Samba and Tango - A Comparison

Curitiba Travel Blog

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The samba and tango are very unique styles of music that developed in Brazil and Argentina respectively.  Despite their similar origins and evolutions, these music styles still have their differences, and are as different as they countries whose culture and history they now greatly represent.  The following examines the similarities and differences of the samba and tango.

            As stated above, the samba and tango basically have the same origins.  The two music styles are the products of the mixture of the European polka, the Cuban habanera, and African rhythms.  Furthermore, the origins of these now sophisticated styles were very humble, due to the fact that both originated in the lower classes.  Specifically, the tango’s major development occurred in the brothels in the slums and lower class areas of Buenos Aires.  Before these two were widely accepted amongst its middle and upper classes, the music styles first had to travel abroad.  Not until the music styles became popular in Europe did they become domestically popular as well.

            As time progressed, samba and tango progressed almost identically.  Both eventually mixed with other types of music, due to the creative and experimental nature of composers and musicians.  Specifically, samba and tango became mixed with jazz music, creating newer types of music.  For the tango, Astor Piazzola first experimented with tango and jazz, creating what was called “new jazz”, while the mix of samba and jazz became known as bossa nova, a music genre featuring hits such as “The Girl from Ipanema.”  Even today, both styles continue to mix with other music genres, such as tango and electronic, and samba with reggae, showing the compatibility and flexibility of the two.

            However, the two differ greatly, in regards to the characteristics of the music.  Looking at tempo, samba is very lively, quick and upbeat, compared to tango, which is more solemn, nostalgic and slower in speed.  Furthermore, it seems samba borrows primarily from African music in terms of using its rhythm and syncopation.  Tango, on the other hand, borrowed more from African dance (such as the milonga) rather than African music specifically.  Whereas samba is primarily just music, tango encompasses both song and dance, and it was the dance aspect of tango that African culture affected most.   Looking at the lyrics as well, tango music has the common theme of women being unfaithful, unloving, and the men being hurt from such behavior.  Yet, samba has no common lyrical theme; it simply consists of cheerfulness and happiness.

            Most pressing as well is the difference in women involvement in both styles of music.  Once again, tango lyrics contained very masculine themes and were from the perspective of a man.  This is why men were almost always the singers of tango.  For instance, the most famous singer of tango, and Argentine idol, was Carlos Gardel.  Not only until recent times did women start singing tango.  In contrast, women were accepted and very prominent in samba, due to the music’s lack of gender-specific themes.  Carmen Miranda, one of the most famous samba singers in the music’s history, evidences women’s prominence in samba.

            In conclusion, both samba and tango evolved from the same music, and continue to evolve similarly today, by combining with other established styles of music.  However, samba’s tempo is faster and livelier, compared to the nostalgic tango.  Also, besides being upbeat, samba has no common lyrical theme as most tango does.  Finally, tango was for the longest time, a mostly masculine music, whereas samba was popularized by both men and women.  Similar and different at the same time, both styles of music are extremely important to the identity of their originating countries.


scraig94 says:
This seems like a pretty good assessment, but it could use improvement. First off, the Samba and the Tango are two very different genres of music and are hardly related. I wouldn't even go as far as saying that they originate from the same styles. Also, European music and African rhythms were definitely essential to the creation of these styles but the Cuban Habanera is very off base. Cuban music has little to no influence on the music of Brazil and Argentina. Also, Samba does have a theme: happiness and revelry. Most samba revolve around the the simple things that make people happy and the samba parties that go all night long. Also, we do dance to samba in Brazil. It's not as sophisticated but samba is always danced to when played. Other than that, it was a pretty informative post.
Posted on: Oct 17, 2014
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No two countries are exactly the same, as there are always political, geographical and social factors that define and create the identity of a country.  However, on many occasions, certain movements and ideas will spread through areas of the world, as different cultures and countries become linked by this wildfire of an idea.  Both of these concepts are demonstrated in Argentina and Brazil, two neighboring countries that are similar, yet decidedly different.

            In terms of likeness, one common thread that both countries share is sexual liberation.  Despite being primarily Catholic countries, the citizens, especially the youth, are very sexual.  Public displays of affection are extremely commonplace, to the point where an innocent bystander may even become uncomfortable.  What’s more is that condoms are very easy to find, being sold at the front of supermarkets and, to cut to the chase, bars.  Pornographic magazines are sold on the streets as if they were People or Time magazine.  Where brief nudity causes a large commotion in the states, nudity is not rare on Argentine and Brazilian television.  Clearly, these countries are comfortable with sexuality and are ahead of the states in realizing that it is a perfectly natural part of life.

            Furthermore, both countries share a passion for football, their national sport.  When the national teams play, citizens from both countries don their respective jersey or colors, and passionately watch the game.  Citizens also loyally support their local club team, shunning supporters of the rival.  On game day, fans party, cheer, sing and dance in support.  It seems both countries quickly embraced the sport as it spread through Latin America in the early 1900’s, as it is now an integral and important part of one’s leisure life.

            Yet, there are the differences that establish the identity of each country, what makes Brazil Brazil and not Argentina.  One such difference is racial diversity.  Although both countries were colonized by European powers involved in the slave trade (Spain and Portugal), Brazil has much more of a racial mix and presence.  Argentina is predominantly white (at least in Buenos Aires) with some citizens of indigenous and mixed race.  Afro-Argentines are nearly non-existent and seem to have disappeared from society.  Brazil, on the other hand, is full of mulattos, Afro-Brazilians, and mixed races, sometimes so much so that it is difficult to categorize the person.  The difference must rely upon attitudes towards racial integration; Brazil welcomed and encouraged it, while Argentine races and cultures seem to still be more rigidly defined.

            Unfortunately, the two countries appear to vary greatly in terms of pollution and its prevention, as Brazil has managed to keep a beautiful and mostly clean country, whereas Argentina is full of problems.  In Buenos Aires, simply walking out of a building onto the street, one can sense the pollution as he/she breathes in the heavy air.  It was a personal shock and shame for me, while paragliding in the Andes, to see the clouds of smog hovering over the city of Mendoza.  Even more, dirty brown water speckled with trash tarnished El Tigre, a potentially beautiful canal city.  Brazil, from what I have seen, is greener and cleaner.  In Florianopolis, the water was crystal blue, and very inviting.  Streets are clean and feces free, and even in Curitiba, which has as many cars as it does, smog is by no means a problem.  Essentially, the cleanliness of Brazil boils down to the major efforts they put forth in caring for the environment.  For instance, while I heard or saw little efforts to keep Buenos Aires clean, Curitiba is a different story.  The poor are hired to clean the streets and parks, and the city itself has about two to three times the recommended number of green space.  It is even more well-known for its efforts in turning city dumps into beautiful parks and landmarks.  Overall, it seems the Brazilian government is much more proactive in pollution prevention, than the apathetic government of Argentina.

            The most surprising difference, in my opinion though, is the difference citizens from either country have in regards to their attitudes towards each other, especially during World Cup time.  Towards Brazilians, Argentines are for the most part indifferent.  For instance, the other day I noticed Norberto wearing a Brazilian national jersey, and upon questioning him about it, he responded that it was not a big deal or sacrilege for him to be wearing such clothing.  Yet, flip it around and it is a completely different story, as Brazilians love to hate Argentines.  Again, our good friend Norberto would try and introduce himself to Brazilians while at clubs or bars, and every time the Brazilian learned of Norberto’s Argentine citizenship, the atmosphere would be less friendly (but of course not hostile).  It is my opinion that especially during cup time, the Brazilians feel threatened by Argentina’s great football team.  In fact, during the qualifying, Argentina actually defeated Brazil, 2-0.  Shunning Argentines is a Brazilian defense mechanism to downplay the very real Argentina soccer threat, while Argentines are indifferent because they are very confident in their team and see Brazil as more of a worthy challenge.

            While the similarities and differences of these two countries are many, the ones examined in this blog are the ones that I found most prominent and interesting.  While both countries may be sexually liberated and football fanatics, they still differ in their racial make-up, pollution prevention, and citizen attitude towards one another.  It is difficult to say which country is better, but they are clearly both unique. 


This being my first time in Latin America (and 1st time outside the U.S.), I really did not know what to expect from these Latin American countries and their cultures.  As I had written in a previous blog, I was pleasantly surprised to find Buenos Aires to be very European.  The small café’s, the heavy smoking, and the sexual liberation were not expected, and if it weren’t for the Spanish language and Argentina flags, I migh have mistaken myself as being in Paris.  Being a bordering country, I figured Brazil would continue this European style.  Instead, the culture and atmosphere of Brazil makes an American feel right at home. 

            First, obesity is a major problem in the U.S., due to all of the fast food and junk food, and it only looks to get worse.  Well, as in the U.S., a common them amongst Brazilian food that I see is the buffet, especially the all-you-can-eat buffet.  This idea of the “buffet”, the idea that entails eating excessively, is a very American philosophy, and is what contributes to the fattening of the people.  It seems Brazil itself has somewhat embraced the excessive eating as well, as I have seen all-you-can-eat Chinese, sushi, and the famous “churrascarias”, in which the servers keep bringing cooked meat until the individual is full.  Clearly, Brazilians gorge themselves as Americans do, explaining why I have encountered more overweight people in Brazil than in Argentina.  Moderation is healthy, while excess only leads to problems.

            Similarly, the United States has had within the past 20 years a great problem with heart disease and cancer, as they have been on the rise as the leading cause of death amongst Americans.  In response, there has been an increase in anti-smoking movements advertisement, and legislation, such as banning smoking from most public buildings.  Surprisingly, the same can be said about Brazil as well, as there is a significant anti-smoking movement here.  Specifically, there are signs everywhere whether it be posted on a telephone pole or in a supermarket, and they all speak the same messages as heard in the states, warning smokers that the habit can cause impotence, or that cigarettes contain the same substances used to kill roaches and rats.  It is my opinion that this antismoking movement is responsible for the declining presence of smoking amongst Brazilians, just like smoking is losing popularity in the States.

            Third, Brazilians’ taste in vehicles has an American side to is as well.  The American car, as opposed to European and Asian vehicles, has historically been a massive gas hog, built more for style and comfort than efficiency.  Walking along the streets of Floripa or Curitiba, the American car philosophy is reflected in the a good portion of the vehicles on the streets.  One quick look, and one may see SUV’s, pickup trucks, and large luxury and sport cars.  Even more, one will see tinted windows and special rims decorating the cars.  It seems that instead of a means to an end, Americans and Brazilians use their vehicles as a means to express one’s personality and wealth.  This phenomenon is not surprising since 3 of the major automobile companies in the country are American (Ford, Chevy, GM).  These companies, probably through constant marketing, have been able, to a certain extent, to transfer American auto ideology to the Brazilian citizen.

            Finally, an American may find it easier to blend in in Brazil, due to the similar dress and fashion sense of the people.  As a young adult, I have compared my dress to that of the various locals, and the difference has been minimal.  Whereas in Buenos Aires, a baseball cap would scream U.S., here in Brazil, they are common and even worn backwards, crooked, and sideways, a very American fashion sense.  For the majority of the population and age groups, jeans and t-shirts are very common as well, showing Brazilians value comfort over style.  While the weather may play a part in the dress of the people, it is undoubtedly comparatively similar to that of the average U.S. citizen.

            Where Buenos Aires and Argentina may have been the France of Latin America, Brazil takes the title of being most like the States.  The embrace of excess eating, anti-smoking stance, beastly vehicles, and simple, comfortable dress would make any American immediately comfortable.

My biggest fear of coming to Brazil had to be crime.  Such a fear was most likely created by my high school Spanish teacher, who herself had a Brazilian citizenship.  Often she would tell stories of car jackings and hold-ups that would occur frequently, and how she would never take her daughters to the country due to her fear for their safety.  From the start, my view of Brazil and personal safety was skewed.  As a further contribution to this apprehension, the class watched a film about Bus 174 while in Buenos Aires.  The film described the events and the people dealing with and surrounding a tragic hostage situation in Brazil.  It spoke of the Brazilian street kids who steal and terrorize the unsuspecting in order to survive.  Yet even worse, the film demonstrated how Brazilian police are highly untrained and insufficiently equipped, making them overall ineffective in protecting the safety of citizens.  Not ever having been in Brazil, all I had seen and heard was not too promising.

            Arriving in Floripa, Brazil turned out to be just what I expected, but not at the same time.  To clarify, law enforcement was poor and law-breaking was frequent, but my safety and security were never compromised.  While in Floripa, I saw a total of only one police station, as well as zero police cars.  As a result, I personally ecountered  numerous cases of drinking and driving, and destroyed and vandalized property too.  It was a very easy atmosphere to commit a crime in, and to be offered illegal drugs was not uncommon.  Yet as long as I traveled in a group, no one gave any trouble.  A few members of the group were held up at gunpoint, but when locals heard of it, even they seemed surprised, as if it were a rare occurrence.  Despite the lack of law, Floripa was a beautiful city where life carried out daily with no problems.  Perhaps it is because it is a city composed of a majority of wealthy people, who even without the threat of punishment and police, can manage to coexist peacefully.  Only when poverty is extremely prominent does one find desperation, robbery, and serious crime.

As the trip has continued to Iguazu Falls and the larger city of Curitiba, the police situation hasn’t improved much, as their presence is still lacking.  Whereas, in Buenos Aires, one could not go 5 to 8 blocks without encountering a police officer on foot, in Brazil, one will see at most two cops a day.  As a result, I have seen drunken hooliganism and drug use, but still, there is no sense that I personally am in danger.  Amazingly, it seems that the police aren’t extremely necessary, as crimes committed against others are not common.  In order to get into trouble, it seems you would have to specifically seek it; it rarely finds you.

            Instead of getting the sense that the police are poorly trained and equipped, it seems more that law enforcement is lacking greatly in manpower.  Yet, society for the most part remains civil.  The citizens still don’t fail in expecting the unexpected, however, explaining why all personal and business properties are fenced in, sometimes even with a guard dog.  A beautiful place, Brazil still has this important aspect of law enforcement to address if it wants its tourism to really take off.

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photo by: joesu