The Samba de Roda combines music, dance and poetry. It is the root of the samba that everyone knows today as one of the most popular dances of Brazil. The origin of the term, as most of the cultural expressions in Brazil is controversial and indicates hybrid origins. For example, both the Arabic term “Zambra” that the African “Semba” are considered as plausible ancestors.
It is said that the Portuguese had been received by the indigenous peoples with a “Samba”, which in the indigenous language means roda de dança (a circle where you can dance) and the Amerindians used to celebrate and dance in almost all occasions in their tribe. Later with the importation of African slaves came the “semba” giving the dance aspect characteristic of an African dance, and then there was a Samba without a pandeiro (tambourine), led by the Portuguese in Roda.
Present throughout the state of Bahia, it is especially strong in the region of Recôncavo, a strip of land that extends behind the bay de todos os santos, and that since the seventeenth century has received a large contingent of blacks slaves brought from Africa to work in the sugar cane plantations. The samba de roda is deeply tied to the traditions of these Africans recreated by their descendants who have fused to Portuguese cultural traits, such as forms of language and poetry in particular.
Today, the samba de roda from Recôncavo comes in many variations such as samba chula , the samba corrido , the Barravento, all combine with daily activities, the religious calendar and popular holidays. Although adapted to correspond to new environments in Brazil, samba de roda still in part consists of the descendants of slaves.
The samba de roda is so named because the participants in a circle, while men play traditional instruments to percussion and singing, the women dance at a time in the middle of the roda. One of the most typical movements is the famous umbigada (ombellicata) of Bantu influence, in which a woman gives way to another to the center of the roda. Upon entering the roda, the woman must give herself to the dance. It is her opportunity to demonstrate her best movements and expression while guided by the rhythmic beats of the Atabaque, agogo, xequeré and clapping. The dance, also known as samba de pè provides that all movements are made following a basic step in which the feet crawling back and forth with repetitive movements and spinning involves the whole body leading the woman almost to a state of trance. Usually, what attracts the attention of most people is the syncopated rhythm, the “absent” beat, which is one of the most exciting features of Samba to incite the listener to dance. According to Sodré (1998), syncopated rhythm is also indicative of the way of black resistance against cultural assimilation and strong connection with the Candomblé , polytheistic religion of African origin, developed in Brazil, of which it recalls the rhythms and customs.
The Samba de Roda has been considered as an expression of freedom and identity of disadvantaged people and has become a means of emancipation. Unfortunately, he was severely weakened during the twentieth century. The economic decline and rising poverty in the region have caused an exodus to the south of the country. The influence of the mass media and the competition of contemporary popular music have contributed to the devaluation of this tradition in the eyes of young people. This situation is aggravated by the aging of practitioners and there is the risk of an interruption in the transmission of tradition. Says an elderly lady from a small town in the heart of Recôncavo: “Do not let the samba die, because samba is life, our soul, our joy.”
It was finally recorded in 2005, as intangible heritage by IPHAN (Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico Nacional and Artístico).
Today, in the region of Recôncavo Bahia and throughout the state of Baiha, there are groups and cultural associations that seek to keep alive the Samba de Roda. The Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira in Brazil and all our other centers around the world seek to safeguard the samba de roda as well as the tradition and preserve the teaching to avoid extinction.