Samba Ensemble for Carnival from Brazil

Brazil, in general, and Rio de Janeiro, in particular, are perhaps best known musically to the world at large for their vibrant song and dance tradition called samba, an essential component of yearly secular Carnival celebrations. In many Brazilian cities, Carnival celebrations take place in the four-day period leading up to Ash Wednesday in the Roman Catholic calendar. Both Carnival and samba coalesced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and were in part a product of the emancipation of slaves in 1888 and the migration it set off of freed plantation slaves to cities such as Rio and Salvador. While details of the creation and early evolution of samba are not totally clear, most sources concur that it has cultural and musical roots in Africa. Thus it is proper to refer to the samba tradition as an Afro-Brazilian form of expressive culture.

The samba tradition is an organic one and has changed with the times. Many popular styles of music have evolved that are labeled with the word ‘samba’ (for example: samba carnavalesca (Carnival samba), samba baiana (Bahian samba), samba-lenço (handkerchief samba), samba rural (rural samba), samba de breque (break samba), samba de terreiro (yard samba), and many more [Reily, 313]), but here we will focus primarily on the instruments that are most strongly associated with the Carnival samba traditions of Rio and Salvador. At the heart of Carnival are music/dance associations called ‘escolas de samba’ (‘samba schools’) in Rio and ‘blocos afro’ and ‘afoxés’ in Salvador.

The musical engine of any samba organization is its percussion ensemble, called a bateria in Rio. It consists of dozens, hundreds in some escolas de samba, of percussionists that provide the rhythmic foundation for songs and dancing. The pictorial inventory to follow presents many of the most typical bateria instruments used throughout Brazil by samba associations. A few of them, such as the afoxê and its industrialized manifestation the cabaca, are more strongly associated with the Bahia region and Salvador, but the rest are found in both Rio and Salvador, and elsewhere in Brazil.

Two observations about samba-associated instruments that might be put forward are: 1) that the shiny stainless steel and aluminum bodies of many of these instruments reflect the rise of Brazil as a modern industrial power over the past few decades; and 2) that these instruments flow through global trade routes and often end up being appropriated by percussion programs in music departments, where they are utilized to present concertized simulacra of samba culture for non-Brazilian audiences. 


Béhague, Gerard. 1998. "Afro-Brazilian Traditions." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.2. ed. Dale A. Olsen and Daniel E. Sheehy. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 340-355.

Crook, Larry. 2005. Brazilian Music: Northeastern Traditions and the Heartbeat of a Modern Nation. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Fryer, Peter. 2000. Rhythms of Resistance: African Musical Heritage in Brazil. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.

McGown, Chris, and Ricardo Pessanha. 2009. The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Reily, Suzel Ana. 1998. "Brazil: Central and Southern Areas." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.2. ed. Dale A. Olsen and Daniel E. Sheehy. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 300-322.

(by Roger Vetter)










whistle - samba



Title: Percussions d’Amerique Latine--Bateria at Salvador de Bahia; performers not identified. Label: Arion. Format: CD. Catalog#: ARN 64023. Track: 10.