Drums section is the orchestra of samba
There are certain words that once translated into another language hardly keep their whole original meaning especially in a context such as our main subject here, samba schools. That’s the case with “drums section”. Let’s take a closer look at it and find out why it is the most important part of this unique Brazilian Carnival expression.
The orginal Portuguese term for “drums section” is bateria, which is derived from the verb bater, to beat. Its first use was in military activity. When samba schools were created in Rio in the late 1920s there were two types of percussion instruments. Black people, then recently released from slavery, used a primitive African drum called “atabaque” for religious purposes. The military bands used European-kind drums. Since samba schools present in motion the atabaques were not suited and replaced by the drums.
If the jazz drums is an array of percussion instruments arranged to be played by one musician, the samba schools use nowadays from 250 up to 400 musicians playing many different types of drums and other percussive instruments, some of them invented especifically for the samba, like the “base drum”, which sets the beat of the presentation or the “tamborim”, a smaller frame drum, played with a stick that produces a sharp and acuter sound and plays a similar role in a bateria than the violin does in an orchestra.
A bateria is actually organized like an orchestra, in groups of instruments arranged according to each school. Like in a concert, during the parade, there are times all instruments are playing together and others when just groups of instruments “talk” with each other always under the guidance of the master, the correspondent to the “maestro” or conductor of the orchestra.
Even if this is hard to notice by those unfamiliar with samba every school has its own style. The variables are the patterns of the bass drums, the use of certain instruments in a more or less pronounced way, the beats per minute, the versatility of the musicians and the precision.
Baterias are responsible to set the pace of the parade. They follow the lead of their master, to support the samba singer and the whole school chorus, formed by all its 3,000 plus performers. Last but not least, there are no wind instruments. The singer has its tone set by an ukelele-like cavaquinho and a guitar.