A Rio of many tributaries
Samba is a cultural complex. As well as music, it is a way of life and resistance of people against the violence of colonisation and the structural inequalities of Brazil. Of black origin, samba was born poor, mulato in the poetry and in the heart, and grew with the fate of joining together pieces of the dreams broken in the “great crossing”. Here, even in the hardships of forced labour, it expanded into the periphery of the federal capital — the Rio de Janeiro of the start of the 20th century — against all the marginalisation and criminalisation that was imposed upon it and became a national symbol; and one of the most powerful images of the country in the world and of the African diaspora in the Americas.
Samba represents, therefore, the strength of Brazil that reinvents itself and resists on a daily basis, through culture, on the hillsides and streets of the city. The history of samba is also the history of a large part of Carioca society; coexisting with tricksters and prostitutes, crossing the gambling and the newspaper editorials, samba left the central areas, slid onto the train tracks and surfed the waves of the radio.
This can no longer be a story of cultural appropriation and anomie, we should give value to the biographies of the artists, composers, dancers and musicians, often surviving in other professions, who retold the history of Brazil, returning it to the arms of the people. We listen to Cartola singing about the beauty of the green and pink colours, Nelson Cavaquinho pained by the thorns of love, Clementina de Jesus interpreting the music of the enslaved, panning for precious remnants of African languages, Silas de Oliveira asking for the end of tyranny, Dona Ivone Lara dreaming of a longing for those who live far away, and, above all, praising the freedom of black smiles and embraces.
The ancestry of samba, embedded in its African roots, survives and is refreshed in the bodies, palms, feed and circles. In the terreiros, the compounds of the samba school, the backyards and on the many stages, together with music and poetry, what samba invents are forms of coexistence, joy, memory, desire and struggle, whose complexity cannot be limited to the unity of a musical genre, nor circumscribed to single social class.
To deal with this cultural complexity, this exhibition proposes a journey through the social history of this phenomenon, presented in three great moments. From African Heritage to Black Rio, From Praça Onze to the Zones of Contact, and Living the Samba. We hope this story will make us resist the pitfalls of intolerance and reinvent the joy, with the strength of ancestry and the commitment to make the sadness swing.