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Rio de Janeiro


History of Samba (100 years)

By: João Poupard

Where does Samba come from? Cariocas say the true Samba comes from Rio de Janeiro. Baianos insist that the Samba was born in Bahia. Paulistas reaffirm their important contribution to the genre. And Angolans pride themselves reminding that there would be no Samba without the Angolian influence. The debate continues, and ever since Samba is Samba it has been so. In the year 2016 we mark the centennial of the first ever recording of the musical style known as Samba, and the fight for the origin of the Samba continues…

The official consensus among Brazilian music historians is that the first ever recording of the musical style known as Samba was made in 1916 (hit song of the 2017 Carnaval) entitled Pelo o Telefone. The recording was made by the singer known as Baiano. The song is now of the public domain but was originally

composed by carioca songwriters Donga (Ernesto Joaquim Maria do Santos) and Mauro de Almeida.

Pelo o Telefone - Baiano - 1916
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In 1973 Martinho da Vila re-recorded the song in his album Origens. In this recording we can hear a style more similar with today’s Samba.

Unknown Track - Unknown Artist
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Although the first official recording was completed in 1916, the first appearance of the word ‘samba’ is much older. It was in February 3rd, 1838 that Frei Miguel do Sacramento Lopes Gama wrote in the newspaper O Carapuceiro, an article against the “gypsy” samba. There are still debates between scholars about the origin of the word ‘samba’. The most widely accepted theory is that it is a derivation from the word ‘semba’, a style of music performed in Angola which means “belly button dance” in the Kimbundo language.

There is no simple answer to the questions “where does Samba come from?”. But among many influences and transformations, we can conclude that Samba evolved primarily from a mixture of three Brazilian musical genres: the Lundu, the Maxixe and the Modinha. But where did these three Brazilian musical genres come from; which, unlike the Samba, did not survive the test of time?

The Modinha, a Brazilian musical genre, was an important contributor to the Samba, and to the entire Brazilian popular music in general. It is not known if the Modinha had origins in Portugal or in Brazil, but around the end of the 18th century, the Brazilian musician and poet Domingos Caldas Barbosa made the Modinha very popular both in Brazil and in Portugal. The word ‘moda’ was a synonym for ‘song’ in Portugal. In Brazil, the diminutive of moda (modinha) evolved into the famous Samba-Canção, which was very popular in bars and hang-out spots in suburban Rio de Janeiro in the 1930’s and 40’s.

Considered the first afro-Brazilian rhythm, the Lundu has roots in the drumbeats of the African slaves (notably the Semba) and from Portuguese melodies, frequently accompanied by string instruments such as the mandolin. The first recording of this musical genre (as well as the first ever recorded song in Brazil) was made by the singer named Baiano in 1902 entitled Isto é Bom. The Semba from Angola (musical style) and the Masemba (a belly-button, hip-swinging dance style) is of extreme importance to the formation of the Lundu, and eventually the Samba. The Samba-de-Roda has roots directly based on this structure where a circle is formed by the musicians. Dancers (typically women), enters the circle and battle one another with a belly-button, hip-swigging style of dance, thus showing off their abilities. 

Isto É Bom - Baiano - 1902
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This form of music and dance structure is not only evident in the Lundu, but also in many other musical styles of African origin, such as in the Capoeira, the Jongo, among many others.

Another Brazilian genre, the Maxixe, also known as the Brazilian Tango, was a music and dance style that originated in the city of Rio de Janeiro around the year 1870. Similarly to the Lundu, the Maxixe did not evolve in itself, but rather transformed into other styles of music and dance that exist until today, these being the Chorinho and the Samba de Gafieira. The Maxixe has as main influences the Habanera from Cuba (or Habanera Tango), the Waltz (coming from the Portuguese court), and the Polka (ballroom music and dance style of European origin, first introduced in Brazil in 1845). The Polka in particular was of great influence, since Pixinguinha himself admitted that: “When I did the Carinhoso (around 1916 or 1917) it was a Polka”.

Originally considered an upper middle class genre, the Maxixe developed a popular mainstream style and gained popularity in the bars and burlesque shows in the Lapa district (Rio de Janeiro) towards the end of the 19th century. Already at the turn of the century, record labels would release innumerous albums of this musical genre, one such being the hit Maxixe Aristocrático, recorded in 1904 by the duet Pepa Delgado and Marzullo.

As Antoine Lavoisier concluded at the end of the 18th century, “in Nature, nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything changes”. This concept is also valid in music and the arts. The Samba was not created out of nothing, but rather evolved from several previous musical styles, coming from all parts of Brazil and the world. And contrary to what says Alcione in her song Não Deixe o Samba Morrer, we shouldn’t worry about letting Samba ‘die’ as it will always be in a cycle of transformation, renewal and adaptation. New styles and sub-genres of Samba emerged throughout the 20th century and exist until today, such as the Partido Alto, the Samba-enredo, and the Pagode. Others disappeared for a while, only to re-emerge after many years as was the case with the Chorinho. Yet others made a permanent mark in history and turned into classics, such as the Bossa Nova, the Marchinha, and the Samba-canção.

Influences and Subgenres of Samba

The Modinha, the Lundu and the Maxixe are considered to be the three main Brazilian musical genres that gave birth to the Samba. Many other sub-genres of Samba were to emerge throughout the 20th century. The list of sub-genres and the timeline of the emergence of each are represented in the graph below. Obviously, this list is not comprehensive since not all sub-genres of Samba are represented.  The dates are also approximations as it would be nearly impossible to determine with absolute certainty a specific date for the emergence of a musical genre.

Evolution of Samba

In the following Samba timeline, we follow the musical progression of Samba throughout the last 100 years. The first ever recording of samba in audio format from 1916 was made using a device called a cylinder by the Casa Edson record label, and reproduced using a phonograph. Although the quality of the recording is very poor, we can still hear a distant similarity to the samba of today. The similarities are even more noticeable when we follow the evolution of the Samba throughout the 20th century.


The Samba timeline represented here is not all-inclusive, neither does it represent the complete list of all the Samba contributors of the 20th century. Such attempt would lead to a list of hundreds (or even thousands) of composers, musicians, interpreters and songs for the past 100 years. 


Newspaper O Carapuceiro - First ever appearance of the word "Samba"


The Samba de Roda began around 1860 as a cultural expression of the African slaves in Brazil


'Ó Abre Alas' composed in 1899 by the Brazilian musician Chiquinha Gonzaga. The song was a huge hit between 1900 and 1910. Listen to this recording of 1939


'Isto É Bom' - First ever recorded song in Brazilian popular Music


First official recording of the musical genre Samba, in the voice of the singer known as Baiano


Pixinguinha releases the song 'Carinhoso'


'Ai, Ioiô' (by Henrique Vogeler), in the voice of Aracy Cortes debuts the musical style of Samba-Cancão


Great hit of Noel Rosa - 'Com Que Roupa'


Ary Barroso releases the song 'Aquarela do Brasil', helping give rise to the musical style Samba-Exaltação


Canção do Amor Demais - Album that officially debuts the Bossa Nova


Jorge Bem Jor debuts the great hit 'Mais Que Nada', part of the Samba-Rock movement in Brasil


'Aquarela Brasileira' - great hit in the Império Serrano samba school parade (Carnaval)


Beth Carvalho releases several hit albums. She would eventually become known as the 'Godmother of Samba'


Fundo de Quintal: considered the first group of 'Pagode', formed in Rio de Janeiro by musicians of the Cacique de Ramos samba school.


First recording by Zeca Pagodinho which is introduced to the public by Beth Carvalho in her album 'Suor no Rosto'


Pagode Romântico 'Só Pra Contrariar' releases their first hit single


Exaltasamba, a group from São Paulo, releases their second CD - Encanto with the hit single '24 Horas de Amor'


Gera Samba (É O Tchan) releases their first CD with the hit song 'É o Tchan'


Revelação releases the DVD 'Ao Vivo no Olimpio'


Group Bom Gosto, as with many other pagode groups, redefine the genre, mixing traditional samba with other rhythms


Thiaguinho releases the Album 'Vamo Q Vamo' with the hit song 'Cancun'


Joao Cruz Samba Music Blog

História do Samba



Almanaque Musica

Samba (Renato Roschel)



Dicionario Cravo Albin da Musica Popular Brasileira / Maxixe



Dicionario Cravo Albin da Musica Popular Brasileira / Polca



Dicionario Cravo Albin da Musica Popular Brasileira / Tango Brasileiro



Dicionario Cravo Albin da Musica Popular Brasileira / Modinha


Samba Carioca

Historia do Samba



Universidade Quebradas

« O Samba é Criação Coletiva, a Nossa Memória e Identidade Nacional » (Rafaela Nogueira – Bolsista PIBEX PACC\UFRJ)



Café Historia

« Samba e Historia » (Vinícius Agner)




« Samba-canção »




« As Mais Antigas Gravações de Temas Afrobrasileiros » (Ronaldo Evangelista )



Mario Andrade Missao de Pesquisas Folcloricas (Danilo Santos de Miranda )



Fita Bruta

« Estudando Os Pagodes - Os 110 Melhores Pagodes de 1990-2013 » (Yuri de Castro)



MPB da Antiga

« É samba, sinhá! »