Imagem card

Samba: from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro

Considered one of the greatest popular cultural manifestations in Brazil, samba, a recognized musical rhythm that was created by African enslaved people, is considered the symbol of Brazilian cultural tradition. Samba is also internationally recognized as a Brazilian symbol, competing for space with football and carnival, as it became well known after the success of “Aquarela do Brasil”, by Ary Barroso.

Samba: from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 16/03/2022

By: Cláudia Varardi - Librarian at Fundação Joaquim Nabuco - PhD in Librarianship and Documentation

Considered one of the greatest popular cultural manifestations in Brazil, samba, a recognized musical rhythm that was created by African enslaved people, is considered the symbol of Brazilian cultural tradition. Recognized by Unesco in 2005 as Intangible Heritage of Humanity, in 2016 Samba celebrates one hundred years as “a national rhythm par excellence”.

Samba is also internationally recognized as a Brazilian symbol, competing for space with football and carnival, as it became well known after the success of “Aquarela do Brasil”, by Ary Barroso.

There are different versions about the origin of the term “samba”. In Brazil, there is a belief that the origin of the name has been a misinterpretation (corruption) of “semba”, a word of African origin, which roughly means navel. The dance parties of Black enslaved people in Bahia for centuries were called “samba” but in Rio de Janeiro, it only came to be known in this way at the end of the 19th century when they were linked precisely to the festivities of Bahia.

Samba, according to Webnode (2011, p. 1), has, among its original characteristics, a dance accompanied by small melodic phrases and anonymously created choruses, which are the foundations of the samba de roda that was born in the Recôncavo Baiano and was carried to the city of Rio de Janeiro by Blacks who migrated from Bahia and settled in the then capital of the Empire, in the second half of the 19th century.

The streets of Rio de Janeiro were occupied at the end of the 19th century by carnival groups indiscriminately called cordões, ranchos or blocos. The first song composed especially for Carnival was: “Ô Abre Alas!”, in 1890, by Chiquinha Gonzaga. At that time, revelers already used to attend balls dressed in costumes and the most traditional ones that are still used today were those of Pierrot, Arlequim and Columbina, inspired by the Commedia dell’arte (a popular theater that appeared in Italy in the 15th century and consolidated itself until the 17th century).

Samba de roda, influenced by other genres such as polka, maxixe, lundu and xote, became this unique musical genre that emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the early 20th century in the houses known as “tias baianas” of migrants from Bahia.

The “Tias from Bahia” who stood out the most were: Tia Amélia (mother of Donga), Tia Bebiana, Tia Rosa Olé, Tia Veridiana (mother of Chico da Baiana), Tia Mônica (mother of Pendengo and Carmem Xibuca), Tia Prisciliana (mother of João da Baiana), Tia Sadata, and, the best known of them: Hilária Batista de Almeida, Tia Ciata.

Much respected by the Rio elite, Tia Ciata, composer Bucy Moreira’s grandmother, was one of those responsible for the sedimentation of Rio’s samba because she made traditional costumes from Bahia for official carnival clubs and commanded a small team of women from Bahia who sold sweets and delicacies.

The term “batuque” that represented the sound of Blacks during the festivities was used for a long time and remained until the beginning of the 20th century when the word “samba” came to define the most varied types of music of African enslaved people according to the peculiarities from each region where they were settled.

According to Biblioteca (2016, p.1) “On November 6, 1916, Ernesto dos Santos, aka Donga, delivers a petition to register the carnival samba Pelo telefone, at the Copyright Department, of the National Library. The handwritten score for piano, made by Pixinguinha, was dedicated to two revelers, the carnival musicians Peru, Mauro de Almeida and Morcego, Norberto Amaral. On November 16, 1916, Donga attached a certificate to the petition that stated that the samba Pelo telephone was first performed on October 25, 1916 at the Cine-Teatro Velho. The work was registered by the National Library on November 27, 1916, under the number 3,295”.

In 1917, the first samba in Brazil was recorded on disc, which was a great success at Carnival and contributed to the popularization of the musical genre, giving rise to numerous parodies - “Pelo telefone”:

O chefe da folia
 Pelo telefone manda me avisar
Que com alegria
Não se questione para se brincar

Ai, ai, ai
É deixar mágoas pra trás, ó rapaz
Ai, ai, ai
Fica triste se és capaz e verás

Tomara que tu apanhe
Pra não tornar fazer isso
Tirar amores dos outros
Depois fazer teu feitiço

Ai, se a rolinha, sinhô, sinhô
Se embaraçou, sinhô, sinhô
É que a avezinha, sinhô, sinhô
Nunca sambou, sinhô, sinhô
Porque este samba, sinhô, sinhô
De arrepiar, sinhô, sinhô
Põe perna bamba, sinhô, sinhô
Mas faz gozar, sinhô, sinhô

O “Peru” me disse
Se o “Morcego” visse
Eu fazer tolice
Que eu então saísse
Dessa esquisitice
De disse-não-disse

Ah! ah! ah!
Aí está o canto ideal, triunfal
Ai, ai, ai
Viva o nosso carnaval sem rival

Se quem tira o amor dos outros
Por Deus fosse castigado
O mundo estava vazio
E o inferno habitado

Queres ou não, sinhô, sinhô
Vir pro cordão, sinhô, sinhô
É ser folião, sinhô, sinhô
De coração, sinhô, sinhô
Porque este samba, sinhô, sinhô
De arrepiar, sinhô, sinhô
Põe perna bamba, sinhô, sinhô
Mas faz gozar, sinhô, sinhô

Quem for bom de gosto
Mostre-se disposto
Não procure encosto
Tenha o riso posto
Faça alegre o rosto
Nada de desgosto

Ai, ai, ai
Dança o samba
Com calor, meu amor
Ai, ai, ai
Pois quem dança
Não tem dor nem calor

The most popular version of “Pelo telefone” plays with the reality and characters of the time. The version that changes “o chefe da polícia” to “o chefe da folia” served to avoid problems with the authorities, as it was related, according to Donga himself, to a situation that involved Irineu Marinho, at the time owner of the newspaper “A noite” that intended to remove his disaffection, the chief of police of Rio de Janeiro, Aureliano Leal. According to História (2014, p. 1), the “setup” would be to set up a roulette wheel in Largo da Carioca just to demoralize Aureliano, since he had determined that his subordinates inform the offenders before, “by phone”, the seizure of the material used in gambling.

“O chefe da polícia / Pelo telefone / Mandou avisar / Que na Carioca / Tem uma roleta /Para se jogar / Ai, ai, ai / O chefe gosta da roleta,/ Ô maninha / Ai, ai, ai / Ninguém mais fica forreta / É maninha. / Chefe Aureliano, / Sinhô, Sinhô, / É bom menino, / Sinhô, Sinhô, / Prá se jogar,/ Sinhô, Sinhô, / De todo o jeito, /Sinhô, Sinhô, / O bacará / Sinhô, Sinhô, / O pinguelim, / Sinhô, Sinhô, / Tudo é assim”.

The main samba instruments are the tambourine, the cavaquinho, the cuíca, the 6-string guitar, the 7-string guitar, the surdo and the pandeiro, however, other instruments can also appear in this scenario: the banjo, the reco-reco, the agogô, the tantã and the hand repique.

According to Diniz (2006, p. 237), the pandeiro is a percussion instrument of Arab origin indispensable to samba circles, as well as the cavaquinho, which originated in Portugal, and the 7-string guitar, which is probably of Russian origin. The author also states that the Tamborim was one of the first European instruments brought to Brazil and was even mentioned in the letter by Pero Vaz de Caminha.

Rio de Janeiro’s urban samba was no longer considered just a local manifestation, as in other states of the country, to become a “national symbol” between the late 1920s and the mid-1940s.

The first Brazilian samba school emerged in the neighborhood of Estácio de Sá. This popular neighborhood housed a large contingent of Black and mixed people and “Turma do Estácio” was initially a carnival group that became “Deixa Falar”, the first samba school to parade in the carioca carnival to the sound of a drum (orquestra of percussions to which pandeiros and rattles were added). They paraded in Praça Onze in the carnivals of 1929, 1930 and 1931, and did not participate in the first official competition of the Samba Schools of Rio de Janeiro, in 1932, organized by the newspaper Mundo Sportivo.

Carnival costumes have always alluded to the country’s historical, social and political moment and also portrayed people’s dissatisfaction.

In 1888, groups dressed as colonels and lieutenants of the National Guard appeared and as we were engaged in the abolitionist campaign, a newspaper describes: “two masks depicting an enslaved man and a farmer, the first of whom was lying at the door of some houses protesting against the violence of the farmer armed with codfish who had sworn to resort to the Supreme Power of Rua do Lavradio (the police) to convert the rebel”. (ENEIDA, 1958, p.97).

According to Eneida (1958, p. 210) until 1930, Rio de Janeiro newspapers stimulated, supported and collaborated for the brightness of the carnival, because through the prestige in the popular mass they had a strong influence for the installation of the Folguedos de Momo in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

During the 1930s, the various samba schools that appeared used to, in the first part of the parade, present any samba and in the second part the best versers improvised with sambas from the “terreiros” of the schools that are currently known as “quadras”. Thus emerged Mangueira, Portela, Império Serrano, Salgueiro and, later, Beija-Flor, Imperatriz Leopoldinense, Mocidade Independente, among others.

The history of Carnival presented us with several names of composers who became famous, among them we highlight:

 - Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847-1935): composed the first Brazilian carnival march ‘‘Abre alas!’’;
 - Pixinguinha (1898-1973): author of the samba-choro ‘‘Carinhoso’’, which was successful in the voice of Orlando Silva and has lyrics by João de Barro;
 - Ari Barroso (1903-1964): author of the samba that became famous around the world for having a patriotic exaltation - ‘‘Aquarela do Brasil’’;
 - Lamartine Babo (1904-1963): composed carnival marchinhas and sambas, such as “Teu cabelo não nega”, created the radio program Trem da Alegria in 1942, in which he released the hymns he composed at the time for all of Rio’s soccer teams;
 - Cartola (1908-1980): composed the samba-enredo ‘‘Chega de demanda’’ for the first parade of the samba school Mangueira;
 - Ataulfo Alves (1909-1969): composed ‘‘Ai, que saudades da Amélia’’ in partnership with Mário Lago;
 - Noel Rosa (1910-1937): with more than 200 compositions, Noel has classics such as  ‘‘Com que roupa?’’ and “Até amanhã”;
 - Adoniran Barbosa (1910-1982): With “Trem das onze”, of his authorship, he won the Carnival contest of the IV Centenary of Rio de Janeiro, in 1965.

Every year you can follow the famous parades of the Samba Schools of Rio de Janeiro in person or on television. São Paulo also presents parades of samba schools that have been growing every year, some of them already well known in the country and that have won several titles, such as: Vai-Vai, Nenê de Vila Matilde, Mocidade Alegre, Camisa Verde e Branco, Lavapés, Rosas de Ouro, Gaviões da Fiel, Império da Casa Verde and X-9 Paulistana.


 1. Every samba school is divided into sections called wings, each containing around one hundred members wearing the same costume, according to the school’s plot. The Front Commission presents a group of artists who are responsible for drawing the attention of the public and the judges.

 2. The mestre-sala and the flag-bearer have technical dancing skills that will delight the public;

 3. The floats are decorated according to the plot and feature dancers richly dressed, demonstrating the creativity of the schools;

 4. The drum set is in the center of each school and is made up of a group of 250-300 percussionists who set the rhythm for the dancers. The queen of the drums is the figure of beauty and cheers the parade even more.

 5. Every school has a sound car where the interpreters sing the samba-enredo in accordance with the drums.

 6. A group of 15-20 dancers dances samba with impressive and frantic steps throughout the parada.

 7. The samba-enredo is one of the most important parts for the members of the schools, as all the decisions of the parade of each school revolve around the plot, which can deal with politics, history, sports, arts or other topics.

 8. The judging commission evaluates the following topics in samba schools parades: FANTASIAS (the costumes); EVOLUÇÃO (the movement of paraders); MELODIA (the musical interpretation of the plot); HARMONIA (the perfect harmony between drums, melody and evolution); BATERIA (Rhythmic tempo: perfect conjugation of the sets of sounds emitted by the various instruments); ALEGORIA (the plastic and illustrative representation of the Plot); COMISSÃO DE FRENTE (the presentation of the Front Commission has the function of greeting the public and asking for passage to the parade); LETRA DO SAMBA (It is the musical composition, usually a synthesis of the plot); ENREDO (plot, central theme) and, finally, MESTRE SALA AND PORTA BANDEIRA (the dance, posture and creativity of the couple with respect to the maintenance of traditions. They must present grace and lightness).


Recife, August 31, 2016.

sources consulted

ADILSON. A História do Samba no Brasil, 29 jan. 2012. Available at: Accessed on: 31 ago. 2016.

BIBLIOTECA Nacional. O Samba completa cem anos. 2016. Available at: Accessed on: 17 ago. 2016.

CARNAVAL Rio. [Foto nesse texto]. Available at: Accessed on: 31 ago. 2016.

DINIZ, André. Almanaque do Samba: a história do samba, o que ouvir, onde ler, o que curtir. 2 ed. ver. ampl. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. Jorge Zahar, 2006.

ENEIDA. História do carnaval carioca. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1958.

FERREIRA, Felipe. O Livro de ouro do carnaval brasileiro. Rio de janeiro: Ediouro, 2004.

HISTÓRIA do samba: conheça o primeiro samba gravado no Brasil: o sucesso de “Pelo Telefone” marcou o reconhecimento do samba como novo gênero musical. Opinião & Notícia, 2014. Available at: Accessed on: 31 ago. 2016.

SALOMÂO, Graziela. Alguns dos principais sambistas de todos os tempos. Revista Época, Edição 340,  2004. Available at:,6993,EPT865240-1655-3,00.html. Accessed on: 31 ago. 2016.

WEBNODE. Danças de salão. 2011. Available at: Accessed on: 17 ago. 2016.

how to quote this text

VERARDI, Cláudia Albuquerque. Samba: from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2016. Available at: Accessed on: month day year. (Ex.: Ago. 6 2020.)