The Politics of Samba

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Arts, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2012-10-16 04:30Z by Steven

The Politics of Samba

Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
Volume 2, Number 2 (Summer/Fall 2001)

Bruce Gilman

Samba, which was created in its present form in the 1910s, yet whose roots reach back much farther and tie Brazil to the African continent, has played an integral part in Brazil’s conceptualization as a nation. Originally despised by Brazil’s elite, samba’s message of racial integration was eventually used by both progressive reformers and authoritarian dictators. Despite samba’s image abroad as a catalyst for racial miscegenation, its political message never took hold in Brazilian society. Today, samba continues to be as much a source of social integration as a prism of Brazil’s racial fractures.

Historical Roots.

It is probable that the word “samba” originated in Angola, where the Kimbundu word semba designated a circle dance similar in choreography to the west African batuque that Bantu slaves brought to Brazil. While the exact number of blacks entering Brazil during its period of slavery is unknown, it is commonly estimated that at least eigh- teen million Africans were “imported” between 1538 and 1828. The primary center from which the Portuguese disseminated slaves into the Brazilian interior was Salvador, Bahia. It was the second largest city in the Portuguese Empire after Lisbon, and famous for its sensuality and decadence expressed in its beautiful colonial mansions and gold-filled churches. In Bahia, African culture took root to such an extent that today many African traditions are better preserved there than any-where else in the New World. Sambas rhythm is rooted in the rich musical heritage that Africans took with them in their forced migration to Brazil.

Although sambas rhythm is of African origin, its melody, harmony, form, and instrumentation are influenced by European traditions. The licentious lundu dance, derived from the rhythm of the batuque, became increasingly popular in Brazil in the late eighteenth century. At the same time, the flute, guitar, and cavaquinho, which initially accompanied the modinha the Brazilian way of playing the lyric song style of the Portuguese elite, would come to play an important role in samba. Brazilian poet and priest Domingo Caldas Barbosa (1740-1800), whose mother was a slave from Angola and whose father was a Portuguese businessman, broke with the tradition of the court style by substituting guitar for the harpsichord and introducing risqué lyrics in the most aristocratic salons of Lisbon. While Barbosa was indignantly criticized for his sensuous poetry, erudite Portuguese composers soon began producing their own modinhas. Both the lundu and the modinha crossed the boundaries between popular and elite, yet gained acceptance at the Lisbon royal court in an early instance of the fusion of African and Iberian styles. Brazil’s African-inspired musical traditions also merged with other non-Portuguese, European styles. In the mid-1840s, French traveling musical theater companies introduced the polka to Brazil. As the lundu fused with the polka, it turned into the maxixe, a Brazilianized version of the polka. The maxixe became the first genuinely Brazilian dance and decisively influenced the creation of samba as a specific genre, eventually finding acceptance among the elite of Rio de Janeiro.

…Racial marginalization was also fostered by the growing conviction among nineteenth-century intellectuals that true Brazilian nationhood required ethnic homogeneity. Influential scientists regarded people of mixed race as indolent , undisciplined, and shortsighted. They argued that Brazil’s racial composition did not exemplify cultural richness or vitality, but rather constituted a singular case of extreme miscegenation; consequently, the person of mixed race evolved into a symbol of Brazilian backwardness. Blacks were seen as a major factor contributing to Brazil’s inferiority because they would never be able to absorb, and could only imitate, “Aryan” culture. Racial mixing thus furnished an explanation for the defects and weaknesses of Brazilian society and became a central issue in Brazil’s conceptualization as a nation.

Most Brazilians believed that national homogeneity could be achieved through assimilation and miscegenation, but only if this guaranteed evolutionary superiority through a general “whitening” of the population. Thus, the most welcomed immigrants were southwestern Europeans who mixed readily with the rest of the Brazilian population; Africans were never considered among” possible candidates for immigration…

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The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil

Posted in Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery on 2011-12-28 23:11Z by Steven

The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil

University of North Carolina Press
February 1999
168 pages
6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index
Paper ISBN  978-0-8078-4766-4

Hermano Vianna

Edited and translated by

John Charles Chasteen, Associate Professor of History
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Samba is Brazil’s “national rhythm,” the foremost symbol of its culture and nationhood. To the outsider, samba and the famous pre-Lenten carnival of which it is the centerpiece seem to showcase the country’s African heritage. Within Brazil, however, samba symbolizes the racial and cultural mixture that, since the 1930s, most Brazilians have come to believe defines their unique national identity.

But how did Brazil become “the Kingdom of Samba” only a few decades after abolishing slavery in 1888? Typically, samba is represented as having changed spontaneously, mysteriously, from a “repressed” music of the marginal and impoverished to a national symbol cherished by all Brazilians. Here, however, Hermano Vianna shows that the nationalization of samba actually rested on a long history of relations between different social groups–poor and rich, weak and powerful–often working at cross-purposes to one another.

A fascinating exploration of the “invention of tradition,” The Mystery of Samba is an excellent introduction to Brazil’s ongoing conversation on race, popular culture, and national identity.

Table of Contents

  • Translator’s Preface
  • Author’s Preface to the U.S. Edition
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. The Encounter
  • 2. The Mystery
  • 3. Popular Music and the Brazilian Elite
  • 4. The Unity of the Nation
  • 5. Race Mixture
  • 6. Gilberto Freyre
  • 7. The Modern Samba
  • 8. Samba of My Native Land
  • 9. Nowhere at All
  • 10. Conclusions
  • Notes
  • Index
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Hybridity Brazilian Style: Samba, Carnaval, and the Myth of “Racial Democracy” in Rio de Janeiro

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Social Science on 2011-07-02 01:14Z by Steven

Hybridity Brazilian Style: Samba, Carnaval, and the Myth of “Racial Democracy” in Rio de Janeiro

Volume 15, Issue 1 (2008)
pages 80-102
DOI: 10.1080/10702890701801841

Natasha Pravaz, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Through ethnographic and historical inquiry, this article inspects the usefulness of the concept of hybridity for an analysis of Rio’s samba and carnaval. If differentiated from mestiçagem, the concept of hybridity can productively be put to use. The discourse on mestiçagem is the basis for dominant narratives of national identity and celebrates samba and other Afro-Brazilian cultural forms as symbols of Brazilianness and racial democracy. Such political use of culture was initiated by President Vargas’s appropriation of subaltern performance genres in his populist project of modernity. At the same time, as expressions of Afro-Brazilian culture, samba and carnaval are contested performances; many celebrate the “racially democratic” character of samba spaces as a core domain of Afro-Brazilian sociability. This article traces the roots of samba and carnaval in Rio de Janeiro and examines their current import for a politics of identity by drawing from interviews and fieldwork at escola de samba Unidos da Cereja. The article stresses the methodological importance of addressing multiple practices and voices emerging in the context of samba performances. The concept of hybridity can thus describe Afro-Brazilians’ use of culture in the negotiation of power imbalances and alternative values.

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