• Charis Railey

What is Samba?

"Batuque" by German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas

Samba no pé is a pure expression of joy that radiates from the earth up through the feet, hips, shoulders, and is shared with others with a smile. The roots of samba reach back to the 1800s and the cultures of black and working class folks in the northeast of Brazil. Samba songs have represented varying political motivations throughout the decades. There were state-sponsored and censored expressions of nationalism during the Vargas regime of the 1930s. There are far more songs which use metaphors and wordplay to express social and political counterculture. Fun fact: the original draft of a song considered the “first phonographic samba record" (Pelo Telefone in 1916) purportedly criticized the police, but was altered when the lyrics were officially registered (citation: http://enciclopedia.itaucultural.org.br/obra7091/pelo-telefone-1916).


This is a wonderful podcast talking about the roots of samba, starting with workers moving to Rio from the northeast in the 1800s:





The podcast references this Disney film in which Donald Duck learns about the music of Latin America. It’s so fun and a great introduction to the genre for kids and teens.




To me, samba no pé is an expression of my joy and defiance against anything that would hold me down.


What holds me down that I samba against?


Well, physical exhaustion for one. The band I dance with (Samba Bom in Saint Louis, Missouri) often plays 10+ minute batucada marathons at the end of two hour-long sets. During the last show I did with my team, StL Samba, we danced for longer and weren't sure when we were stopping! From what I hear, that’s not much compared with samba rehearsals in Rio, but it sure feels like a long time in the moment. As my weight shifts from right foot to left foot underneath me to the beat of the surdos, I find myself slipping into a trance. Have you ever heard of runner's high? I don't run like that but I imagine the feeling is similar. My dance becomes more of an involuntary reflex. My mind is less concerned with what steps go where and the brainy barrier between my soul and my body (conscious thought, telling my legs what to do, choreographing steps, counting, remembering tips from classes, etc.) starts to disappear. I feel free, I feel happy, I feel empowered, I feel healthy, I feel one with music, I feel alive.


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© 2018 by Charis Railey