Stepping into Samba School

One of the most memorable and special moments of my time in Rio de Janeiro was when we went to the edge of a favela called Santa Marta to meet with the kids of a Samba School. These trained and talented musicians did not know any English, and most of us did not know any Portuguese. Somehow, miraculously, they managed to teach us how to hold their samba instruments and play multiple songs on them. This shocked me, since we were a ragtag bunch and I have absolutely no musical bones in my body. When the scramble for instruments happened, I was too startled to run towards an instrument and was stuck with the gigantic surdo drum, or the bass beat. My mentor, who was over six feet tall,  giggled at the fact that my drum was bigger than I was, and helped me adjust the straps as much as possible. Of course, due to the sheer size of the drum and my short stature, I carried the weight of the drum directly on my knees. I had to fully extend my arm to get my mallet to hit the center of the drum correctly and my back was already starting to hurt, skyrocketing my doubts that this was going to end well.  

Through body language cues and examples, we were able to pull complete samba songs out of thin air. I had the time of my life laying down that strong, steady beat that kept everyone on track throughout the songs. It took quite a few tries, and lots of giggling when mentor and pupil didn’t understand each other’s nonverbal communication, but we did it. I remember looking around as we played, finally getting the hang of it, and taking in the moment of smiling faces, laughter, and music.

After the lesson was done, we returned our instruments. Though we were still unable to communicate well, someone jumpstarted a samba circle and we somehow ended up standing in a big circle showing one other our dance moves. One of the musicians ran back to grab a drum to give us a beat, and the stuents began pulling in the most reluctant members of the circles to dance until everyone was cracking up. I have never been filled with such feeling as I was that day, looking around at the carefree people in the circle reveling in each other’s company, teaching each other samba steps or the nae nae without ever having to utter a word. Even the more reserved students, including myself, got in the middle to show what they were made of. Perhaps it sounds cheesy, but at that moment I felt such emotion watching and participating in something as powerful as complete strangers from different worlds uniting through love of music. I will remember for the rest of my life how two groups who could not talk to each other still taught each other through the power of dance, rhythm, and laughter.