Samba de Roda of the Recôncavo of Bahia

Inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2005)

The Samba de Roda, which involves music, dance and poetry, is a popular festive event that developed in the State of Bahia, in the region of Recôncavo during the seventeenth century. It drew heavily on the dances and cultural traditions of the region’s African slaves. The performance also included elements of Portuguese culture, such as language, poetry, and certain musical instruments. At first a major component of regional popular culture among Brazilians of African descent, the Samba de Roda was eventually taken by migrants to Rio de Janeiro, where it influenced the evolution of the urban samba that became a symbol of Brazilian national identity in the twentieth century. The dance is performed on various occasions, such as popular Catholic festivities or Afro-Brazilian religious ceremonies, but is also executed in more spontaneous settings. All present, including beginners, are invited to join the dance and learn through observation and imitation. One of the defining characteristics of the Samba of Roda is the gathering of participants in a circle, referred to as roda. It is generally performed only by women, each one taking her turn in the center of the ring surrounded by others dancing in the circle while clapping their hands and singing. The choreography is often improvised and based on the movements of the feet, legs and hips. One of the most typical movements is the famous belly push, the umbigada, a testimony of Bantu influence, used by the dancer to invite her successor into the centre of the circle. The Samba de Roda is also distinguished by specific dance steps like the miudinho, the use of the viola machete - a small lute with plucked strings from Portugal, as well as scraped instruments, and responsorial songs. The influence of mass media and competition from contemporary popular music have contributed to undervaluing this Samba in the eyes of the young. The ageing of practitioners and the dwindling number of artisans capable of making some of the instruments pose a further threat to the transmission of the tradition.
A blend of African and Portuguese cultures, the Samba de Roda is practiced in spontaneous settings, popular or religious festivities. Performers – generally women – assemble in a circle, the roda, each one taking her turn dancing to the accompaniment of singing and handclapping.