Unraveling Brazilian Samba’s African ties

Samba dancers

By Norma Tsopo
HARARE – Samba may have circled the globe as one of the most infectious and popular dance styles from the South American continent but its African roots are undeniable.
According to National Geographic the dance that evolved in Brazil early in the 20th century has roots in Congolese and Angolan traditional circle dances.

Samba dancers 1
Brazilian Samba dancers

It evolved from parties held by slaves and former slaves in the rural areas of Rio de Janeiro, the research says.
The dances involved pronounced hip gyration called Umbigada.
Even the word samba is believed to be a derivative of the Kimbundu/Angolan term Semba, which referred to an “invitation to dance”.
The samba was then infused not only with the Maxixe and Marcha dance routines but also Cuban habanera and even German polka.
Even the Maxixe was itself a product of Africa as it was developed from the Lundu, a very sensual dance of couples that was also imported to Brazil by slaves from equatorial Africa.
In the 1870s the Lundu was fused with the Polka, Argentinean Tango, and the Cuban Habanera to give birth to Maxixe.
What is not deniable however that samba’s origins lie is in the intertwined history of colonialism and slavery.
The slaves who were brought in by the Portuguese in the 16th century into the state of Bahia in Brazil are widely believed to have brought and preserved their traditional drumming and dancing like Caterete, the Embolada and the Batuque through the 17th and 18th centuries.

The music and dance survived in private parties until mid-19th century when slavery was abolished.
They then brought it to favelas or poor neighborhoods in the hills on the southern parts of Rio.
It was then that it began to be adulterated with Brazilian dance routines.
As it gained in popularity with the media also popularizing it dance schools emerged to teach it with those who would have mastered it being referred to as Sambistas.
Members of these Samba schools or escolas de Samba dominate dance parties during carnival parades.
Although Samba has many variations in Brazil and across South and Central America the most popular, and traditional form of Samba danced in Brazil is the Samba no pé or foot Samba.
This is the type of Samba we see in the modern Brazilian Carnival.
So when the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) reached out to Brazilians and Cubans to come and perform Samba at the Carnival currently in Harare there was a bit of nostalgic acceptance of their art.
Next though is for ZTA move along the western coast and invite traditional dance troops to perform along Sambistas for the world to see how African Samba is after all.