various artists,
The Rough Guide to Samba
(World Music Network, 2001)

I've been impressed with the various Rough Guides to music I've encountered, and The Rough Guide to Samba is no exception. Its eighteen tracks cover a wide range of traditional and contemporary samba styles, and the liner notes help those of us with only a passing familiarity understand and appreciate it -- and find more music in the styles we most prefer.

Samba arose in the poverty-haunted favelas of Brazil, with different samba schools competing for the grandest display of music, dance and costume during Carnaval. It blends African and European, especially Latin, elements with native sounds, reflecting the ethnic heritages of the people who play it. Various styles evolved for different purposes, like telling stories, dancing and Carnaval. I grew intrigued by it from hearing some songs on the radio, from the growing Brazilian communities in my area, and from reading S.N. Lewitt's science fiction novel Songs of Chaos, in which samba and its culture and roots are integral themes.

The songs here explore many aspects of samba, from a version of the first samba ever recorded (in 1917), "Pelo Telefone," and "A Cabeça" from the 1930s Golden Age of samba, through the lovely a cappella "O Mar Serenou" sung by Luciana Mello and the calypso-influenced "Olha Zé" from Osvaldo Pereira. With such a lively and growing musical form, such a collection can never be comprehensive, but this one comes close.

As someone who knows no Portuguese at all, I would have appreciated some translations in the liner notes -- of the titles, at least, and preferably of some of the song lyrics, too. I understand that this would have made the notes unwieldy, though. The liner notes included are excellent, giving a brief history of samba and biographical notes on the artists included.

If you're interested in samba, or New World Latin musical styles, you'll love this album. It's a great addition to a musical library, and a good starting point for further explorations of the lively world of samba.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 21 July 2001

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