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Samba de Roda

The manifestation involves music, dance and poetry. The circle, or semicircle, format is structural and names it well: samba de roda (wheel or circle).

Samba de Roda

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Last update: 04/06/2015

By: Júlia Morim - N/I

My legs are locked from rheumatism, pressure circulating, my spine as well. But when the samba pinicado plays I think I’m good. I dance samba, I look like a 15-year-old girl.
(Dalva Damiana de Freitas. In: IPHAN, 2006, p.57)

Considered a cultural heritage of Brazil (2004) and of Humanity (2005), samba de roda is a cultural expression occurring throughout the state of Bahia, with variations in historical, social and ecological characteristics, and is more prominent in the Recôncavo Baiano – the region around Todos os Santos Bay.

The manifestation involves music, dance and poetry. The circle, or semicircle, format is structural and names it well: samba de roda (wheel or circle). The musicians mainly play tambourines, plate and knife, and viola, and are part of the circle. The others accompany by clapping. The dance takes place inside the circle. The traditional choreography is “an almost imperceptible forward and back tap of the feet almost glued to the ground, with a corresponding movement of the hips.” (IPHAN, 2006, p.23). The dance is predominantly female, while men usually play the instruments (except for the plate and knife). The dancers take turns in the centre of the wheel, often exchanging dancers with a touch of bellies. Everyone can participate and there is no single place for it to occur: it can be formed in a bar, a square or indoors.

Just as there is no characteristic location, there is no specific time to have a samba de roda. Despite being present in the calendar of civil and religious festivities, there are no fixed dates for it and it can happen at any time. However, samba de roda is strongly associated to and is an essential part of popular Catholic festivals, such as the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, the Festival of Kings and after Nago or Angola Candomblé festivals.

The combination of African slave and Portuguese cultural traditions, especially the instruments and language, is the base of samba de roda. Nevertheless, “this mix as well as others more recent does not exclude the fact that samba de roda is essentially a form of Afro-descendent Brazilian expression, who recognize themselves as such.” (IPHAN, 2006, p.24).

The main characteristics of samba de roda, such as the umbigada (belly touching) and the use of the viola, can be seen from the 17th century. The first records of something similar to samba de roda date back to 1803. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the demonstration began attracting the attention of intellectuals and has since been the object of research, dissertations and theses.

Samba de roda can be divided into two major types: samba corrido (run) and samba chula, also called samba de parada (stop), samba amarrado (tied) or samba de viola. The difference between the two is in the style of dancing and in how the music is performed. In samba corrido, the dancing, playing and singing take place at the same time, and one or more people can dance in the centre of the circle at the same time. In samba chula, which is more rigorous, the dance never happens at the same time as the singing, and only one person can dance in the middle of the circle (the instruments can be played at both times).

The dance is permeated by the eroticism present in both the movements of the dancers and the interjections of the singers. The men play, stimulating the woman to dance, and they dance, enticing the men to play. Whoever dances has to correr a roda, or dance around all the space honouring musicians and showing off their dancing, so as to excite the audience.

There is no correct outfit or characteristic in samba de roda, but there is a preference for long round skirts for women. Men wear common, everyday clothes. If groups are hired to perform, it is common for women to use traditional Bahian outfits with necklaces, bracelets and sandals (but they may also dance barefoot).

The lack of tambourines, drums, timbales, violas, guitars, ukuleles or plates and knives (this being the noblest instrument) does not prevent samba de roda from happening, as it can occur with clapping and striking objects. The singing part of samba de roda, or the main refrain, is called ‘chula’, and the response to the refrain is called ‘relativo’ (relative). The so-called ‘tirar samba’ is singing the main refrain – the highest role in the samba de roda hierarchy.

In the process of recognising the form of expression as a national heritage, the difficulties faced by samba players and dancers were investigated and a plan was developed to safeguard the asset with short, medium and long-term goals divided into the following lines of action: organisation, transmission, dissemination and documentation. In this context, a network was articulated and the Association of Sambadores and Sambadeiras [samba performers] of the State of Bahia (ASSEBA) was set up ( Among other achievements, ASSEBA created a Culture Point, similar to that of the Ministry of Culture’s Living Culture Programme, and the House of Samba, which is a “centre of reference, support, study and dissemination of Bahia samba de roda” (ASSOCIATION ...).

Present for over two hundred years in the everyday lives of Recôncavo people, samba de roda is the most common way to celebrate, involving young and old, and is a marker of identity. Learning to drum the tambourine, take the call and respond to the tune through observation and imitation is when, aged eight or ten, children begin to actively participate in the rodas. From early on, samba de roda is Recôncavo and Recôncavo is samba de roda.


Recife, 15 May 2014.
Translated by Peter Leamy, April 2015.

sources consulted

ASSOCIAÇÃO DOS SAMBADORES E SAMBADEIRAS DO ESTADO DA BAHIA. Institucional. Available at: <>. Accessed: 11 maio 2014. 

IPHAN. Samba de Roda do Recôncavo Baiano. Brasília, 2006.

SANDRONI, Carlos. Samba de roda, patrimônio imaterial da humanidade. Estudos Avançados, São Paulo, v. 24, n. 69,  p. 373-388, 2010. Available at: <>. Accessed: 11 maio 2014. 

how to quote this text

Source: MORIM, Júlia. Samba de Roda. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:<>. Accessed: day month year. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.