Samba gets new rhythms 100 years af­ter first record­ing

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By CAROLA SOL in Rio de Janeiro Agence France-Presse

Mon­day nights feel like Satur­days in Rio’s Lit­tle Africa neigh­bor­hood when the sun sets and the samba starts to play.

Sur­rounded by a mostly young crowd, seven mu­si­cians sit around a ta­ble with the small four-string gui­tar called a cavaquinho, the cuica drum and a tam­bourine.

The in­stru­ments and the re­laxed for­mat, known as a “roda de samba,” has changed lit­tle since its in­fancy in the late 19th cen­tury, when Afro-Brazil­ians first de­vel­oped the style in this same neigh­bor­hood, of­fi­cially known as Saude.

“It’s our samba, folks, it’s your samba!” called out per­cus­sion­ist Walmir Pi­mentel, 34, to ap­plause from the crowd that fought off the evening heat with cold beer and caipi­rina cock­tails.

Pi­mentel’s group has been play­ing Mon­day night “ro­das” here at Pe­dra do Sal square since 2006, per­form­ing right at the steps where slaves once un­loaded sacks of salt.

The lively per­for­mances have helped res­ur­rect the long de­pressed cen­ter of Rio de Janeiro.

But ex­actly 100 years from the first ever record­ing of samba — a song called Pelo Tele­fone (On the Tele­phone) — the likes of Pi­mentel are also help­ing to re­ju­ve­nate the ven­er­a­ble art form.

The group Moca Prosa has been break­ing new ground at the same sym­bolic space in the Lit­tle Africa neigh­bor­hood since 2012.

As the only all-fe­male band in a mu­si­cal genre which, like much of Brazil­ian so­ci­ety, suf­fers from deep sex­ism, they let the mu­sic do their talk­ing.

“At first, there were men in the au­di­ence who were shocked, say­ing, ‘Wow, these girls play samba?’ They looked at us with mis­trust, but when the roda started, they saw we played the same,” says singer Fabi­ola Machado, 35.


Samba has its roots among the slaves of Brazil’s north­east Bahia be­fore ar­riv­ing in Rio, then the coun­try’s cap­i­tal, where it took form and be­came the soul of the Brazil­ian car­ni­val.

To­day, samba rhythms and songs are om­nipresent, from the Fe­bru­ary car­ni­vals to dance clubs, and are one of the most in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­niz­able sym­bols of Brazil.

But the mu­sic rooted in African tra­di­tions has not stood still.

Since that record­ing of Pelo Tele­fone, samba has picked up lay­ers from the Ar­gen­tinian tango, the jazz-in­flu­enced Bossa Nova, samba-funk and to­day ev­ery­thing from sam­barock to samba-rap.

One of the big­gest sources of re­gen­er­a­tion for samba can be traced to an­other Rio neigh­bor­hood, Lapa, which was also long run-down but re-emerged in the late 1990s as a nightlife hub.

Clubs like Car­i­oca da Gema and Rio Sce­nar­ium were cat­a­lysts for a more pro­fes­sional and ad­ven­tur­ous set of samba mu­si­cians like Moy­seis Mar­ques, Teresa Cristina, Mariene de Cas­tro, Julio Estrela, Nilze Car­valho and sec­ond gen­er­a­tion stars, like the chil­dren of well-known sam­bista Serginho Pro­co­pio.

“Our gen­er­a­tion has this idea that ev­ery­thing is samba. So we have no qualms about adding a gui­tar or a piano,” says Mar­ques, 37. “We’re seek­ing more har­mony.”

The lyrics are also adapt­ing to the new sounds and new times.

If the his­toric first record­ing sang about the then new-fan- gled tele­phone, cur­rent star Ar­lindo Cruz pep­pers his lyrics with talk of so­cial net­works and mes­sag­ing ser­vice What­sApp.

“Samba is alive, strong and cre­ative,” says his­to­rian An­dre Diniz, although he adds that the mu­sic was not “for the masses. Its fans have an in­tel­lec­tual, mid­dle class as­pect”.

At its best, samba con­tin­ues to bring to­gether old and new, just as the Rio mu­si­cians mod­ern­ized what had orig­i­nally been a slave tra­di­tion in the far­away north-east.


Peo­ple play mu­sic be­fore board­ing the Samba Train, the an­nual spe­cial train to carry samba mu­si­cians and en­thu­si­asts to the Oswaldo Cruz neigh­bor­hood, part of cel­e­bra­tions of the na­tional samba day.

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