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Samba de Roda – Samba with African Roots

August 09, 2021
A Samba de Roda event by Nega Duda

Music style and intangible cultural heritage of humanity

Samba is considered the most popular music of Brazil par excellence and is found throughout the country in countless genres and subgenres, musical manifestations, dances, and festivals. Many Brazil travelers enjoy listening to and dancing to the intoxicating rhythms during their stay in Brazil. A very special form of samba is the Samba de Roda.

Samba de Roda, a cultural manifestation that combines dance, music, and poetry, was born in the Recôncavo Baiano and has spread throughout the country. The music genre is a great reference and even received the title of "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" in 2008. The style has African roots and elements of the Portuguese culture and is played with instruments such as ganzá, atabaque, reco-reco, and guitar. From the Samba de Roda, styles such as Bossa Nova and Samba Carioca emerged.

The origins of the Samba de Roda

The first reports with this name and many features that still characterize the Samba de Roda today date back to the 1860s. Today, the cultural traditions handed down by the enslaved Africans and their descendants, which include the cult of the Orixás and Caboclos and Capoeira, are maintained. The African heritage of Samba de Roda blends uniquely with cultural traits brought by the Portuguese, such as the guitar and tambourine, and with poetic elements of the Portuguese language itself.

The first Samba de Roda was recorded on vinyl in 1916. The song "Pelo Telefone", was sung by the singer Donga. Subsequently, the event gained importance and conquered the whole country.
The music style includes two variants, Samba Chula and Samba Corrido. In Samba Chula, the singers sing a poem, called the Chula, and the participants stand still waiting for the end of the sung poem. Only then do they begin dancing and clapping. In the Samba Corrido, there is dancing, clapping, and music at the same time. The Samba de Roda also influenced the emergence of the Bossa Nova and the Samba from Rio de Janeiro.

The main characteristics

Participants line up in a circle to sing, play, dance, and clap their hands. In Portuguese, the circle means roda, hence the name Samba de Roda. The person standing and dancing in the center of the roda calls a new dancer to the center with the umbigada.

Samba de Roda was and still is often played with only the instruments available. It is quite possible to play a Samba de Roda without instruments: Singing, clapping hands, and beating the rhythms on any object. The role of ad hoc solutions in the sound production of the Samba de Roda is best illustrated by the example of prato-e-faca, in English "plates and knives". Plates and knives are often used to provide rhythmic accompaniment to the chants.
Major instruments include viola, tambourine, chocalho (vessel rattle), atabaque (barrel drum), ganzá (rattle), guitar, reco-reco (rhythm instrument), agogô (impact idiophone), and berimbau.

The songs usually consist of the main verse, usually sung by one or two singers. The response or relativo, as it is called in Portuguese, is sung either by all present or sometimes by only one or two singers. The stanzas are relatively short and rarely exceed eight verses. Occasionally there may be verbal improvisations. The repertoire of songs is known to most participants and can thus be performed at will during individual and possibly couple singing.

The choreography, which is always performed within the roda, can be very different, but the most typical gesture is the so-called miudinho. It is performed mainly from the hips down and consists of an almost imperceptible rocking back and forth of the feet, which are almost glued to the floor, with a corresponding movement of the hips. Although men can also dance, women predominate in dancing, while men predominate in playing the instruments, except for the plate and knife. Normally, it is not customary for all participants to dance at the same time, as this would cause the circle to break up.

Samba de Roda can take place indoors or outdoors, in a bar, in a square, or a terreiro de candomblé. The performances are usually inclusive in spirit, meaning that everyone present, including those who are attending for the first time, are generally encouraged to participate, sing along, clap in rhythm, and even dance in the middle of the roda if the opportunity presents itself.

Samba de Roda do Recôncavo Baiano

Samba de Roda is not only found in the state of Bahia but can also be found in other regions of Brazil. But the Samba de Roda do Recôncavo Baiano has great importance for the state of Bahia. But where exactly is the Recôncavo Baiano located? The strip of land around the Bay of All Saints, which consists of mangroves, lowlands, and highlands, is known as the Recôncavo region. The Recôncavo can be divided into two distinct regions, one being the Salvador metropolitan region and the other the Recôncavo Sul, which includes the municipalities of the Jiquiriçá Valley in addition to those traditionally known as the Recôncavo.

In 2004, the Samba de Roda do Recôncavo Baiano was included in the Livro Registro as Formas de Expressão, a book in which protected national cultural assets are registered. Already in 2008, the Samba de Roda do Recôncavo Baiano was recognized by UNESCO as a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" and declared "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity". In 2013, it was named "Brazilian Cultural Heritage" by IPHAN, the Institute for the National Historical and Artistic Heritage of Brazil.
This shows the appreciation of the traditions of the Recôncavo Baiano and the efforts to preserve Brazilian culture.

The most important representatives

The Samba de Roda is the most popular and well-known musical style in Brazil and has spread and evolved in different groups and musical styles throughout the country. In the process, various composers, groups, and musicians have contributed to the current diversity of this style. Among the best-known representatives are Cartola, Dona Edith do Prato, Pixinguinha, Mariene de Castro, Caetano Veloso, Dorival Caymmi, and Nelson Cavaquinho.

Cartola, whose real name is Ângelo de Oliveira, was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1908 and is still considered one of the greatest composers of Brazilian folk music. He learned to play the cavaquinho and guitar from his father. As a child, he moved to the Mangueira neighborhood, where he made friends with bohemians and samba dancers. He founded the block "Arengueiros" with his friends. Cartola's career reached its peak in 1974, after recording "As Rosas não Falam" and "O Mundo é um Moinho".

Edith Oliveira Nogueira, better known as Dona Edith do Prato, was a famous percussionist known for playing her songs with a knife and a plate. She played with several famous musicians and even participated in the recording of some albums by Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethânia. Dona Edith was born in 1916 in the town of Santo Amaro da Purificação, in the Recôncavo Baiano. She was self-taught and began playing as a teenager.

Samba de Roda is just one of the many different styles of Samba. On a Brazil vacation, you can surely listen to some Brazilian rhythms.

Sources: ich.unesco.org, portal.iphan.gov.br

Source: Aventura do Brasil