History of dance – SAMBA

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In its original form, samba comes from Brazil, the former Portuguese colony (independent since 1822) in which, as in other European colonies were brought thousands of slaves. A large part of them were from Yoruba and Bantu people (from Congo, Angola and Nigeria).

Characteristic of these people were religious parties that could take days and were mainly related to dancing, with the purpose to cause ecstasy. From this emerged samba dance, which like rumba dance, designate several types of dance.

In the seventeenth century and eighteenth century, appeared in Brazil, from the fusion of African religious dances with the Portuguese dances, Maxixe – a dance in a circle (described as a Two Step), named after the fruit full of spikes of the cactus.

In the 1830s was developed a new type of dance that combines the characteristic figures of dance from Afro- American populations with spin and sway of Lundu indigenous people. In time, the dance was changed and began to be danced in European style in closed position. Around year 1885 this dance was adopted by the high society from Rio and popularized as Zemba Queca, later was renamed “Mesemba.

Batuque said that a circle dance with steps from Charleston, danced on claps and percussion became so popular that the Portuguese king Manuel I,-refuge in Brazil during the Napoleonic wars, prohibited this dance by law. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Mesemba was combined with Maxixe. The dance Maxixe entered in Europe in 1910 and in 1924 was followed by Samba. For a short period, until 1925, Samba has been included in the dance competitions, but because the movements and rhythms were too complex and varied for those times, the dance was left out.

In its original form, samba is a group dance without contact between partners. Men and women dancing samba in different ways. For women, Samba dance is composed from fast symmetric movements of the legs accompanied by twisting the hips and shoulders, thus creating a dance that makes whole body to vibrate. Men perform the same movement of the legs, but without movements of the pelvis and shoulders. They dance around women, jumping, spinning and kicking heels and palms. The simplest pattern of samba is a form of clapping noticed by J. Debret at the slaves and which we can still see it today in Bahia.

Origin of the word samba is unclear: it could come from the word “Semba”, although some sources say that would be derived from “Zambo” word designating the fruit of love between a black man and a native woman. Also in Umbundu language is known the term “esemba or olisemba” which means “to dance and clap the hands”.

 Kimbundu actually knows the term “Sesemba”, “dancing dragging your feet”. For partisans of Afro-Brazilian religion, Candomble, “samba” means “to invoke your own saint (orixa)”. Candomble keeps even today the rhythms that have influenced the Brazilian music making Samba a single type.

The Brazilian eminent folklorist Edison Caneiro states that there was a time when the word “samba” was used to refer to certain types of music and dance introduced by black Africans in different regions of Brazil, from Maranhao in the north to the south of Sao Paulo. Appropriate music was called samba: tambor de mina in Maranhao, milindo in Piaui, bambelo in Rio Grande do Norte, coco, samba de roda and bate – bau da Mata do Nordeste Area and Bahia, jongo in Espirito Santo areas, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.

For the African slaves brought to Brazil in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the word “samba” has several meanings: “to pray”, “to invoke the spirits of the ancestors.”

The term “samba” appears in written sources in 1838, and at the beginning of the twentieth century was replaced with the term Batuque.

The first song was called samba “Pelo Telefone” (“On the telephone”) and was written in 1916 by Donga (Ernesto Joaquim Maria dos Santos, 1889-1974) and performed by the band Oita Batutas.

1928 was a special year for samba. That year it was published in French a dance book written by Paul Boucher which contained instructions for samba, and on August 12, 1928 was opened the first school of samba in Estacio. First samba schools were actually small groups “blocos” with no more than 50 people, who, wearing specific costumes, were marching on percussion sounds out of instruments. The first “Bloco” was certified in 1928 as “Deixa Falar” in Estacio district of Rio de Janeiro. They have called themselves “Escola de Samba” (Samba School) because they met just outside one of the local schools. Over time, these parades were transformed into highly organized competitions. The first competition of its kind was held in 1932 and was won by Mangueira.

Since 1935, the samba schools were officially registered as Gremio (recreational clubs). In the ’30s, when Brazil was ruled by President Getulio Vargas, the city of Rio began to encourage the organization of an annual carnival.

The biggest and most famous samba schools are in the popular districts of Rio de Janeiro: Imperatriz Leopoldinense, Mangueira, Beija Flor, Portela, Viradouro, Unidos da Tijuca, etc.. In France, Nicia Ribas d’Avila was the first person who introduced these aspects of Brazilian culture when she created a school of samba in Paris in the late ’70s, “Unidos da Tia Nicia”.

When it comes to the history of samba we must remember the dancers Manuel Diniz (“Duque” – The Duke) and Gaby, two dancers of Maxixe dance residents in Paris; they are the ones created the Ballroom version of Samba and its introduction in Europe. Duque is the one who modified Maxixe dance to fit the innovative music Oito Batutas sings. This band’s music continued to develop, leading to the emergence of a new style of dance called Samba-Carioca (Carioca is a river flowing through Rio de Janeiro).

Oita Batutas is the band which introduced jazz instruments in Brazil. These tools, in combination with various Brazilian percussion instruments gave samba a new rhythm. Donga adopted the instrument called banjo instead of guitar; Pixinguinha adopted saxophone, although for 20 years has kept flute as the main instrument. With these new sounds, composers such as Donga, Pixinguinha, Sinho (Jose Barbosa da Silva) and Heitor dos Prazeres developed the genre Samba-Carioca (Rio de Janeiro Samba) and Samba da Cidade (Samba in the city). This Samba, with a characteristic syncopated rhythm, has come to dominate the music used in the Carnival in Rio.

The Brazilian samba music represents a generic name for some forms of music and dance quite different. Some of these genres were given their own names, such as Samba-Reggae (released in the 80s in Salvador), Timbalada, Lambada and Maracatu.

After the Second World War, 1948 – 1949, Samba was popularized in a simplified form, standardized in 1956 by Pierre Lavelle.

In 1959 samba was accepted permanently in competition program for category of the Latin American dances. After all the changes, and simplification of cultural fusion, today samba danced at social and competitive levels does not have much in common with the original samba.

Samba performance to the song: “E Pra Valer”


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    1 Comment

  1. This is a very long, but informative post about the history. I really enjoyed learning a thing or two here. I didn’t think that it would be traced back that far!

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