Banner photo of Larissa Gabriele Rogerio and Víviam Caroline playing with Didá on the street outside Project Didá in Salvador’s historic neighborhood, Pelourinho. Photo by Stephanie Foden for The New York Times
Street samba is all about Carnival, or Carnaval do Brasil, a pre-Lent celebration like Mardi Gras2. It is the biggest party in the world, a time to eat, drink, dance and be crazy. In all of Brazil’s major cities, the social order is turned upside down. Anything goes.
In Rio de Janeiro, dozens of escolas de samba (samba “schools”) participate in the Carnival parade through the Sambodromo, a huge stadium built exclusively for samba. Each school struts its stuff for 90 minutes in a parade that lasts for days. Escolas can number up to 5,000 elaborately costumed dancers. Their percussion orchestras, or baterias, can include over 300 drummers. Hearing a Carnival bateria play has been called “the ultimate power percussion experience on the planet.”
Though Sambatucada does play a few Rio-inspired songs, our currently predominant style is samba-reggae, an infectious sub-genre of samba street that emerged from Bahia in the late 1960s. African-inspired percussion groups, known as “blocos afro” or “Afro blocks,” were a response to the exclusion of black culture from the mainstream carnival celebrations. The music, a fusion of traditional samba rhythms, Afro-Brazilian percussion, and Jamaican reggae, is characterized by intricate percussion arrangements, catchy melodies, and powerful lyrics that often address political and social issues, particularly discrimination.
Neguinho do Samba was a key figures in the development of samba-reggae. Born in the Pelourinho neighborhood of Salvador, Bahia, Neguinho began playing percussion as a child and became a member of the first bloco afro, Ilê Aiyê, in the early 1970s. Ilê Aiyê, which means “House of Life” in Yoruba, is considered the first bloco afro in Bahia and is credited with starting the samba reggae movement. Neguinho helped to popularize the music by touring with Ilê Aiyê and other bloco afro groups throughout Brazil and Europe.
Other groups that popularized samba reggae include Olodum, Timbalada, Muzenza, and Didá. Olodum, founded in 1979, gained international recognition in the 1990s for collaborations with Paul Simon on his song “The Obvious Child” and with Michael Jackson on “They Don’t Care About Us.”
Muzenza, which was founded in the mid-1980s, was one of the first bloco afro groups to incorporate female percussionists. The group also introduced elements of rap and hip hop into their music, making them popular with younger audiences. Didá is an all-female percussion group that focuses on empowering women through music and education. The group has toured extensively throughout Brazil and Europe and has been recognized for their contributions to the advancement of women in music.
Samba-reggae is still popular throughout Bahia and Brazil, and has gained a following in Latin American, North America, and Europe. Like most groups outside of Brazil, Sambatucada pays tribute to the Brazilians who created this celebratory music. We source much of our music from Bahia, learning songs by ear from samba-reggae masters at workshops and festivals. Sambatucada would not be possible without their willingness to teach and share this life-altering music.
In loving memory of founding member Bruce McKenzie, who led Sambatucada from its early years until his cancer diagnosis in 2019. He taught over 1000 participants something about samba, percussion, and the joy of street music. We would not exist without his patience and dedication. He is greatly missed.