It was in Rio de Janeiro that the dance practiced by former slaves who migrated from Bahia came into contact with and incorporated other genres played in the city (such as the polka, the maxixe, the lundu, and the xote), acquiring a completely unique character and creating the
samba cariocaurbana (samba school) and carnavalesco (Carnaval school director). Samba schools are large organizations of up to 5,000 people which compete annually in the Carnival with thematic floats, elaborate costumes, and original music.
During the first decade of the 20th century, some songs under the name of samba were recorded, but these recordings did not achieve great popularity. However, in 1917, "Pelo Telefone" ("Through the Telephone") was recorded, and it is considered the first true samba. The song was claimed to be authored by Ernesto dos Santos, best known as Donga (musician) (pt; de), with co-composition attributed to Mauro de Almeida, a well-known Carnival columnist. Actually, "Pelo Telefone" was created by a collective of musicians who participated in celebrations at the house of Tia Ciata (Aunt Ciata). It was eventually registered by Donga and the Almeida National Library.
"Pelo Telefone" was the first composition to achieve great success with the style of samba and to contribute to the dissemination and popularization of the genre. From that moment on, samba started to spread across the country, initially associated with Carnival and then developing its own place in the music market. There were many composers, including Heitor dos Prazeres, João da Bahiana, Pixinguinha, and Sinhô, but the sambas of these composers were "amaxixados" (a mix of maxixe), known as sambas-maxixes.
The contours of the modern samba came only at the end of the 1920s, from the innovations of a group of composers of carnival blocks in the neighborhoods of Estácio de Sá and Osvaldo Cruz, and the hills of Mangueira, Salgueiro, and São Carlos. Since then, there have been many great names in samba, such as Ismael Silva, Cartola, Ary Barroso, Noel Rosa, Ataulfo Alves, Wilson Batista, Geraldo Pereira, Zé Kéti, Candeia, Ciro Monteiro, Nelson Cavaquinho, Elton Medeiros, Paulinho da Viola, Martinho da Vila, and many others.
As the samba consolidated as an urban and modern expression, it began to be played on radio stations, spreading across the hills and neighborhoods to the affluent southern areas of Rio de Janeiro. Initially viewed with prejudice and discrimination because it had black roots, the samba, because of its hypnotic rhythms and melodic intonations in addition to its playful lyrics, eventually conquered the white middle class as well. Other musical genres derived from samba, such as samba-canção, partido alto, samba-enredo, samba de gafieira, samba de breque, bossa nova, samba-rock, and pagode, have all earned names for themselves.
The samba is frequently associated abroad with football and Carnival. This history began with the international success of Aquarela do Brasil, by Ary Barroso, followed by Carmen Miranda (supported by Getúlio Vargas government and the US Good Neighbor policy), which led samba to the United States. Bossa nova finally entered the country into the world of samba music. Brazilian percussionist and studio musician Paulinho Da Costa, currently based in Los Angeles, incorporates the rhythms and instrumentation of the samba into the albums of hundreds of American, European and Japanese artists — including producer Quincy Jones, jazz performer Dizzy Gillespie, pop singer Michael Jackson and vocalist Barbra Streisand.
The success of the samba in Europe and Japan only confirms its ability to win fans, regardless of their language. Currently, there are hundreds of samba schools held on European soil and scattered among countries like Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Sweden, and Switzerland. Already in Japan, the records invest heavily in the launch of former Sambista's set of discs, which eventually created a market composed solely of catalogs of Japanese record labels.
Although samba exists throughout Brazil – especially in the states of Bahia, Maranhão, Minas Gerais, and São Paulo – in the form of various popular rhythms and dances that originated from the regional batuque of the eastern Brazilian state of Bahia, a music form from Cape Verde, samba is frequently identified as a musical expression of urban Rio de Janeiro, where it developed during the first years of the 20th century. Early styles of samba - and specifically samba de roda - are traced back to the Recôncavo region of Bahia during the 17th century, and the informal dancing following a candomblé ceremony.