The Samba de Roda of Recôncavo
of Bahia
 

The Samba of Roda is a festive event combining music, choreography and poetry. The Samba appeared in the state of Bahai, more specifically in the region of Recôncavo, during the XVIIth century, and originated from the dances and cultural traditions of the African slaves who lived in the region. Later, elements from Portuguese culture, such as the language and particular forms of poetry, as well as some musical instruments were incorporated and changed the rhythm and choreography. The Samba of Roda was regarded as an expression of freedom and identity of the disadvantaged and became a means of emancipation. The Samba became a major component of regional popular culture for Brazilians of African origin. With the migrants headed for Rio de Janeiro, the Samba of Roda influenced the evolution of the urban samba, that has become in the XXth century the predominant symbol of Brazilian national identity.

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One of the main characteristics of the Samba of Roda is that the participants gather in a circle, referred to as roda. It is performed on various occasions, such as the celebration of popular Catholic festivals, Amerindian or Afro-Brazilian religious ceremonies, but is also practised spontaneously. All participants, including beginners, are invited to join the dance and learn through observation and imitation. Generally, only the women dance, one after the other surrounded by the others dancing in a circle while clapping their hands. The choreography, often improvised, is based on movements of the feet, legs and hips.  One of the most typical moves is the famous umbigada, a testimony of Bantu influence, in which the dancer invites her successor into the circle’s centre. The Samba of Roda is distinguished from other forms through specific steps like the miudinho, the use of the viola machete - a small lute with plucked strings from Portugal – scraped instruments, and responses sung in verse with short, repetitive couplets.

The Samba de Roda was severely weakened during the twentieth century. The economic decline and increased poverty in the region caused an exodus to the south of the country. The influence of the mass media and competition from popular contemporary music have contributed to the devaluing of this tradition in the eyes of the young. This situation is worsened by the ageing of the practitioners and the break in transmission of the tradition and of the know-how linked to making the musical instruments