Samba begins in Bahia, northeast Brazil, 1500 when it was used to define a vast range of musical styles brought over by West African slaves. Semba, an Angolan form of dance, and the samba de roda (or 'wheel of samba’) mixed with African religious traditions such as Candomblé, while rhythms such as Baião, Bochinche, Caxambú, Côco, Jongo and Maracatú provided the musical tapestry from which samba’s modern form originates. It really grew as a musical genre in Rio de Janeiro once slavery was abolished; many former slaves moved south to find work in the then capital of Brazil, settling in shanty towns, or favelas, on the hills surrounding the main city, giving rise to the term samba do morro (or ‘samba on the hill’).
Like many locations all over the world that have sea ports, Rio de Janeiro, and its music and dance, became fused with influences brought by the sailors from all over the world. So samba did not only evolve from West African traditions, but also the popular music and dance of Portugal, Germany, and some now believe the Middle East. Existing musical styles such as the maxixe, Brazil’s first ‘urban’ music, a fusion of West African lundu and the European polka, and often referred to as the Brazilian tango, joined the marchina, or “little march” as precursors to samba. The very first official “samba” to be recorded was Pelo Telefone (“through the telephone”), composed and sung by the musician, Donga, and was actually more of a maxixe. In the early 20th Century, however, samba would become the national music of Brazilian carnival in the form of the samba de enredo (or, “scripted samba”), accompanying the incredible floats, costumes and dances in telling the story of each samba school’s carnival theme, which traditionally satirised and poked fun at politics and society. The arrival of those first samba schools in the late 1920s was almost exclusively Afro-Brazilian, and it wasn’t until the mid-1940s that the Rio Carnival began to include wider Brazilian society.
Today, samba de enredo has spread around the world as the de-facto Brazilian carnival music practised by Samba Schools as far away from Brazil as Japan, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, and even Australia and New Zealand.
The first ever samba school in the UK was founded by a group of professional musicians from South Africa, Brazil and other Latin Americas countries but was initiated by a Jewish South African communist called Alan Hayman. From exiles to immigrants, all united by a shared experience of political turmoil and dictatorship, they found a common bond in the infectious and thrilling sound of samba, and the freedom and liberation it represented. Alan Hayman, João Bosco de Oliveira, Pato Fuentes, Carlos Fuentes, German Santana and Brits Dave Patman, Dave Bitelli and Gerry Hunt, were the founding members of the group. Members of the samba school itself group consisted of Brazilians, Chileans, Colombians there at start, women were prominent (Liliana, Olga) and including one transgender person (Kim Burton), but mainly political exiles, the best Latin musicians in the UK, linking up with Latinos, South Africans etc to form the first samba school.
Robin Jones, a prominent percussionist in London at the time said of the show Brasil Tropical at Sadlers Wells Theatre in 1976 "the first time that people in the UK really heard samba". However, some dispute this as it is believed that Brazilian Singer, Carmen Miranda performed with Rio Samba School, Mangueira circa 1949. Robin was a performer in the 1976 show and when it came back in 1979 to play in the theatre by Guanabara in Drury Lane, Brasil Tropical asked Robin to get as many Brazilians as he could find who were good drummers to recruit them for the show. This was how he met Bosco, the very first Mestre de Bateria or Master of the Drums of London School of Samba, and Hilton (another founder member). The London School of Samba was born, and paraded at the Notting Hill Carnival with the samba, “A homage to Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel”.
In 2018, Notting Hill Carnival organisers renamed the “samba category” which was introduced by CAMF in 2004, to the more appropriately titled “Brazilian Bands” as one of the categories. Today, the Brazilian Bands represent that same richness and diversity of Brazil itself: from the two samba schools, London School of Samba and Paraiso School of Samba (formed in 2001), playing samba de enredo, to samba reggae group Batalá and maracatú group, Baque de Axé.
Brazilian music, dance and carnival continues to increase in popularity in the UK, so can only continue to get better and better.
Credit: Fiona Turuka and Mestre Mags (London School of Samba)