That Damn Samba
Samba is the essence of Brazilian culture. It is the oldest and most important genre of music created in this South American country. Samba has its roots in the African experience and the word itself is believed to have derived from the Angolan expression ‘semba’ which is an invitation to dance. Nowadays there are a few modern versions called ‘Samba pop’ that are more influenced by bass and drums.
The lyrics in Samba music are mostly talking about good things and happy things. It’s called ‘that damned Samba’ because it’s like a virus; once it gets into you, you can’t get rid of it. It’s like a drug or some other addictive vice because it moves people and fills them with inexplicable peace and happiness. Legend has it that people have been cured from illnesses just by listening to some Samba music or going to a ‘roda de Samba’. This might be because of a combination of the happy lyrics, the gathering with friends and loved ones, plus the rhythm itself.
The roda de Samba is an informal gathering in which there’s food, beer, and men playing their instruments around a table. ‘Roda’ means wheel, which is represented by the table. Those who are not playing, stand behind the musicians singing, dancing, and clapping along to the beat.
The activity is a happy occasion that creates a certain intimacy as the people interact with each other and forget about their problems. It’s like an escape from the pain of reality and some even believe that some people can go into a trance as they dance Samba.
Samba basically uses two rhythms. The first one is called ‘gallop’ and it’s the one that provides the basic beat. The second one is called ‘partido alto’ which is mostly used for improvisations. This second rhythm has many different variations.
Samba music and dance are very contagious. When people get together and the Samba music begins to play, all racial and social differences disappear because Samba has the power to make everybody feel at home.
In 2010 Charlie Inman rented out a spare room to a Brazilian musician. What happened next were several samba jams that lasted all night. Charlie Inman developed an obsession with Samba and this inspired him to visit Rio de Janeiro to try and understand what this musical genre is all about. This short documentary, That Damn Samba (or “O DANADO DO SAMBA” in Portuguese), is a summary of what he discovered. Watch it now.
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