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History of Samba in Brazilian Society: A Traditional Brazilian Dance Research Paper

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Samba is a traditional Brazilian dance. The word samba is derived from the Angolan word “semba” which means the movement of the body which is described as the act of thrusting forward the body and which requires the contact of the navel with the body before the dance (Appleby, 1980). The samba has been danced since the 19th century. The dance comprises many ethnic styles/dances mixed together to form the unique dance samba. There is no one dance/style that can claim the originality of samba. It is an original product of the Brazilians, and as such it has played an important role in the development of the Afro-Brazilian dance. Afro-Brazilian dance was created during the Brazilian colonial period. It is a mixture of the rhythm of the native people and the steps/rhythm borrowed from the slaves. Consequently, there are a lot of dances in Brazil differing from region to region depending on the original constitution of the local population. This depends on the original construction of the native people. This explains why the samba has diverse steps. Afro-Brazilian dance involves different dances/lyrics, for example, cocoa, xaxado, ijexa, afoxe, and the samba.

Samba dance had various implications on the historic, social, and economic lives of Brazilians. Some of the historic implications include the samba which has become a symbol of Brazilian identity since the 1930s. The samba gives the Brazilians a cultural identity. The samba dance is a cultural signifier to the Brazilians; it gives the Brazilians a feeling of racial democracy. The black community that was in Brazil used the samba as a symbol of their heritage. They combined their own lyrics with the new ones and come up with their own composition. The samba was used by the slaves for entertainment and as a symbol of their unity. For example, the fishermen did the samba after fishing. After a while samba was accepted by all. It moved upwards to the elite community and later to all the Brazilians. This led to the development of the Afro-Brazilian dances (the dances that have some African heritage). The samba and other afro-Brazilian symbols are used as a symbol of Brazilianness and racial democracy. That is the end of slavery and the harmonization of the Brazilians.

The evolution and dissemination of samba in Brazil also proved how a culture (a people’s way of life) can start from a poorer society and then spread upward to an elite group, then outwards to other nations. Initially, samba was danced only by the indigenous inhabitants of Brazil. This changed when it was taken as a culture and a kind of tourist attraction. This led to the samba being accepted even by the elite white middle society in Brazil making samba be accepted by all and this, therefore, led to the development of the Afro-Brazilian dances.

The black Brazilians used the samba dance as a way of preserving their culture. Historically it was created by the black Brazilians (slaves) to culturally preserve African practices and customs. This was in the face of very bad and dehumanizing conditions. The samba provided psychosocial support for the slaves and it also ensured the continuity of the African community. This is what led to the development of the Afro-Brazilian dances. This is because the black community maintained its custom and practices.

Socially the samba is used as a means of social expression. It is used to relieve tension and pass any other information. The samba is used as an expression of resistance against social classes. The samba is danced by people of different social classes. This, therefore, has united the Brazilians in the sense that everyone can identify with the dance. The samba has thus challenged the existence of social classes in Brazil. Before the emergence of the samba, very few people danced, and these were the people considered to be of high social standing. Samba changed all this by introducing dancing to everyone. Today, samba, or the Afro-Brazilian dance is danced by everyone. To the black Brazilians, samba was seen as a symbol of hierarchical breakdown.

The emergence of the samba also challenged the existence and implication of the carnival in Rio de Janeiro. After the emergence of the samba, people from poor regions started participating in carnival dances. They would make their own costumes and compose their own lyrics. As stated earlier samba is composed of many different dances/ lyrics, these lyrics were used as a sign of resistance. The lyrics of the song were a protest against the conditions of the blacks in Brazil. The samba there allowed the black community to participate in the carnival competition thereby leading to the development of the Afro-Brazilian dances in Brazil. Today there are a lot of popular expressions that have the Afro-Brazilian flavor, for instance, the music from the contemporary singer in Brazil, Gilberto Gil (a popular Brazilian singer and guitarist), and Batatinha (a Brazilian blues singer).

Music and dance are normally used as a means of expression. The slaves used the dance as a means of expressing their criticism, ridicule, and frustration against the whites (Browning Barbara, 1995). A lot of singers have used their music to pass a certain message. Some of the music is also used to create political awareness. Many Afro-Brazilian singers have used their music to create political awareness. These include singers like Milton Nascimento (Afro-Brazilian) and Chico Buarque (white Brazilian). The samba dance gave the Brazilians a voice. The singers were able to comment on issues in their country. This was not possible before the emergence of the samba.

The samba took on different political implications especially in the 1920s when groups were formed who in turn organized dances/schools in order to raise funds to develop the country. These dances/schools were the first benefactors in the development of the state, that is, in terms of schools, roads, and utilities in Rio de Janeiro. These groups help to rebuild Brazil. This was mainly through the samba school and the dances that were organized. These groups helped in the rise of the black community in Brazil and this gave root to the emergence and dissemination of the Afro-Brazilian dances.

The issues discussed above show that the samba played an important role in the development of the Afro-Brazilian dances in the sense that, both the samba and the afro-Brazilian dances are used to relieve tension. This is because of the rapid movements of the dances. They involve the movement of the chest, hips, head, and arms. This, therefore, enabled the slaves to have control of their harsh conditions and helped them to persevere. This ensured that the African culture survived leading to the development of Afro-Brazilian dances.

Samba also brought together people of different communities; every person is able to personalize the dance. One is able to mix the different dancing styles and still not feel lost when dancing. The black community which sought to regain its identity in Brazil was able to take the steps in sambas and include other dances and therefore have an original. The sambas dance gave the black community an identity and the people personalized the dance leading to the development of afro -Brazilian dance. Samba also ensured that the divisions in social classes were done away with; this helped to give the Brazilians an identity. Today the samba dance is known as a symbol of Brazilian identity. Samba has been highly popularized and therefore it is known as a national Brazilian identity. (Seema, 2004)

References

Abdias Do, Nascimento. Africans in Brazil, New York: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Barbara, Browning. Samba: Resistance in Motion, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Hermano, Vianna.The Mystery of Samba, London: OUP, 1998.

J. Lowell, Lewis. Ring of Liberation, New York: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Kariamu, Welsh, Asante. African Dance, African World Press, 1989.

Omofolabo, Ajayi. Yoruba Dance, African World Press, 1994.

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