Samba: I danced the night away, the African way


Samba dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, 2016. PHOTO | MORRY GARSH |  AFP

Samba dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, 2016. PHOTO | MORRY GARSH | AFP


By Roy Gachuhi


As with effective shopping which is not done by picking items from a supermarket shelf but by first drafting a list at home, I came to Rio with a to-do (and to-visit) list.


It had two categories – one and two, red for the first, green for the second. Category one, the red one, was for the work. It was to have the right of way at all times. On no account was it to be compromised, save for force majeure.


Category two, the green one, was for expelling the tension generated by the first. President Kibaki, in his day, would have called it uji-enjoy. This has such a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? The ground rules, however, were clear: uji-enjoy baada ya kazi; it is a crime to ji-enjoy before the work is done. Like the first one, this category had a generous to-visit list, still being implemented, if I may add.


My monitoring returned good results for category one so I checked what’s listed on category two. It was out of that query that you read about my adventures with Vinicius at Copacabana beach and Estadio Luso Brasileiro among other places. But what I have so far not told you about is my going to a samba party. I have been meaning to do it but I feared you might mistakenly think that my visit to Rio was all about category two while in fact I am utterly drained by category one.


I am not exactly your kind of regular night party man. I use nights to work. But once in a while, I break the routine. And I did that when I determined the category one coast was clear here in Rio. My housemates invited me to a joint in downtown Rio, and I had a taste of the tastiest barbeques as a warm up to the music.


This is subjective territory: you like this genre of music, and I like this one. But here is my report. I have never listened to anything as addictive as samba, the kind I listened to that night. I have since re-jigged my to-visit list so it includes more returns to that place after the work diary is clear.


The music first attacked the roots of whatever is left of my hair and then started travelling downwards so that my ears felt nicely itchy. It kept going down and I started swallowing, even if I was not thirsty.


Down it went, shaking my ribs into vibration and that is when the dancing started. Non-stop. Unfortunately, the place was tightly packed and movement was restricted.


We were packed like potatoes being transported from Kinangop to Marikiti. But it was okay. There were five musicians and each played an instrument; three played guitar, one a conga drum and the one an instrument that looked improvised – I have never seen it before.


They sang as they played the instruments and I had a feeling I was listening to music that was sang in slave ships as slaves sang dirges and songs of hope and anything in between.


Samba is Brazil’s quintessential music rooted in the enforced African crossing of the Atlantic centuries ago. There was a uniqueness, and an authenticity that coursed through my veins. I have danced to the music of the giants of African music but I had never felt this before. I can’t accept that I am leaving this behind.


Roy Gachuhi is in Rio de Janeiro as a writer-in-residence with Agencia Publica, an independent Brazilian investigative journalism news agency.