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Samba is both a music and dance style that is uniquely Brazilian and deeply rooted in Africa. In the 16th century, during the beginnings of the slave trade, traders from Portugal brought Africans from the West African coast to the northeastern coastal state of Bahia, Brazil. The slaves tried to uphold their traditional customs as much as possible, despite the challenges enforced by the European colonizers, who deemed their drumming music and movements vulgar. It is thought that Samba gets its name from the African word ‘semba’: an Angolan word that describes a movement of the hips, which could have been tied to religious and community celebrations. The slaves and former slaves held onto their practices in private celebrations, and when slavery was abolished in Brazil in the late 1800’s, former salves and their families moved to Rio de Janerio. By the 1920’s clubs in Rio gained popularity, in part due to the first recording of samba music in 1914.


Samba is closely tied to Carnival, a massive party that happens before the fasting and penance of Lent, the Christian period leading up to Easter. In the 17th and 18th century, wealthy colonizers would celebrate Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Shrive Tuesday by taking to the streets in festive, colorful, elaborate costumes and masks that incorporated feathers and beads. As samba became more popular with the masses, people took inspiration from the socialites’ costumes and made the concept their own. Smaller budgets and sweltering temperatures made the long, covered European style costumes impractical. Lighter fabrics (and using less material in general) became the new aesthetic of samba costumes.


In Sahlala Dance Company, we have several styles of costumes that incorporate the glamour of beads, sequins and feathers with elegant designs. We have several samba routines to some the classic Samba songs like “Magdalana” and “Samba De Janerio”, making this style a perfect for Mardi Gras celebrations, birthdays, quiñcereas, weddings (we’ve even done Samba themed grand entrances with newly wedded couples before!) and Latin themed parties.

Sources: Stephanie Przybylek, Alma de Cuba of Liverpool, Eliane Elias

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