The Samba de Roda

The samba de roda is a traditional Afro-Brazilian dance from the state of Bahia (Brazil). It has been associated with capoeira for many years. The instruments used in samba de roda groups includes atabaque, berimbau, chocalho, and pandeiro, accompanied by singing and hand clapping.

UNESCO Proclamation 2005: “The Samba de Roda of Recôncavo of Bahia”

The Samba de Roda, which involves music, dance and poetry, is a popular festive event that developed in the State of Bahia, in the region of Recôncavo during the seventeenth century. It drew heavily on the dances and cultural traditions of the region’s African slaves. The performance also included elements of Portuguese culture, such as language, poetry, and certain musical instruments. At first a major component of regional popular culture among Brazilians of African descent, the Samba de Roda was eventually taken by migrants to Rio de Janeiro, where it influenced the evolution of the urban samba that became a symbol of Brazilian national identity in the twentieth century.

The dance is performed on various occasions, such as popular Catholic festivities or Afro-Brazilian religious ceremonies, but is also executed in more spontaneous settings. All present, including beginners, are invited to join the dance and learn through observation and imitation.

One of the defining characteristics of the Samba of Roda is the gathering of participants in a circle, referred to as roda. It is generally performed only by women, each one taking her turn in the center of the ring surrounded by others dancing in the circle while clapping their hands and singing.

The choreography is often improvised and based on the movements of the feet, legs and hips. One of the most typical movements is the famous belly push, the umbigada, a testimony of Bantu influence, used by the dancer to invite her successor into the center of the circle. The Samba de Roda is also distinguished by specific dance steps like the miudinho, the use of the viola machete – a small lute with plucked strings from Portugal, as well as scraped instruments, and responsorial songs.

The influence of mass media and competition from contemporary popular music have contributed to undervaluing this Samba in the eyes of the young. The aging of practitioners and the dwindling number of artisans capable of making some of the instruments pose a further threat to the transmission of the tradition.

Samba de roda proclamation courtesy of UNESCO. © UNESCO

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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