Tracing the cultural phenomenon… where did it all begin?

Tracing the cultural phenomenon… where did it all begin?

The renowned city of Rio de Janeiro harbors a uniquely Afro- Brazilian cultural identity, one best exemplified through the famed pre- Lenten carnival dance, the samba!  Although this dance’s official establishment occurred in Rio in the early twentieth century, the development of the dance in Brazil began as early as the late sixteenth century, with the disembarkation of the first slaves in Rio.  Therefore, in order to truly understand what the samba is and where it came from, the evolution of the dancing culture in Rio must be analyzed up until the twentieth century, beginning with the arrival of colonial Rio’s dominant import, slaves.  Furthermore, the development of the samba in Rio consists of three fundamental components:

1. The African slaves, seeking to preserve a cultural identity through dance

2. European influences combined with preexisting African movements

3. The emergence of the carnival and new amalgamations

 

But first…. the preeminence of the slave trade in Rio

FIGURE 1. VOLUME AND DIRECTION OF THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE FROM ALL AFRICAN TO ALL AMERICAN REGIONS (1514-1866)

FIGURE 1. VOLUME AND DIRECTION OF THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE FROM ALL AFRICAN TO ALL AMERICAN REGIONS (1514-1866)
This map exemplifies the huge proportion of slaves to leave from the embarkation regions of West Central Africa and disembark in Southeast Brazil, throughout the entirety of the slave trade. Rio de Janeiro was by far the primary port of disembarkation in Southeast Brazil.

 

FIGURE 2. MAJOR DISEMBARKATION REGIONS (1514-1866)

FIGURE 2. MAJOR DISEMBARKATION REGIONS (1514-1866)
In this map, the dominance of Southeast Brazil as a principal place of slave landing and disembarkation region can be seen. Rio de Janeiro was the port to receive the majority of these slaves.

 

FIGURE 3. MAJOR COASTAL REGIONS FROM WHICH CAPTIVES LEFT AFRICA (1501-1867)

FIGURE 3. MAJOR COASTAL REGIONS FROM WHICH CAPTIVES LEFT AFRICA (1501-1867)
This map exemplifies the dominance of West Central African ports throughout the entirety of the slave trade. In addition, the transatlantic currents ran counter clockwise and almost explicitly connected the ports of West Central Africa and Southeast Brazil. The vast majority of African slaves supplied to Rio de Janeiro came from the West Central African ports.

 


Senegambia and offshore Atlantic Sierra Leone Gold Coast Bight of Benin Bight of Biafra and Gulf of Guinea islands West Central Africa and St. Helena Southeast Africa and Indian Ocean islands Other Africa Averages
1597-1600 100.00% 100.00%
1651-1675 100.00% 100.00%
1676-1700 100.00% 100.00%
1701-1725 6.90% 14.40% 77.20% 1.50% 100.00%
1726-1750 1.00% 0.60% 0.30% 0.50% 97.60% 100.00%
1751-1775 8.40% 91.00% 0.70% 100.00%
1776-1800 0.20% 98.60% 1.20% 100.00%
1801-1825 0.10% 0.00% 0.20% 0.40% 1.90% 80.80% 16.20% 0.40% 100.00%
1826-1850 0.30% 0.10% 0.40% 0.20% 76.30% 22.70% 100.00%
1851 100.00% 100.00%
Averages 0.20% 0.00% 0.30% 1.20% 1.00% 83.70% 13.50% 0.20% 100.00%

FIGURE 4. PERCENT OF SLAVE DISEMBARKATION FROM CERTAIN EMBARKATION REGIONS IN RIO DE JANEIRO (1597-1851). As seen in this table, from 1597 to 1851, an average of 83.7% of slaves disembarking in Rio de Janeiro came from the embarkation region of West Central Africa and St. Helena (a small Atlantic island off the coast of West Central Africa).

  •  The first slaves arrived in Rio in 1597 and the most slaves disembarked in Rio from 1776-1850.
  • From 1597- 1851, a total of 1,070,627 slaves disembarked in Rio, constituting 15% of total slave disembarkation in all places of slave landing during that time period (see Figures 1 and 2 above).
  • The vast majority of slaves disembarking in Rio came from the embarkation ports of West Central Africa (especially Angola, see Figures 1, 3, and 4 above).
  • Slavery was not abolished in Rio until the late 19th century, at which point a huge population of Africans had already been integrated into Portuguese society, some as slaves, and some as free men.

 

1. African Slave Dancing in Rio

IMAGE 1. THE TRADITIONAL AFRICAN BATUQUE

IMAGE 1. THE TRADITIONAL AFRICAN BATUQUE
This picture exemplifies the movements of the traditional African batuque.

 

IMAGE 2. A PAINTING OF THE TRADITIONAL AFRICAN BATUQUE

IMAGE 2. A PAINTING OF THE TRADITIONAL AFRICAN BATUQUE
In this painting, the African slaves can be seen raising their hands and dancing the batuque in celebration, possibly as a disguise for spiritual worship.  Click here to see a modern interpretation of a typical West African dance of Mali, which fundamentally influenced and contributed to popular forms of slave dances in the Americas, such as the batuque.

 

IMAGE 3. PAINTING OF BATUQUE ACCOMPANIED BY CLAPPING

IMAGE 3. PAINTING OF BATUQUE ACCOMPANIED BY CLAPPING
This image of the batuque shows the celebratory nature of the dance, as well as its easy movement and admiration; those not participating in the dance itself casually clap along. In Portuguese, these observers are called “roda”.

 

IMAGE 4. THE UMBIGADA

IMAGE 4. THE UMBIGADA
This element of the traditional batuque was particularly influential in the development of the samba and characteristic of the sexual nature of the dance. It involves the thrusting of a man and a woman’s hips, stomach, and pelvis together, so that the belly-buttons “bump”. Click here to see a modern interpretation of the traditional batuque with the umbigada.

  • The batuque, a traditional African dance performed as a circle dance in colonial Brazil, was the primary element in initiating the development of the samba (depicted in Images 1,2, and 3 above).
  • It began in the early 17th century and was especially prevalent throughout the 1600s.
  • It was associated with the polyrhythmic African drums used in the slaves’ religious rituals, which were disguised as dances.
  • The essential features of the batuque are: sexual aspects such as lateral hip movements (known as requebros or reboleios), the umbigada (the bumping of stomachs together by a man and a woman; seen in Image 4 above), and in Rio, the clapping circle of observers known as roda (seen in Image 3).

     

2. The European Influences and Intermediary Stages

  • The samba relied on various transitional stages, which manifested as individual musical revelations based on different European influences. The most influential intermediary dances between the batuque and the samba were: the lundu and the maxixe of the 18th century.

The Lundu

IMAGE 5. THE LUNDU

IMAGE 5. THE LUNDU
This painting of the lundu in Rio de Janeiro shows its celebratory and provocative style , popularity, and the fact that many Europeans enjoyed the dance.  Click here to see a performance of the conventional lundu and click here to see a rendition of the lundu marajoara. 

  • According to Nei Lopes, a singer and historian of the Brazilian samba, it is the “fundamental link” connecting the batuque and samba.
  • It formed as a result of racial mixing; in the 17th and 18th centuries, as slavery grew in Rio, slave dancing, known for its entertainment and sexual manifestations, increasingly converged with European culture; Africans performed in the streets as well as for elites.  European spectators also participated.
  • The lundu is a combination of rhythmic African dances, notably the batuque, and the choreography of Spain and Portugal’s fandango (see Image 5 above).
  • A melodic and significant relative of the lundu is the modinha, which became important in Rio in the 19th century and brought Italian influence.

The Maxixe

IMAGE 6. THE TRADITIONAL MAXIXE

IMAGE 6. THE TRADITIONAL MAXIXE
This image displays the sexual nature of the maxixe; when it was first introduced in Rio it quickly gained popularity in dance clubs but was publicly condemned.  Synthesized from the lundu and polka, this picture shows the European nature of the dance and influence of the polka.  Click here to see the Polka- Mazurka, a variation of the traditional polka.

 

IMAGE 7. THE MAXIXE AND RACIAL MIXING

IMAGE 7. THE MAXIXE AND RACIAL MIXING
This picture indicates the maxixe’s popularity, integration of European and African influences, and ability to encourage racial mixing within society in Rio.  Click here to see a modern interpretation of the conventional maxixe.

  • A new dance form in Rio emerging in the 1870s, initiated by traveling French theater companies; it was the most popular dance in Rio until the early 20th century, when the samba was founded.
  • It was synthesized from the lundu and polka.
  • It consisted of the same sexual hip, leg, and torso movements of the batuque and lundu dances: the requebros or reboleios (see Image 6).
  • In the carnival in Rio, the maxixe was the first dance with African heritage to become popular, and only then was it acceptable for all races and levels of society to participate (see Image 7).

 

3. The Carnival and the Manifestation of the Samba

IMAGE 8. THE CARNIVAL IN COLONIAL RIO

IMAGE 8. THE CARNIVAL IN COLONIAL RIO
This image exemplifies the street scene at the carnival in Rio de Janeiro during colonial times. African dancers and drummers, likely Zé Pereiras and Cucumbys, can be seen in the foreground, amid the colorful chaos of people celebrating and parading through the streets.

 

IMAGE 9. ZÉ PEREIRA DRUMMING

IMAGE 9. ZÉ PEREIRA DRUMMING
A group of Zé Pereiras are shown in this picture. They would march through the streets of Rio during the carnival and beat their drums to a rhythm that formed the basic percussionist elements of the samba.

 

IMAGE 10. THE SAMBA AND THE CARNIVAL

IMAGE 10. THE SAMBA AND THE CARNIVAL
In the early twentieth century, with the performances of the first samba schools at the carnival, the samba is finally considered to be a distinct dancing style in Rio de Janeiro. Its exultant and alluring movements are demonstrated in this painting.  Click here to see the fundamental motions of the samba.

  • In the 19th century, parading percussionist dancers (drawing ancestry from Bahia), known as Cucumbys, and Zé Perieras drumming groups, which would march to the loud beat of snare drums and bass, pervaded the carnival in Rio (see Image 8 and 9).
  • In the 1890s, former Cucumby dancers employing elements of the maxixe converged on the carnival’s streets with the percussionist style of the Zé Pereiras groups, creating what was soon referred to as the samba (see Image 8 and 10).
  • The samba became increasingly vital to the carnival in Rio, and the official establishment of the samba as a dance and cultural symbol of Rio occurred with the rise of the escolas de samba (samba schools) in the 1920s and 1930s (see Image 10).

 

In Conclusion 

IMAGE 11. CHASTEEN'S EVOLUTION OF THE SAMBA

IMAGE 11. CHASTEEN’S EVOLUTION OF THE SAMBA
This image summarizes the development of the samba from John Charles Chasteen’s perspective, author of “The Prehistory of Samba: Carnival Dancing in Rio de Janeiro, 1840-1917” in the Journal of Latin American Studies. As can be seen, a line is traced from batuque, to lundu and maxixe, to samba. The Batucada, a substyle of the samba, is a Brazilian style of percussion drawing from African roots. Congos is the Portuguese term referring to the Cucumby dancers of Rio.

 

Consequently, the roots of the samba in Rio de Janeiro can be traced to the traditional African dances of the slaves, which evolved to continuously incorporate divergent facets of African and European musical tradition and form the lundu and maxixe dances, which converged with the movements of the Cucumbys and percussion of the Zé Pereiras in the streets of carnival.

 

IMAGE 12. THE SAMBA'S LEGACY

IMAGE 12. THE SAMBA’S LEGACY
This photograph shows the magnificence of the samba dancers at the carnival in Rio de Janeiro today. The samba, drawing from African roots and European influence, clearly continues to have a fundamental impact on both society in Rio and Brazilian culture.  Click here to see a performance of the samba at the carnival in Rio de Janeiro in 2014.