Women Move From Samba’s Sidelines to the Center of the Circle

Shannon Simms for The New York Times writes:
With astonishing speed, female musicians in Brazil have begun breaking into the male realm of samba circles, taking a seat at the table both literally and figuratively. Just a few years ago, the musicians playing in a samba circle jam session used to be almost all male.
Another part of the movement is spurred by a newfound sense of revolt among female musicians against the lyrics of some of the traditional samba circle anthems, which make light of serious crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault.
But as Brazilian women and female musicians in particular have called out the traditional samba circle’s culture of machismo, the blowback has been very real.
But samba circles weren’t always male dominated. In 1930s post-slavery Brazil, Ms. de Oliveira notes, women were the orchestrators of what are now known as samba circles.
Afro-Brazilian religions like Umbanda and Candomblé, which have been historically persecuted for their perceived connection to “black magic,” burnished the cultural role of the powerful female “auntie” — nicknamed a Baiana in reference to the state of Bahia, the geographical center of Afro-Brazilian religions in Brazil. The women inhabiting these leadership roles, which are somewhere between a mother figure and a wise queen, became the de facto hostesses of the very first samba circles.
Mr. Gustavo recently sat in as a guest at one of the new samba circles made up mostly of women. When he started playing one of the more offensive old songs — about beating women (without thinking twice, he claims) — the female musicians one by one stopped playing.

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