The Mystery Of Samba Essay, Research Paper
Vianna, Hermano. The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil. (1999).
In “The Mystery of Samba”, Vianna discusses samba in a different light than other authors have. He explains that although samba has become a symbol of their culture and something they are proud of, that it was not always that way. The author is not interested in where samba originated or about the history of its players, he says “I am thinking of samba’s transformation into a ‘national rhythm,” when it was suddenly ‘discovered’ by the nation as a whole and adopted as a defining element of brasilidade or Brazilian identity” (Vianna 10).
Around the 1920’s and 1930’s samba was viewed as music that was for lowlife people, it was not considered appropriate music for the elite. After the 1930’s, however, great sambista players paved the way for the music to gain popularity. Also, carnivals were becoming very important events that displayed Brazilian nationality, and these carnivals were helping to make samba popular. The “mystery” is how did this music changed to being a source of pride for the people of Brazil?
Technology was a huge factor in popularizing samba, and when radios began playing the music in the 1930’s it started to catch on. Great sambista players also caused the music to gain popularity, and paved the way for the outbreak of popular music in the 1960’s.
Samba music is the main topic that Vianna speaks of, but he means for it to be symbolic of Brazilian culture: “Just as samba is a central mystery of Brazilian popular music, race mixing is a central mystery of Brazilian social thought” (Vianna 12). Peter Fry gave an interesting viewpoint as to why samba, music of the lower classes, was chosen as something to be a national symbol. Fry says that “the conversion of ethnic symbols into national symbols masks a situation of racial domination and makes it especially difficult to uncover” (Vianna 13). So according to the author’s viewpoint, samba is raised up in order to hide the awful truth of the racism in Brazil.
Vianna goes on to describe the exact way in which samba became such a national symbol. He points at that a national identity was forming and that samba and popular culture were going to paint a picture of what that identity was, whether it be an accurate representation or not. He says that this transformation was not sudden, but rather a gradual process. The author points out that encounters among different groups are what created a national identity and popular culture.
Samba, as Vianna reveals, may not have had authenticity or history, that it was just made up. What he is driving at here is that it is not music that was completely created by the poor people of Brazil alone. Influences from outside Brazil and from other classes had an effect on the music.
The author tells this story wonderfully, because through talking about the history of samba he sheds light on what the society was really like and why they developed this popular culture and music.
Vianna dispels many myths about samba and enlightens readers to what was really going on. He points out that the invention of samba occurred due to many social groups and not just the people of the favellas.
The author also says that an original authentic samba never really existed, and that the development of the music as a national identity was not a directed project. In other words, all the musicians and other people involved were not all working toward this overall goal.
In the writing of this book the author is not trying to take away from the contributions of the black sambistas, however. He simply adds to what is already known and thus reveals the complexity of the whole process. It is a very educational book and teaches one about the effects of music, and the misperceptions that people often have about foreign countries and peoples.
The most interesting aspect of the book is the comparisons that can be made between what happened in Brazil during the slave period versus what happened in the United States. Slaves were generally treated well in Brazil while the opposite was true in America. So it seems that Brazil has had an easier time dealing with different races and mixed races than America. This is reflected in samba. Their culture has praised the music that the black sambistas and the people of the favellas gave to Brazil. In the US, however, Whites have often looked down upon the black culture and have not really accepted their music.