Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Samba of Brazil

The Origin of samba music history in Brazil, which today can be seen in awe at the vibrant Brazilian carnivals, can be found in Angola, Africa, from where it was brought to Brazil with the slave trading in the interval 1600-1888.

The word Brazilian Samba comes from Quimbundo language (the language of the area that became Angola) as “semba” and can mean several things. One meaning is to pray, or invoke the spirits of the ancestors, or the Gods of African pantheon. Samba could also be a complaint, a cry, or something like "the blues". Still another meaning is something of a “navel bump” which depicts the intimacy and "invitation" to dance. Today the word can also be a verb in Brazil as in “sambar” which is to samba (To dance samba)

The origin of Samba music has a lot of similarities with Mambo and Salsa, which are undeniably linked to slavery and the religious traditions of West Africa.

Through the people of Africa, samba history evolved by singing, dancing and rhythms which had ties into rituals culture and religion. You also find the samba rhythms in Capoeira (Brazilian martial arts / dance) and the Candomble (Religion from Africa), which today are a part of Brazilian culture and Brazil religion.

As the west Africans were forced into slavery in the strange foreign land of Brazil, the origin of samba music was preserved in their religious traditions by making them part of their daily life. The governing forces demanded Christianity of their slaves and prohibited executions of worship to their orixá (their god / saint, protector and helper). To the African, dance and song is worship. So what the slaves did was to camouflage the ceremonies as parties with dancing.

The authorities weren't fooled that easily and even up until the early twentieth century, police often raided "suspect parties". The need for secrecy made it necessary to conceal the meaning of certain dances and songs from the uninitiated. At times, to the annoyance of the "tias" (Candomble priestess, means aunt in english), musicians revealed and at the same time preserved the secret rhythms by mixing them with more accepted musical forms.

Candomble and the mixing with other music gave rise to a series of dances in the twentieth century, among them the origin of Samba music. To adherents of Candomble, the word Samba, means to pray, to invoke your personal orixá (god).

With the abolition of Brazil slavery in 1888, came a greater mobility for the population of Bahia (The state in which the city of Salvador lies and which was the primary target of the slave traffic). Many fled south, using samba as a way to survive. Samba is believed to have spread to Rio some time after 1889. (source: Origins of Samba Music)


  1. Nice to have a point of view about the history of Samba and its meaning from the origin. Great resource as always...


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  25. You article is so full of generalizations and misconceptions about samba. It is very naive, porrly written, and frankly, all these people commenting here who think this is a great resource are being poorly informed.

    Just a few things to point out to you. The candomblé religion has its origins in West Africa, where a large part of the enslaved people were taken from. Capoeira and samba are more specifically rooted in the Central African Congo/Angola part of Africa. They are not all the same or all come from "Africa". Also, you seem to think samba is nly about the half-naked dancers, which is also a poor generalization of the music, history, tradition, and culture of samba. You should do some serious research before posting something as poorly written as this, which only helps to further stereotype and ridicularize our culture.

    Also, citing (and actually copying most of the text directly from) a website written by a Norwegian that knows even less about samba than you do, does not help either.

    1. beto dotô:

      First, thank you for your critical assessment of this blog post. However, this blog post is not a STAND ALONE PIECE, go to the sidebar and click on the postings for June 2011 and you will find various takes on the Samba and Brazil. Accordingly, this post is to augment the various neighboring slave importing countries in South America, namely Uruguay and Argentina. This piece was meant to broaden the prospective and widen the lenses, so to speak, of various coping mechanisms that enslaved Africans used in the so called New World.

      I stand guilty as charged when it comes to full knowledge of Afro-Brazilian culture, or any Afro culture south of the boarders of the United States. Unfortunately, most of the the writings on these cultures in ENGLISH, are not written by Afro-Brazilians. I would love to read more stories or history written from an Afro-Brazilian viewpoint. They could add English subtitles or translate articles into English.

      The English speaking audience is hungry to read about the Afro-Brazilians, yet there is a huge language barrier as well as a geographical barrier. Perhaps the few Brazilians that come to the USA either consider themselves "white" and that the slave culture is that of a lower caste, so their stories don't merit translation or clarification. I don't really have an answer for this phenomenon.

      In the USA even the most dirt-poor, disadvantaged population of black former-slaves were able to tell their stories in music and dance. The Blues, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz, Ragtime, Swing, R&B, Rap, and Hip-Hop music all come from the voices at the bottom of the well. It just seemed like Samba was a cultural affirming music that people used to assert their humanity in a world that thought otherwise.

      I'm sorry if you are offended by the beautiful Afro-Brazilian women, but I'm not going to apologize for highlighting their beauty.

      Since, I read Portuguese like a 3 year old, I have to rely on the English translations of Brazilian culture. That's too bad, because there is an English market that would embrace better interpretations of the cultural history of Afro-Brazil.

      If you have some good translations, NOT written by a NORWEGIAN, please let me know.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

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