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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Samba is one of the most popular forms of music in Brazil. It is widely viewed as Brazil's national musical style. The name samba most probably comes from the Angolan semba (mesemba), a type of ritual music.


Samba's roots come to Africa, namely Angola, where the dance semba was predecessor of samba.

Samba developed as a distinctive kind of music at the beginning of the 20th century in Rio de Janeiro (then the capital of Brazil) under the strong influence of immigrant black people from the Brazilian state of Bahia. The title "samba school" ("escola de samba") originates from samba's formative years. The term was adopted by larger groups of samba performers in an attempt to lend acceptance of samba and its performance; local campuses were often the practice/performance grounds for these musicians and "escola" gave early performers a sense of legitimacy and organization to offset samba's somewhat controversial social atmosphere. Despite some similarities, samba is not an offshoot of jazz and has distinctively different origins and line of development.

"Pelo Telefone" (1917), by Donga and Mauro Almeida, is generally considered the first samba recording. Its great success carried the new genre outside the black favelas. Who created the music is uncertain, but it was most probably the work of the group around Tia Ciata, among them Pixinguinha and João da Bahiana.

In the 1930s, a group of musicians led by Ismael Silva founded the first Samba School, Deixa Falar, in the neighborhood of Estácio de Sá. They transformed the musical genre to make it fit better the carnival parade. In this decade, the radio spread the genre's popularity all around the country, and with the support of the nationalist dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas, samba became Brazil's "official music".

In the following years samba music developed in several directions, from the gentle samba-canção to the drum orchestras which accompany the carnival parade. One of these new styles was the bossa nova, made primarily by middle class white people[citation needed]. Bossa nova gained worldwide popularity through the works of João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, among others, and arrived in North America via Gilberto's albums with American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, and Jobim's soundtrack to the 1959 film Black Orpheus.

In the 1960s, Brazil became politically divided with the arrival of a military dictatorship, and the leftist musicians of bossa nova started to gather attention to the music made in the favelas. Many popular artists were discovered at this time. Names like Cartola, Nelson Cavaquinho, Velha Guarda da Portela, Zé Keti, and Clementina de Jesus recorded their first albums.

In the 1970s, samba returned to the air waves with composers and singers like Martinho da Vila, Clara Nunes, and Beth Carvalho dominating the hit parade.

In the early 1980s, after having been eclipsed by the popularity of disco and Brazilian rock, Samba reappeared in the media with a musical movement created in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. It was the pagode, a renewed samba, with new instruments – like the banjo and the tantan – and a new language that reflected the way that many people actually spoke with the inclusion of heavy gíria (slang). The most popular artists were Zeca Pagodinho, Almir Guineto, Grupo Fundo de Quintal, Jorge Aragão, and Jovelina Pérola Negra.

Samba is extremely popular in Japan, especially in its more traditional forms; so much that some sambistas like Nelson Sargento, Monarco, and Wilson Moreira have recorded specifically for the Japanese market and spent a lot of time on tours to that country.

Today, samba is still one of the most popular musical genres in Brazil.


Common Samba

Samba is characterized by a rhythm section containing the main beat, usually a surdo (bass drum) or tantan. Another important element is the cavaquinho (a small, four-stringed instrument of the guitar family similar to the ukelele), or cavaco. The cavaquinho is the connection between the harmony section and the rhythm section; its presence usually differentiates real samba from softer variations such as Bossa Nova (although some samba recordings do not use the cavaquinho, including many by Chico Buarque). The pandeiro (tamborine drum) is the most present percussive instrument, the one whose beat is the most "complete". A violão (acoustic guitar) is usually present, and its presence in samba popularized the 7-string variation, because of the highly sophisticated counterpoint lines used in the genre in the lower pitched strings. Samba lyrics range from love songs, through futebol (soccer), to politics and many other subjects. This subgenre supersets all others.

Famous artists who play "common samba" include Beth Carvalho, Paulinho da Viola, Zeca Pagodinho, Wilson Moreira, Teresa Cristina & Grupo Semente.

Partido alto

This phrase is used to name a type of samba which is characterized by a highly percussive pandeiro beat, with use of the palm of the hand in the center of the instrument for snaps. Partido alto harmony is always in a major key. Usually played by a set of percussion instruments (surdo, pandeiro, tamborim) and accompanied by cavaquinho and/or violão, partido alto is commonly divided in two parts, a chorus and the verses. Partideiros (partido alto musicians) often improvise on the verses, with disputes being common, and highly skilled improvisors have made their fame and career on samba, as Zeca Pagodinho, who is not only a great overall sambista but one of the best improvisors.

Famous partido alto artists include Candeia, Jovelina Pérola Negra, Grupo Fundo de Quintal, Zeca Pagodinho, Leci Brandão, and Bezerra da Silva.


This is the most widespread form of samba in Brazil. It started as a movement in the 1980s where three new instruments were introduced with Grupo Fundo de Quintal and others at Cacique de Ramos: the tantan - a more dynamic surdo, a small banjo (with the same dimensions and tuning as the cavaquinho), and the repique de mão ("ringing of the hands") - used for percussive turnarounds. Usually sung by one singer and accompanied by cavaco, violão and at least one pandeiro, pagode is sung at most parties and informal meetings, being universally found at open-air bars and cafés. Lyrics are playful, usually around love engagement or some funny stunt.

Famous pagode artists include Grupo Fundo de Quintal, Leci Brandão, Jorge Aragão, Almir Guineto, Zeca Pagodinho, and Revelação.


This is a newer manifestation of pagode, often frowned upon by the most serious sambistas, and considered to have started gaining force in São Paulo. It has strong use of what many consider apelative love lyrics, and the way of singing changed to a more delicate, sensually appealing tone, although artists who perform these songs sometimes sing some more traditional sambas in between too. It became very popular among lower classes and somewhat popular among the urban middle classes in Brazil.
Famous neo-pagode artists include Alexandre Pires, Raça Negra, Molejo, Só Pra Contrariar, Karametade, and Kiloucura.

Samba de breque

A now defunct type of samba that had as a distinctive feature being interpolated with spoken parts, often dialogues. Singers had to have an excellent vocal gift, as well as ability to make different voices. Lyrics usually told stories and were funny. Breque does not mean "to break": it was the old Brazilian slang for "brake" because the songs featured many "stops".

Famous artists: Moreira da Silva


Radio-friendly romantic and slower variation of the rhythm, samba-canção was mostly the Brazilian counterpart to popular Latin American rhythms like Tango or Bolero, both very popular in Brazil until the 1960s. Themes ranged from lyrical to tragical.

Famous artists: Ângela Maria, Nélson Gonçalves, Cauby Peixoto, Agnaldo Rayol.


A samba-enredo is a song performed by a samba school in Rio de Janeiro during its yearly Carnival parade. The term also refers to particular style of samba music typical of such songs. Samba-enredo is well known internationally due to Rio de Janeiro's longstanding status as a major tourist destination during Carnival and to the fact that many percussion groups have formed around the world inspired by this type of samba.

Sambas-enredo are recorded and played on the radio during the period leading up to Carnival. They are generally performed by male vocalists accompanied by cavaquinho and a large bateria (percussion group) producing a dense, complex texture known as batucada. They heavily emphasize the second count of the measure driven by the bass notes of the surdo drums.

Rio de Janeiro's baterias have provided inspiration for the formation of percussion groups around the world, especially in Western countries. These groups generally do not use vocals or cavaquinho, focusing instead on percussion grooves and numerous breaks. These groups operate year round, unlike in Brazil where activity is now confined to the months preceding Carnaval.

Samba-enredo used to be played year round, though often as an exercise on virtuosity.

Famous artists: Neguinho da Beija Flor, Jamelão, Martinho da Vila.

Other variants

Bossa nova is essentially a type of samba, played with jazz instruments and sung with softer voices.

Samba-Reggae, also known as Axé music or "Samba Duro" (Hard Samba) is a new poppish type of samba from Bahia (from 1985 onwards).

Samba de Roda is a ritual dance preserved in some Bahian towns.

Jongo is the Rio de Janeiro equivalent to it.

Other forms

Many Brazilian singers eventually recorded samba, though they were not faithful to the original character of the genre. Jorge Ben Jor for instance mixed samba with rock, funk and jazz and composed songs dealing with unusual themes, like esotherism ("Os Alquimistas Estão Chegando" -- The Alchemists are Coming) or history of India ("Taj Mahal").

See also

  • Chorinho
  • Noel Rosa
  • Partido Alto
  • Samba-enredo
  • Samba-rock
  • Carmen Miranda
  • Adoniran Barbosa
  • Samba Instruments
  • List of English words of African origin


  • McGowan, Chris and Pessanha, Ricardo. The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil. 1998. 2nd edition. Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-545-3

External links

  • All Brazilian Music samba page
  • Samba Drumming
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