Samba gets new rhythms 100 years after first recording

News Hour:

Monday nights feel like Saturdays in Rio’s Little Africa neighborhood when the sun sets and the samba starts to play.

Surrounded by a mostly young crowd, seven musicians sit around a table with the small four-string guitar called a cavaquinho, the cuica drum and a tambourine.

The instruments and the relaxed format, known as a “roda de samba,” has changed little since its infancy in the late 19th century, when Afro-Brazilians first developed the style in this same neighborhood, officially known as Saude.

“It’s our samba, folks, it’s your samba!” called out percussionist Walmir Pimentel, 34, to applause from the crowd that fought off the evening heat with cold beer and caipirina cocktails.

Pimentel’s group has been playing Monday night “rodas” here at Pedra do Sal square since 2006, performing right at the steps where slaves once unloaded sacks of salt.

The lively performances have helped resurrect the long depressed center of Rio de Janeiro.

But exactly 100 years from the first ever recording of samba — a song called “Pelo telefone” (“On the telephone”) — the likes of Pimentel are also helping to rejuvenate the venerable art form.

The group Moca Prosa has been breaking new ground at the same symbolic space in the Little Africa neighborhood since 2012.

As the only all-female band in a musical genre which, like much of Brazilian society, suffers from deep sexism, they let the music do their talking.

“At first, there were men in the audience who were shocked, saying, ‘Wow, these girls play samba?’ They looked at us with mistrust, but when the roda started, they saw we played the same,” said singer Fabiola Machado, 35.

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