their Orixás (African deities – pronounced “Orishas”) usually at the homes of Bahian matriarchs respectfully called tias (aunts).

To catch a glimpse of the romance that became samba as we know it, we enter Rua Visconde de Inhaúma, number 177, the home of Tia Ciata (Hiária Batista de Almeida, 1854-1924).  Renowned as a maker of sweets and as a party hostess, Tia Ciata’s was a favorite place to be.  Just imagine the players enjoying sweets, laughing and creating the courtship dance, now legendary Pixinguinha, Donga, João da Baiana, Heitor dos Prazeres, and Sinhô, mixing together lundus, marchas, choros, maxixes, batuques, habaneras (Spanish rhythms) with even a little polka thrown in — can you hear it?  Your ear begins to tease out the samba, as everyone gathered around the players begins to join in, adding the rich cross-rhythms with hand-clapping and the batucada, with up to a dozen different percussion instruments, as a cavaquinho’s (small four-stringed guitar) breezy joy floats to the top of it all.

When “Pelo Telefone” (On The Telephone) was released in 1917, registered as a samba by Donga, the Brazil Bossa Novaplayers who collectively created it at Tia Ciata’s debated among themselves just what constituted a samba vs a marcha or maxixe — and this went on for years, as they continued to evolve their playing from the courtship dance into the conception of samba as we now know it.   Whether you’re attending Carnaval or just out and about in Rio on a Friday night, samba’s gonna getcha!

Creators of Samba:

Pixinguinha (Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Jr, 1898-1973)-a virtuoso flutist, later adding saxophone, one of most important of samba’s founding fathers who was also renowned in the choro and maxixe genres.  His original arrangements enriched the harmony of samba, and he composed more than six hundred tunes.  Some of his more famous sambas are “Teus Ciúnes” (Your Jealouisies), “Ai Eu Queria” (How I Wanted It), and “Samba de Negro” (Black’s Samba).  He led the all-star band Os Oito Batutas (The Eight Masters), including Donga, which performed Brazilian music before European audiences in 1922.

Sinhô (José Barbosa da Silva, 1888-1930)-a dancehall pianist whose many Carnaval hits earned him the title “king of samba” in the ’20s and made him the most popular of the first sambistas.  He gained attention in 1918 with “Quem São Eles?” (Who Are They?) and in the 1920s with marchas like “Pé de Anjo” (Angel’s Foot) and sambas such as “Jura” (Swear It), and “Gosto Que Me Enrosco” (I Like It Bad).

Donga (Ernesto Joaquim Maria dos Santos, 1891-1974)-wrote hits “Passarinho Bateu Asas” (The Little Bird Beat Its Wings), “Cantiga de Festa” (Party Song), and “Macumba de Oxossi.”

João da Baiana (João Machado Guedes, 1887-1974)-is credited with introducing the pandeiro as a samba instrument.  He composed the tunes “Mulher Cruel” (Cruel Woman), “Pedindo Vingança” (Asking for Vengeance), and “O Futuro É Uma Caveira” (The Future is a Skull).

Heitor dos Prazeres (1883-1961)-a cavaquinho player, composed famous sambas like “A Tristeza Me Persegue” (Sadness Follows Me), and “Mulher de Malandro” (The Malandro’s Woman).  He was also active in the formation of the Portel and Mangueira samba schools.

Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha.

The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil.Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009

Ruy Castro.

Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World.Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2000

CliqueMusic Editora Ltda.

AllBrazilianMusic. 2000 – 2011. March 3 2011 -

Eliyora Entertainment LLC.  Ever Entertainment.  © Paradunai LLC.  All international rights reserved.  All trademarks property of Paradunai LLC.  All personas, concepts and original songs created and performed by Sherese Chrétien.

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