Samba originated on Brazilian plantations, where the African rhythms of slaves mixed with European music. The new Samba music served as a kind of oral history; and the dance was a solo art form with rapidly moving hips and quick transfers of weight.
In Brazil, prejudice against blacks and their music was open and extreme; and the Samba was considered a thing of bums and bandits. Amid outrage, in 1921, black musicians were surprisingly chosen to go to Paris. Brazilians did not want such “barbarian and primitive music” representing the country. However, the French loved the novel music and the band received rave reviews. In fact, the impact was so great that the intended one month tour was extended to six!
The band brought back different instruments from its tour: trumpet, trombone, sax, and banjo—all jazz instrumentation—and combined these with Brazilian percussion instruments already used. Thus Samba was given a new sound.
This new Samba, with a characteristic syncopated rhythm, came to dominate much of Rio’s Carnival music.
Samba was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1920s via the Broadway play, Street Carnival, and more widely exposed through films. However, its popularity and the popularity of Latin music in America in general grew in the 1940s because of the greed of ASCAP. ASCAP kept raising its fees to broadcasters who played music on the air. Broadcasters refused to pay and began playing non-ASCAP material, i.e., Latin American music.
In the U.S., Samba evolved into a couples’ dance that was standardized as a ballroom dance in 1956. In Brazil, however, Samba remains a solo form, danced at street festivals and other celebrations with nationalistic pride.