A couple of years ago I visited Rio de Janeiro along with my friends and great musicians Chris “Fingers” Adams and Scott Wilkie. On Saturday night we grabbed a taxi and went to an old samba club in the Lapa area of Rio called Bar Carioca da Gema
The Best Samba Club On The Planet
The club occupied an old house that had been turned into a club and held about 250 people. “Cariocas” are what the native Rio de Janeirans call themselves. The expression da gema means “very best” or “genuine article”.
The club was packed; there were more than 350 people in the place and everyone was moving to the rhythm of the beat. It was infectious. You couldn’t help yourself as the room throbbed and your body started to move of its own volition.
What Does A Traditional Samba Band Look Like?
It was a traditional 7-piece samba band with the players ranging in age from about 20 – 65 years old. From left to right:
1) Flute/percussion/background vocals
2) Tambourine (never heard anyone play a tambourine like this – he was like the snare, toms, hi-hat and cymbals of a drum kit)
3) Bass drum called the surdo (the 65 year old, played like a floor tom with mallet and hand to muffle)
4) Brazilian cavaquinho, a 4-string petite guitar (the 20 year old)
5) Mandola (the “rock star” of the band with great facial expressions worthy of any lead guitar player)
6) Brazilian 7-string classical guitar (alternated bass lines and rhythmic chords)
7) Center stage vocals (female vocalist that could give you a sexy purr or nail you with her voice.)
It was also a tribute night to one of Brazil’s well-known samba composers.
The band kicked into high gear and the musicianship was incredible. This form of traditional samba is multivoiced and heavily, hugely rhythmic. The surdo thudding out its bass rhythm was palpable. Everyone in the crowd knew the songs of the famous composer, so the entire club of 350 people sang along on the chorus of every song. As the set progressed, the singer showed the crowd an intricate syncopated beat to clap to, and they all did it! (You can’t even get most Americans to clap on 2 & 4).
My First Samba And A New Music Tribe
The entire room was dancing; everyone was singing; everyone was clapping; and best of all, everyone had a great big shitty grin on their faces! I have never felt so full of music, so full of joy and so much a part of the tribe, as in this place.
READ RELATED ARTICLES: Tribal Drums
Get Your NAMBA GEAR