AskDefine | Define samba

Dictionary Definition



1 large west African tree having large palmately lobed leaves and axillary cymose panicles of small white flowers and one-winged seeds; yields soft white to pale yellow wood [syn: obeche, obechi, arere, Triplochiton scleroxcylon]
2 music composed for dancing the samba
3 a lively ballroom dance from Brazil
4 a form of canasta using three decks and six jokers v : dance the samba

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. A Brazilian ballroom dance.


Brazilian ballroom dance
  • French: samba
  • Hungarian: szamba


  1. To dance the samba.



  1. worship

Extensive Definition

Samba (pronunciation) 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, but there are controversies. Portuguese ethnographer and folklorist Edmundo Correia Lopes talks about a dance from the Portuguese Guinea to which Brazilian people gave the name of samba, which would be, according to him, a very close relative to Brazilian samba.
According to sambista and samba studies academic Nei Lopes,
the origin of the term samba has always been connected to semba, a Congo-Angolan style of dance characterized by the bellybutton-bump with which the gentleman distinguishes the lady, gesture which was reenacted in old afro-Brazilian dances. However, much more than bellybutton, the multilingual African term semba also means "pleasing, enchanting" (in Kimbundo), besides "honoring, revering" (in Kikongo). From semba originate disemba and masemba which, then yes, mean bellybutton-bump, respectively in Angolan Kimbundo and in Kikongo.
Nei Lopes also points out it should be observed that the bellybutton-bumpy trump, much more than the "gross representation of the sexual act" as was pointed out by Portuguese missionaries of the colonial times, represented an affability, an act of seduction and a reverence from the man towards the woman.
"Samba" is also a surname among the people of the Wolof nation who primarily live in the Senegambia


Samba origins

The origin of samba is from an Afro-Brazilian couple dance, which was imported from certain circle dances that originated from Angola and the Congo. Characteristic of the umbigada or folk samba is the way the couples dance navel to navel. In its origins, singing always accompanied the dancing. Just as important is influence from Portugal and Europe, from where come samba's relatively intricate harmonies and harmonic instrumentation.
Samba first appeared 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 to 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, jazz and samba have distinctively different origins and line of development - one of the factors which adds to this is that Brazilian slave owners allowed their slaves to continue their heritage of playing drums (unlike U.S. slave owners who feared use of the drum for communications).
"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.

Samba from 1930 to 1960

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 that 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. 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.

Samba in the 1960's

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 & Guilherme de Brito, Velha Guarda da Portela, Zé Keti, and Clementina de Jesus recorded their first albums.

Samba in the 1970's

In the 1970s, samba returned strongly to the air waves with composers and singers like Paulinho da Viola, Martinho da Vila, Clara Nunes, and Beth Carvalho dominating the hit parade. Great samba lyricists like Paulo César Pinheiro (especially in the praised partnership with João Nogueira) and Aldir Blanc started to appear around that time.

Samba from 1980 to present

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 tan-tan – 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, as a result, morphed during this period, embracing types of music that were growing popular in the Caribbean (rap, reggae, and rock). Examples of Samba fusions with popular Caribbean music is samba-rap, samba-rock and samba-reggae, all of which were efforts to not only entertain, but to unify all Blacks throughout the Americas culturally and politically, through song. In other words, samba-rap and the like, often carried lyrics that encouraged Black pride, and speak out against social injustices. Samba, however, is not accepted by all as the national music of Brazil, or as a valuable art form. What appears to be new is the local response flow, in that instead of simply assimilating outside influences into a local genre or movement, the presence of foreign genres is acknowledged as part of the local scene: samba-rock, samba-rap.But this acknowledgment does not imply mere imitation of the foreign models or, for that matter, passive consumption by national audiences. Light-skinned, "upper-class," Brazilians often associated Samba with dark-skinned blacks because of its arrival from West Africa. As a result, there are some light-skinned Brazilians who claim that samba is the music of low-class, dark-skinned, Brazilians and, therefore, is a "...thing of bums and bandits."
Samba continued to act as a unifying agent during the 1990s, when Rio stood as a national Brazilian symbol. Even though it was not the capital city, Rio acted as a Brazilian unifier, and the fact that samba originated in Rio helped the unification process. In 1994, the World Cup had its own samba composed for the occasion, "Copa 94." The 1994 World Cup, in which samba played a major cultural role, holds the record for highest attendance in World Cup history Samba is thought to be able to unify because individuals participate in it regardless of social or ethnic group. Today samba is viewed as perhaps the only uniting factor in a country fragmented by political division
The Afro-Brazilians played a significant role in the development of the samba over time. This change in the samba was an integral part of Brazilian nationalism, which was called "Brazilianism". "What appears to be new is the local response to that flow, in that instead of simply assimilating outside influences into a local genre or movement, the presence of foreign genres is acknowledged as part of the local scene: samba-rock, samba-reggae, samba-rap. But this acknowledgment does not imply mere imitation of the foreign models or, for that matter, passive consumption by national audiences." Gerard Béhague Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology ) Pg. 84

Samba in Japan

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 frequently tour the country.

Samba today

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


Common Samba

Samba is characterized by a syncopated 2/4 rhythm with a muted beat and a main beat, usually played by a surdo (bass drum) or tan-tan. Another important element is the cavaquinho, also known as cavaco (a small, four-stringed instrument of the guitar family, brought by the Portuguese; Hawaiian ukulele is a derivative). 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.

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.


This is the most widespread form of samba in Brazil. It started as a movement in the 1980s when three new instruments were introduced with Grupo Fundo de Quintal and others at Cacique de Ramos: the tan-tan - a more dynamic surdo; the banjo (samba) (with the same dimensions and tuning as the cavaquinho); and the repique de mão ("ringing of the hands") - an instrument derived from the repique de anel, based on the samba enredo repiniques, and commonly 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.

Pagode Romântico

This is a newer manifestation of pagode, that keep the same rhythm of the traditional Pagode but includes a little of romantic melody, 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. In the new millennium also neo-pagode has diminished in popularity, though it still receives some airplay. Today both styles of Pagode are popular together.
Famous artists associated with pagode romântico include Exaltasamba, Raça Negra, Katinguelê, Turma do Pagode, Karametade and Kiloucura.


The now umbrella term pagode is also used to label a derivative developed in the northeastern state of Bahia in the 90s. This newer music uses either stronger sexually appealing lyrics or childish lyrics. Some groups were considered a sign of decadence for brazilian music by many. This third style presents some other influences such as Samba duro, Samba-de-roda,.
Famous neo-pagode artists include: É o Tchan, Gera Samba, Harmonia do Samba, Swing e Simpatia, Terra Samba.

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. This style of samba also received a lot the influences of American Ballad from 1950 to 1990. Themes ranged from lyrical to tragical.


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.

Samba de Gafieira

Samba de Gafieira is a lively, big band-influenced dance jazz of the pre-bossa nova nightclubs, and is one of Brazil's least well-known styles because it was eclipsed by the suave glamour of the bossa crowd and the various waves of rock and samba crossovers that followed. Gafieiras were dancehalls, homes to dancers and dance bands, and (in the best Brazilian tradition) many of the best bandleaders, such as Severino Araujo, Radames Gnattali and Zacharias, drew on many sources to craft their music. They played the kinetic frevo and choro styles, incorporated the muscularity and elegance of North American swing, and eventually gave in to the wave of mellower pop instrumentals and vocal music of the so-called "radio singers" era.

Other variants

  • Bossa nova ("new beat") is essentially a type of samba, played with jazz instruments and sung with softer voices.
  • Samba-Reggae, also known is a new poppish type of samba from Bahia (from 2001 onwards). The rhythm is influenced by Reggaeton, Calypso and Latin melodies.
  • Samba de Roda is a ritual dance preserved in some Bahian towns. It usually refers to Samba being performed in a Capoeira roda (roda refers to the formation of the capoeiristas (capoeira players) in a circle)
  • Samba-exaltação ("Exaltation Samba") is a subgenre inaugurated by Ary Barroso's popular song "Aquarela do Brasil".

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 esoterism ("Os Alquimistas Estão Chegando" -- The Alchemists are Coming) or history of India ("Taj Mahal").

References and notes

samba in Arabic: سامبا
samba in German: Samba (Musik)
samba in Spanish: samba (música)
samba in Esperanto: Sambo (muziko)
samba in French: Samba (musique)
samba in Galician: Samba
samba in Icelandic: Samba
samba in Hebrew: סמבה
samba in Dutch: samba
samba in Japanese: サンバ (ブラジル)
samba in Norwegian: Samba
samba in Norwegian Nynorsk: samba
samba in Polish: Samba
samba in Portuguese: Samba
samba in Russian: Самба
samba in Slovenian: Samba
samba in Finnish: Samba
samba in Swedish: Samba (dans)
samba in Chinese: 桑巴
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