Samba, democracy and society

Ceri Richards, Circular Bases, 1961


Commentary on the book organized by Luiz Ricardo Leitão and Marcelo Braz

At least since 2016, when Brazil watched live the parliamentary legal coup that ousted a legitimately elected president, the already fragile Brazilian democracy has resisted by leaps and bounds the most varied attempts at coups and occasional reinterpretations of the Constitution. Several hypotheses try to explain the reasons for such a scenario, from the fact that the country resolved its crises and contradictions with agreements at the top, as an example we cannot forget the amnesty law itself, when they chose not to punish the members of the barracks who committed the most varied crimes during the civil-military dictatorship, the promoters of such an agreement left the door open for generals in pajamas who today foment radical ruptures in our democracy. Nor can we forget that at the height of the coup rage and the witch hunt promoted by the Lava Jato operation. We had access to the famous leaked audio where the then senator Romero Jucá spoke about a “great national agreement with the Supreme Court and everything”.

The universe of samba, as well as the most varied social groups, did not pass unscathed by the rise of these disruptive discourses, so, even if on a smaller scale, we can accompany members of samba schools defending, for example, the discourse of the militiaman who occupies the Palace from the Plateau.

However, as a cultural manifestation forged mainly through the discourse of resistance, samba resists, in testimony to the cultural producer and composer Hermínio Belo de Carvalho, in the 1960s, the pioneer composer Donga, author in partnership with Mauro de Almeida of the first recorded samba, recalls that in Rio de Janeiro at the beginning of the 1908th century, “the guy from the police caught the other guy playing the guitar, this guy was lost. Lost! Worse than a communist, much worse!”, another emblematic case is that of the also pioneer João da Baiana, an excellent tambourine player, in XNUMX when he was heading to the traditional Festa da Penha, he had his instrument seized by the Police, days later when the powerful senator Pinheiro Machado, an admirer of the composer, presented him with a new instrument, but with a curious dedication: “My admiration, João da Baiana – Senador Pinheiro Machado”, the inscription on the instrument served as a kind of safe-conduct for the sambista who, since then he ceased to be harassed by the security forces.

We also cannot forget the famous delegate Chico Palha, a figure immortalized in the samba of the imperians Tio Hélio and Nilton Campolino, the delegate became known in Morro da Serrinha and in the Madureira region for using violence to end sambas and terreiro parties.

And so, starting with samba as a form of resistance and the arduous struggle for democracy embodied in the figure of great composers that professors Luiz Ricardo Leitão (associate professor at UERJ) and Marcelo Braz (associate professor at UFRN), organized the volume, Samba, democracy and society: great composers and expressions of cultural resistance in Brazil, presenting the work of these composers and spaces of resistance to the reader, familiar or not familiar with the world of samba, according to the composer and writer Nei Lopes, author of the preface to the work, “the texts approach the work of some exemplary creators, both for their talent, as well as the courage of his ideological position and his political action. As taught by Paulo da Portela and other “fathers” of samba”, complementing what was pointed out by the preface to the collection, we cannot leave aside the role of the “mothers” of samba, such as the well-known Tia Ciata, madrinha Eunice and many others. mothers, aunts and grandmothers who paved the way for our songs and drumming in backyards, yards and tents.

According to Luiz Ricardo Leitão and Marcelo Braz, the book appears as “the result of concerns, commitments and passions of its organizers. The apprehension – which, of course, is not ours alone – stems from the country’s current situation, whose popular classes”, the point of origin of the characters portrayed in the work, “have suffered, in recent years, brutal social and economic losses, caused by the radically neoliberal measures of federal misgovernment”. The commitment - political, social and ideological - signed by the organizers of the work and which moved them to organize the collection that we present is the cause of justice and equality in this country that continues to be so exclusionary and unequal, where its "elite" does not shy away from wide open the deep-rooted authoritarianism when they see on the horizon the possibility of losing part of their privileges (the least, let's be honest) due to the implementation of public policies aimed at reducing the disastrous social inequality that prevails in the country.

The organizers remind the reader that, “the primary objective of the work is to highlight, above all, the role that samba has played, since the first half of the XNUMXth century, as a popular form of sharp and playful criticism of politics and customs, revealing social masks and denouncing, with ingenuity and art, the ills and miseries of this limping homeland would be inscribed in a socio-spatial experience in which capitalist modernization is intertwined with labor relations inherited from slavery and the modern and the archaic are mixed”. The authors present in the volume, according to the organizers, also sought to “offer some answers that aim, mainly, to join forces for a greater debate about the valuable creations and political-cultural experiences that had samba as a dynamo and unifying pole”.

The book is divided into two parts, the first entitled, contestation and social criticism sambas by great composers, brings as a substantial opening discussion about the work of Noel Rosa, the Vila poet, written by Luiz Ricardo Leitão, the text discusses “the role of popular song in the chronicle of the dilemmas and absurdities of the history and socio-spatial formation of our Bruzundanga”. Following the trail opened by the opening text, Marcelo Braz brings in the following essay an analysis of the work of Noel and of another prominent composer of the period, Wilson Batista, the author presents the reader with significant works by the composers as “sambas of contestation, forged in the moment when the country was going through a transition process, where the archaic project gave way to modernity”. Then, the composers Aluísio Machado, Zé Katimba and Noca da Portela are highlighted, linked respectively to the samba schools Império Serrano, Imperatriz Leopoldinense and Portela, each in their own way can be seen as sambistas who raised the flag of democracy fighting against arbitrariness. imposed by the military in exceptional years

By scrolling through the profiles of honored composers – Sambista in fact, rebel by right: Aluísio Machado; The democratic resistance in Imperatriz Leopoldinense: the contribution of Zé Katimba, both by Luiz Ricardo Leitão and Noca da Portela: a communist at heart in the fight for democracy e Let's go guys, it's turn time!: the engaged sambas of a politicized artist, written by Marcelo Braz, author of a breathtaking biography of the composer from Porto released in 2018 – the reader will see how, at the height of the repression of the Medici government, Aluísio Machado in the crowded circles of the Helético club – a traditional space located between Catumbi and Rio Comprido – he challenged part of the audience made up of soldiers by singing songs considered subversive by those who frequented the repression basements. Even classified as a rebellious sambista, Luiz Ricardo Leitão stresses “that rebellion was not the result of active political militancy in any party (…) living with Solano Trindade, Abdias do Nascimento, Mercedes Baptista and other figures in the black movement” added to everyday experience were the fuel that forged such insubordination.

In turn, José Inácio dos Santos, in the world of samba known as Zé Katimba, who despite never having formally belonged to the Party, climbed Morro do Alemão with other samba dancers to clandestinely distribute the newspaper Working Voice, PCB newspaper acted at the Imperatriz Leopoldinense school located in Ramos as a true tightrope walker, mediating conflicting points of view and interests. Thus, at the same time that figures such as the football coach and journalist João Saldanha and the actor and composer Mario Lago, historical communists shared the space with Luizinho Drummond, one of the biggest bankers of the jogo do bicho carioca, who, like his partners Anísio Abraão David (president of Beija-Flor), Castor de Andrade (patron of Mocidade Independente) and Captain Guimarães (president of Unidos de Vila Isabel), with the connivance of the authoritarian regime on duty, these figures would come to be “the backbone of the group who, through violence, professionalized the game of bicho in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro and, to boot, privatized and monopolized the parade of samba schools in Marquês de Sapucaí”.

The third honoree is the Portelense Noca, who carries in his artistic name the tradition of the blue and white school of Osvaldo Cruz, an association where, alongside composer Davi Corrêa, he is among the gallery of the greatest winners of the samba plot dispute. Through Marcelo Braz's texts, the reader will discover how Noca, “was politically engaged, dedicating his creative capacity to social criticism, mainly to the social conditions of the Brazilian people and to the struggle against dictatorship and for democracy”. In addition to being a communist at heart and “being aware of his time, he engaged as best he could, took sides even though he never maintained a continuous and more organic relationship with any political party”. With his compositions, Noca was a bulwark in the struggle for democracy in exceptional times, and at 90 years old, Oswaldo Alves Pereira continues to be a politicized sambista, producing his committed sambas and denouncing the arbitrariness of those who insist on weakening our democracy.

The second part of the work entitled, Samba expressions of democracy and Brazilian culture, presents the reader with places of samba resistance, from the period of the “slow and gradual” opening, when various sectors of civil society began to resume the leading role in the public debate until the present time, where we follow with hope the new air brought by the election of a government of a democratic and popular nature, after four years of dominance of the denialist and narrow-minded discourse of a proto-fascist.

In the work of Marianna de Araujo e Silva, entitled, Syncope and subversion: in memory of Clube do Samba The reader will discover how, during the period when society concentrated its efforts on the struggle for redemocratization, the Club founded by João Nogueira was important in the discussion of topics such as: “the struggle for democracy and the appreciation of samba and our cultural expressions in the midst of a brutal foreignization of music led by market forces”. Already in, Strange what? Black can have the same as you! The Renascença Clube and the Samba do Trabalhador: the power of the wheel, Larissa Costa Murad brings the reader the story of Renascença, a club located in the Andaraí neighborhood, which has always been associated with the appreciation of blackness and which, from 2005 onwards, with the creation of Samba do Trabalhador, came to be identified as a “space for meeting , of the party, of the black reconciliation; both for the appreciation of Afro-Brazilian popular culture in its traditional elements and for the subversive potential contained in some of the lyrics” presented in the circle.

The epic parade of Unidos de Vila Isabel at the 1988 carnival, featuring the historic parade with a plot signed by Martinho da Vila and the unforgettable samba of the trio composed of Luiz Carlos da Vila, Jonas and Rodoplho is told by journalist and historian Nathalia Sarro in: Kizomba – 30 years of a black cry in Sapucaí. A plural and democratic record. Considered by experts and lovers of revelry as one of the most emblematic parades of the Rio de Janeiro carnival, the plot that would crown the champion of the association of the land of Noel and Morro dos Macacos was developed based on a lot of struggle and sweat from the school members. In addition to making “the black man the great victor of that carnival”, Kizomba consecrated the management of Lícia Caniné, Ruça, a PCB militant who would defeat in the association's elections the ticket headed by the animal banker Capitão Guimarães who, in retaliation for the defeat, would leave the school taking with him the financial capital. However, if the banker took the money with him, the artistic and intellectual capital remained in the school. Thus, recomposing itself “with straw, fibers and joy on the asphalt of Av. Marquês de Sapucaí” the “trajectory of thousands of former slaves and their descendants” was told.

As director of the Cultural Department at the Nathalia school, she was also one of those responsible for the documentary Kizomba: 30 years of a black cry in Sapucaí. Her testimony about her work in the department sheds light on the difficulty researchers still face when the task is to recount the associations' own memories. “The cultural departments in general, not just the Vila, face enormous difficulties in carrying out, institutionalizing, maintaining and carrying out this work. Boards often assume a rescue speech, but do not actually commit to it. It is thought that the most direct objective of any recreational association is to raise the bar at Sapucaí or Intendente Magalhães and that Carnival is also composed of ephemerality. However, this urgency structurally compromises its configuration and empties several meanings built over the years. It is necessary to understand why such a phenomenon happens and why it becomes so difficult to work memory in these spaces”.

The book closes with Eduardo Granja Coutinho's considerations on an unusual samba composed by Carlos Nelson Coutinho and Leandro Konder, inspired by the verses of "This melody" samba by Bubu da Portela and Mangueirense Jamelão, the duo was responsible for a philosophical samba responsible for explaining to possible listeners “how the philosophy of praxis of Marx and Engels dialectically surpassed German idealism”.

With the publication of the book Samba, democracy and society the organizers and authors offer the reader ways to understand how a century-old artistic manifestation remains one of the main means of resistance and denunciation of the arbitrariness imposed by an “elite” averse to any advance in the conquest of rights by the popular layers and at the same time manages to bring joy and revive the affective memory of this suffering population.

*Daniel Costa graduated in history from UNIFESP, composer and member of the Grêmio Recreativo de Resistência Cultural Kolombolo Diá Piratininga.


Luiz Ricardo Leitão and Marcelo Braz (eds.). Samba, democracy and society: great composers and expressions of cultural resistance in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro, Editorial Morula/ Other Expressions, 2022, 232 pages.


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