What music and dance form has its own verb and national day of recognition? Samba! That’s what.

The verb: sambar

The day: December 2nd

A brief history of samba

The history of samba is disputed, with both Bahia and Rio de Janeiro claiming to have originated the dance and musical form. However, what is generally agreed-upon is that the term has its origins in Africa and came from the enslaved Africans in Brazil. And, that there are many, many regional variations. 

Typical dress for Rio-style samba, known as samba de partido-alto. Image by Chul-Ho Kim

The style of samba most people are familiar with is the Rio-style samba, officially knows as samba de partido-alto. This style of samba features women in high heels and feather-y outfits. Every Brazilian festival I’ve ever seen outside of Brazil features this dance and these types of dancers.

But, as mentioned above, there are countless variations. In Salvador and greater Bahia you’ll find:

  • samba de roda
  • samba de caboclo
  • samba duro
  • samba afro
  • samba de chula

Other parts of the country have their regional variations and derivations, including samba-enredo, samba-canção, pagode, Bossa Nova, and samba-reggae.

If you are interested in diving into the musical history of samba, axé, candomblé music and more, I can’t recommend highly enough “Let’s Make Some Noise” by Clarence Bernard Henry.

Why is December 2 the National Day of Samba?

How December 2nd became the National Day of Samba is a of a winding path that has its roots in the Salvador city council. It started when Salvador city councilman Luís Monteiro da Costa proposed the day to pay respect to famous composer and songwriter Ary Barroso. The law was passed in 1963 and the day became official in Salvador.

Why Barroso? Years before he ever set foot in Salvador, he composed the popular song, “Na Baixa do Sapateiro” (original recording) in homage to the Baixa do Sapateiro neighborhood of Salvador.

Why December 2? While you would think that December 2nd was chosen because it was the day the song was recorded or was Barroso’s birthday, you’d be wrong. The day was chosen because that was the date in 1940 that Barroso first set foot in Salvador.

In 1964, Rio de Janeiro adopted December 2nd as day of commemoration as well. It has since spread and the National Day of Samba is now celebrated throughout the country.

Where is the National Day of Samba celebrated in Salvador?

Main festivities take place in the form of a giant parade in the Campo Grande neighborhood of Salvador.

The parade (caminhada) route starts at the main square in Campo Grande near the Teatro Castro Alves and goes up Avenida Sete de Setembro to Praça Castro Alves close to Praça da Sé and the Pelourinho. Expect a Carnaval-like atmosphere with trio elétricos, plenty of street vendors selling ice-cold beverages, and lots of crowds (500,000+ people).

Festivities start mid-afternoon, typically 3pm, and go well on into the evening.

You can also find other celebrations throughout the city, including the Pelourinho and at Praça Caramuru in Rio Vermelho.

What to Expect

  • Plan for crowds. The parade typically draws over a half million people.
  • It’s going to be hot. The day will likely be toasty-hot with lots of sun. I highly recommend sunscreen and staying hydrated.
  • Altered bus routes. Bus routes will be altered/canceled. You can take the metro to Lapa, which will get you quite close, or take a taxi/Uber.
  • Watch your stuff. Wherever there are lots of people drinking, dancing, and having fun, there will be pickpockets. I’m a huge fan of Stashbandz to hold my phone, keys, and money. 

If you go, let me know and be sure to tag #salvadorlove in your photos!

Pandeiro image by Luciano Raul Mazeo

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