By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Monday and Friday evenings throughout Rio’s summer, some of the city’s best samba players gather to put on a free, live, al fresco performance in the historical heart of Centro. For most of the ‘winter’ months in Rio, the event only happens on Mondays, but as the summer heats up, the roda de sambas also start the weekend off as well.
Traditional roda de samba or samba wheel is a distinct form of playing samba music involving a minimum of four people sitting around a table with a following of people singing along to songs that aren’t usually played commercially, referred to as samba de raiz, or roots of samba.
Twice a week musicians from the Roda de Samba form a small circle at the foot of the rock and play a traditional style of samba. They have a variety of instruments, including drums, guitars and the cavaquinho, a small bango-style guitar that is an essential sound in much of samba and choro. Many of the songs are well-known to locals who will sing along and the atmosphere is energetic.
The Pedra do Sal (Rock of Salt), which is located close to the port and Praça Mauá, is of particular historical importance. Not only is it where in the past salt was drained to then be used in leather production and for preserving food, as well as a form of currency, but it is where many of Brazil’s slaves landed from Africa.
To this day the area is known as Pequena África, or Little Africa, and Pedra do Sal plays an important part of Afro-Brazilian culture and religion throughout the year. The location is just a stones through from the Cais do Valongo (Valongo Quays), where roughly one million African slaves are thought to have arrived, shaping the face of modern Brazil.
The event is very informal. People spill up the steps and perch on walls to watch the show. There aren’t many bars or restaurants immediately nearby so caipirinha and beer vendors set up stalls or sell from coolers. There is also a good selection of snacks and Bahian food to buy.
A crowd starts to gather around 6PM, straight after work, and the music continues until around 11PM. Since it gets very busy and crowded, it is advisable to take little and keep your belonging close to you. Also be warned that since it is outdoors, the event tends not to happen when it is raining.