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Brazil

Samba's 100-year triumph

It's a musical style that's compelling and melancholic, poetic and political: On Sunday, Brazil celebrates the 100-year success story of samba. DW looks back at the heartbeat of a nation.

"Samba has become a synonym for Brazil," says a text published by the Centro Cultural Cartola in Rio de Janeiro to mark the centenary of the musical style. "Samba and its promoters have contributed decisively to the formation of Brazil's national identity."

The samba musical style has, of course, been around for more than 100 years, but November 27, 1916 is seen as the day it officially came to life.

On this date, Brazilian composer Ernesto Joaquim Maria dos Santos, or Donga, registered the first samba song, "Pelo Telefone" ("By Phone"), at Brazil's National Library.

In the years since, Brazil's musical calling card has spread around the world, achieving a popularity that early musicians never could have imagined. Once seen as inferior music popularized by former slaves and their descendants, samba is now seen as the epitome of Brazilian culture.

And if that wasn't enough, in 2005 UNESCO declared the musical style as a masterpiece of humanity's oral and intangible heritage. Today, samba musicians can be heard around the world: at the Carnival festivities in Cologne, at New York's Carnegie Hall in New York and at the Asakusa Samba Carnival in Tokyo, to name just a few examples.

Reflection of the Brazilian soul

But back in Brazil, samba is much more than just a successful style of music. Samba is seen as a reflection of the Brazilian soul, as a philosophical attitude to life, as the emotional grounding of a whole society - blues made in Brazil.

"Political, social and ethnic resistance - all this is reflected in samba," explained Lara Brück-Pamplona, a research associate at the Portugal-Brazil Institute at the University of Cologne.

"Samba speaks to the ability of many impoverished Brazilians who, despite enormous difficulties in everyday life, are able to preserve their optimism."

During the Brazilian military dictatorship, from 1964 to 1985, samba also served as a subtle instrument of subversion.

Writers and composers in exile, such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Chico Buarque, used seemingly harmless verses to spread their protest against the regime.

Check out the gallery above to learn more about samba's long history.