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African Influence on Brazilian Music: The Samba Research Paper

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The Brazilian music may be viewed as being full of excitement, feeling, and joy, more so due to its long “simmering combination of heritage including the Amerindian, Portuguese and African sources meeting the global influences to produce a magical, mystical music” (Anon Para. 1). Generally, every part of Brazil boasts of rich music, and this is emphasized by Anon (Para. 1) who is on the view that “whether it is the poly rhythms from percussion instruments at a street corner or a sophiscated discussion of the current year’s Carnival songs, the culture shares a common inspiration through the music.” According to Anon (Para 2), “after 500 years of history, the Brazilian music developed some unique and original styles like the Choro, Forro, Frevo, Samba, Bossa Nova, and MPB among others.” Currently, Samba is certainly the most popular music from Brazil, with its appeal spreading across the world, although there are other genres from the same country that have received global recognition for a long time.

In Brazil, just like in the USA and other nations that had African slaves, the slaves had a profound effect on the culture of Brazil and most noticeable in the music. Basically, Africans slaves “began arriving in Brazil around 1538, contributed decisively to the development of both rhythm and choreography (in dramatic dances and dances like” (Thomson Para. 7). Looking at the Brazilian music, one discovers that the extensive array of percussion instruments is of African origin, for example, all kinds of drums; the agogo, and the cuca. Another instrument is the berimbau de corpo, which is largely played in the capoeira, an exciting and “most beautiful martial art of folkric origin and is one of the greatest attractions for tourists visiting Salvador in Bahia” (Thomson Para. 9).

The Samba dance

The Samba is a legacy of the African slaves who came from Africa to Brazil during the colonization of the country by the Portuguese. The original word for Samba is ‘Semba’, which was an important aspect of the African slaves’ amusement, as well as a way of preserving the African culture. The word ‘Semba’ has its origin in Angola Africa and is found among the Quimbundo language speaking people in Angola, whose meaning is “to pray or appeal to the spirits of the ancestors or the Gods of African pantheon” (Sedberg Para. 2); although it can also mean a “complaint, cry or something like “the blues”, “navel bump” which depicts the intimacy and ‘invitation to dance’” (Sedberg Para. 2).

Generally, dancing and singing have had a great influence in the emergence of Samba dance, more so in relation to culture and religion. Also Samba rhythms are found in “Capoeira, which is a Brazilian martial arts dance, and the Candomble” which has roots in African religion and “which has become part of Brazilian culture and religion” (Sedberg, n.d). In addition, the dance has become popular in all the territories of Brazil (Welshe-Asante 82). Moreover, the dance has regional variations influenced by the African nations due to the influx of slaves. The dance is based upon common experiences and usually employs a kind of dance activity available to all participants who generally share the underlying emotion of life; and during the dance, the critical dynamics of the Brazilian society gets acted out through the dance (Welshe-Asante 82). The predominant characteristic of this dance is the choreography which has a circle formation with the soloist in the center and who is replaced by another dancer after his choreographic exhibition, generally marked by the rhythm of drums.

One major aspect of the dance is that the dancers put on costumes that were designed in African way as well as having an African heritage not only in the costumes or masks and painting, but also in spirituality; these aspects had a significant influence on the current Samba music.

Today, Samba remains a diverse and flexible art form after evolving into different sub genres which include Baiano, Musemba, a Batucada and Carnaval. In terms of sound, Samba also exists in various forms such as “samba cancao (song samba), samba-choro, samba carnavalesco (carnival samba), samba enredo (theme samba) and samba de breque (break samba)” (Nkowane Para. 9). Moreover, some forms of samba such as afoxe still retain their religious and cultural African roots, but other forms of samba have merged and fused to create new rhythms, where samba reggae has emerged as the best example of this fusing (Nkowane 2004). Indeed, samba reggae tends to have evolved “from the formation of Bahia’s Afro Blocs, which prioritized black consciousness in their lyrics, as a result of the 1970s movement in the US, thus integrating popular forms of black music” (Nkowane Para. 10).

Capoeira dance

Capoeira forms another Afro-Brazilian dance that has immense African heritage, which evolved from the martial arts that have origin in Angolan fighting style. Basically, the oral tradition of capoeira states that the practice comes from N’golo, which is a ritual from Angola (Essien 1), and is characterized by a lot of fighting movements that include kicks, sweeps, punches and elbow strikes; the participants normally form a circle and take turns in pairs while playing instrument and singing.

In Africa, dancing was a major part of the African war culture and many cultures used dancing as a way to prepare for war and hence, they trained warriors to move quickly and gracefully during hand-to-hand battle. In Brazil, the African slaves practiced capoeira in secret and thus, the belief is that the dance received its name from a method Africans used to conceal their training. The Africans would sneak out into the bush or the capoeira and secretly sharpen their skills in the art (Essien 4). The roda or playing circle of capoeira is controlled by the berimbau, which is a one-string bow instrument from Africa. An individual plays capoeira upon the rhythm played on the berimbau. When the slave masters and the police came around, a look-out would signal the leaders of the roda and the rhythm played on the berimbau would change. This indicated to the capoeiristas to play a game that was less martial and instead play one that looked more like a dance, this would make the overseers believe that the slaves were only dancing and having fun, hence no cause for alarm (Essien 5).

In mid 1930s, Mestre Bimba, brought capoeira from the underground to the forefront of the Brazilian society by creating Capoeira Regional and Capoeira academy (Essien 6). With the success of Mestre Bimba capoeira, there was increasing political push to promote capoeira as the first true Brazilian sport, and in 1937, Bimba received official licensing for his academy while capoeira became legal (Essien 7). A few years later, Mestre Pastinha, who was one of the great masters in the history of capoeira, opened the first Capoeira Angolan academy and capoeira began to be taught in formal settings instead of just having a few apprentices (Essien 8). At this time, capoeira began to spread like wildfire through Brazilian popular culture beyond Salvador, northeast Brazil, and it did not stop until it enveloped most parts of the country.

Today, capoeira is widely used in Brazil to teach people how to stay calm and fluid, how to react benevolently and with hilarity; while in the urban, it teaches those who practice it how to remain calm while being alert to whatever is happening around them.

Lundu dance

This may be described as a hybrid Brazilian musical dance style made up of a combination of Angolan and Portuguese rhythms, and is believed to have been established in Brazil in the period of 1700’s and heavily borrows from the Portuguese and Spain rhythms though much of its basic rhythm has African heritage. Moreover, the dance style is more of sensational and sexiness due to the sought of movement that involves the twisting of the belly and hips.

The dance has evolved to incorporate new aspects such as the snapping of fingers, melody and harmony and it is always accompanied by an instrument known as mandolin. In addition, “the dance consists of individuals of both sexes dancing to a thrumming instrument, with scarcely any action of the legs but with every licentious motion of the body, joining in contact during the dance in a manner strangely ‘immodest’” (Chasteen, p. 142). Normally, the spectators support the music with a chorus and clapping of the hands and stamping of feet. In some cases, the lundu dance can also be played by two columns facing each other and consisting exclusively of the act of “umbigada”, (touching the navel); mainly performed with a column of males close to the instruments which are laid on the floor and in front there is the column of women separated by a space in which they dance with the action of “umbigada” (Welshe-Asante, p. 85). During the slave period, the church abominated the lundu dance due to its sensual movements and hence it was linked to prostitution in the slave quarters; however, among the slaves it was considered to be a ritual dance of procreation because of the umbigada action.


The Africans influence on Brazilian culture and more importantly on music has been great. Today, it is almost impossible to talk of Brazilian music without any mention of the African aspect. Africans, especially the slaves re-oriented and introduced new specific modes of performance into Brazilian music which have remained to form the Brazilian identity up to today. It is therefore important to point out that although slave trade involving Africans has been seen to have negative social aspects to the community, its contribution in the development and diversification of various cultures, and in particular the Brazilian music is significant. Indeed, the current popularity of the Samba music and dance, as well as the Capoeira and Lundu, has its roots to the African people, and in particular the Angolans.

Works Cited

  1. Anon. “Music in Brazil”. Brazilian Travel Guide. N.d. 2010.
  2. Chasteen, John. C. . NM, UNM Press. 2002. Web.
  3. Essien, Aniefre. CA, Blue Snake Books. 2008. Web.
  4. Nkowane, Chilema H. “Samba Brasileiro-A History.” World Music Central. 2004.
  5. Sedberg, Frode. “Origin of Samba Music.” Samba City info. N.d. 2010.
  6. Thomson, Sheila. “.” Music and Folklore. N.d. 2010. Web.
  7. Welsh-Asante, Kariamu. . NJ, Africa World Press. 1996. Web.
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