A tasteful upbeat tune caught my attention. The sound of people cheering echoed throughout the streets of downtown Centro—Florianopolis. Following the exuberant mixture of sound, I stumbled upon a large group clapping to the beat of exotic music. Enclosed by a crowded group of bystanders was a lively performance. Men and women twirled each other around as they glided across the pavement; their sultry attire attracted the attention of everyone passing by. Their intricate movement mesmerized me as each step highlighted a different beat within the music. When being handed a pamphlet written in Portuguese I identified a single word—Samba.
The Samba, a dance known for its flirtatious and exuberant attitude, is something that defines Brazilians. My Portuguese teacher Audrey, a native of Brazil, described the Samba passionately by exclaiming that it is the “heart and soul of the music and dance culture throughout Brazil.” The Samba is a natural part of the Brazilian lifestyle, bridging together the many classes that make up the country. The diverse movement of the Samba is not confined within any boundaries; rather it is made up of an assortment of different styles. To name a few, there is the Samba Raiz, Samba Pagode, Samba Enredo, Samba de Gafieira, Samba Reggae; there is no original Samba.
Just as the style of the Samba is not definite, the history of it is not as clear either. Audrey constructed what she knew, explaining that the Samba was created by a group of Afro-Brazilians from Bahia, Brazil. When African Slaves were brought to Brazil in the late 1800’s, they were forced by the local government to reject their religious customs and practice the religion of the dominant class, Christianity.
Rebelling against the order to follow the overruling class, the African Slaves created their own Afro-Brazilian religions. Through their construction they established the Samba, meaning “invitation to dance,” as a way to express and practice their religion in secrecy. Although the local government discovered their religious practices and they were forced to discontinue, the Afro-Brazilians conserved their Samba rituals by creating studios educating others in their style of dance and music.
Prior to the 20th century, the Samba was viewed as erotic and inappropriate for any native Brazilian to practice. Audrey, who was raised in Novo Hamburgo, a German city in the southernmost part of the state, recalls Samba’s scandalous reputation in her community: “I was raised in a German town where Samba was seen more as something for ‘other’ people, I remember my parents saying-- for “street” people, not for German girls like me that should be educated ‘properly’.”
But it was the release of the song Pelo Telefone that reversed this widespread thinking. Pelo Telefone by Donga and Mauro Almeida was the first recorded Samba song. With its release in the early 1900’s, the song popularized Samba dancing nationally, bringing music and dance outside of the black communities and into the other local communities of Brazil. The festive mood of the Samba is responsible for its continued popularity today, as it has become acknowledged universally.
The upbeat music of Samba is composed by a range of guitar and percussion instruments: cavaquinho, agogô, surdo, chocalho, cuíca, drums, pandeiro. The percussion rhythm is “the heartbeat” of the Samba according to Audrey, who is also a music teacher.
“The best Samba songs—or my and many other people’s favorites—are from Paulinho da Viola. Gonzaguinha has also composed great Samba songs, but nothing compares to the music of Viola.” Beyond her favorites, Audrey could not commit to a single “most popular” Samba song. She exclaimed that new music is composed every year, especially during Carnaval. (The image at the bottom of this posting shows the Florianopolis band at Carnaval.)
The blend of cultures and races has allowed the music and dance of the Samba to evolve into many different forms and styles specific to the various regions of Brazil. The weekly Samba night at Casa de Noca in Lagoa de Conceicao, Florianopolis, confirmed this diversity.
12am or, to Brazilians, 00:00am. The night was just beginning. The live band began to take the stage as a merry crowd from the bar tumbled onto the dance floor. Bruno, a suave Brazilian, flirtatiously attempted to make conversation with our group. I abruptly interrupted, “Você Pode me Ensinar Samba?”
My Portuguese was too horrifically broken to be understood, and so I repeated in English. Bruno shrugged off the question, “It’s, uh… kind of just twisting your feet. You know, you put your foot out, and twist the…uh…heel against the floor. Yeah?” Mimicking the bizarre motions of his feet, he noted my perplexed face. “You move with the music!” he yelled shimmying off to another group ofbelezas.
The dance floor was a work of art. Women flaunted their physique in taut maxi clothing, rocking their bodies to the sharp accelerated beats of the drums. The sound echoed throughout Casa de Noca, bouncing off the walls, moving through the surrounding dancers. Entering the confined circle at the center of the room, women performed their own variations of the simple movement Bruno had demonstrated, adding their own flare.
The music was addicting at Casa de Noca that Samba night; no one could resist the temptation to sway to the inviting beat. Brazilians have the genre “rolling in their veins,” Audrey declared. Samba is shambolic, and so it is easy for anyone to pretend to know what they are doing. Confidence is key. According to Audrey, “Brazilians are not able to not move their bodies when they hear this music.” I think that could be said for all of us.