December 2nd tells a fundamental story for Brazilian culture. On this date, in 1962, organized by the intellectual Edison Carneiro, the 1st National Samba Congress took place.
The event was held at Palácio Pedro Ernesto, in Rio de Janeiro (RJ). The end of the meeting resulted in the drafting of the Samba Charter, a document that was signed by Edison Carneiro, considered one of the pioneers in studies on Brazilian popular culture based on ethnology. He was the author of 11 books that are still a reference on the subject to this day.
A militant of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), Carneiro was born at the beginning of the 20th century, in Salvador (BA) and became an international reference, mainly due to the tour of the African continent that he took in the 1960s, to countries such as Senegal and Benin, for example.
“This Congress was very concerned about the preservation of samba, as a traditional manifestation of Afro-diasporic cultures in Brazil”, explains professor Luiz Antonio Simas in an interview with Brasil de Fato on this National Samba Day.
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“Tradition is not static, tradition, in fact, dialogues with the contemporary all the time. So the letter (from Samba) talked about this, it drew attention to certain fundamentals of samba”, says Simas, winner of the Jabutis Prize, with the work Dicionário de História Social do Samba, written together with Nei Lopes, in 2015.
This year, Simas is competing for the award in the poetry category with the book Sonetos de birosca e Poems de terreiro.
The writer begins the interview by stating that “samba is alive”, and warns that this is not an “obviousness”. “Because you have an infinite number of musical genres that will become dated, as was the case with maxixe. Maxixe was a genre very popular musical in Rio de Janeiro, at the beginning of the 20th century”.
The permanence of samba is explained by a few reasons, argues Simas. “I think samba continues first because it has an impactful ability to transform while it remains. Samba lives at this crossroads between permanence and transformation.
“Between the deep root and the highest crown of the tree. I often say that samba, the culture of samba, is like a bow and arrow. The more you stretch the bow, pull the string, the further the arrow goes,” she reflects.
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Luiz Antonio Simas is one of the curators of the exhibition Pequenas África: The Rio that samba invented, currently on display in São Paulo at the Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS), free of charge.
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In addition to the professor, the curation team is made up of Ynaê Lopes dos Santos, Angélica Ferrarez, and Vinícius Natal. The exhibition reconstructs the cultural scene of the capital of Rio de Janeiro between the 1910s and 1940s and shows the influence of samba on the construction of society at that time.
The exhibition tells what this “little Africa” was created in Rio de Janeiro, living on the margins of the white and Europeanized Rio de Janeiro. The expression that gives the exhibition its name was coined by samba artist Heitor dos Prazeres to refer to the region of Rio’s Port Zone, which, at the beginning of the 20th century, had a large Afro-descendant population.
Cais do Valongo is considered the largest slave port in history, having received around 1 million Africans forced to Rio de Janeiro.
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The Brazil of 2023, therefore, 100 years after the show’s record, has very similar characteristics to this Rio from the beginning of the 20th century.
With “extreme care”, Luiz Antonio Simas compares the moment of funk with the origin of samba.
A political connection that involves the two is the way non-white cultures are seen throughout the history of Brazil, which is evidently the result of the racist structure of our formation.
However, the professor calls for attention to this type of comparison due to the fact that funk is still in the process of creation: “it is very difficult for us to imagine the repercussion of things at the moment they are happening. I don’t know what will happen to funk in 100 years,” he says.
Author of more than 20 books that tell the history of samba and other Afro-disasporic manifestations in the most diverse ways, Luiz Antonio Simas has many ways of defining samba. And he thinks that almost all of them only give a part of the complex dimension that is the cultural manifestation.
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“The system of organizing the world that starts from musicality, that starts from ‘corporeality’ to create broad meanings of life”, says the author, claiming that this is one of the most complete definitions.
For the writer, the expression “samba is a philosophy of life” is not a linguistic exaggeration, nor too much devotion on the part of a samba singer.
Graduated in history, he remembers that talking about samba means “entering the field of African philosophies, cosmologies. Life makes no sense without music. Music is present in everyday life for absolutely everything.”
“Samba is part of a broader scope of great perceptions of the world created by African civilizations and redefined by the experience of the diaspora”.
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And, for Simas, all of this just sounds strange to most people “because we have a way of thinking that only the West produces philosophy”
Editing: Douglas Matos