Just like what country music is to Nashville or what jazz is to New Orleans, samba music and Rio are so closely linked together, it would be impossible to mention one without the other. Samba is not only the most iconic and recognizable sound of Rio de Janeiro, it’s also considered to be the national music of Brazil as well…and that’s all thanks to Lapa’s nightlife scene.

Rio’s southern neighbourhood of Lapa is considered to be the cultural heart of Rio with a musical pulse that beats through the entire city. Because of its countless music venues and nightclubs scattered throughout the neighbourhood, (many of which are considered to be the best venues in Rio de Janeiro), Lapa has helped make the samba musical genre the “quintessential sound” of Rio over the years.

From the early evening until the wee hours of the morning, Lapa is always buzzing with musical activity; and you can almost always count on there being some kind of samba music session or dance circle happening in the streets. Not only that, some of the best samba, bossa nova and jazz artists in the country venture to Lapa’s many concert venues and nightclubs just to play their infectious tunes to the masses.

Samba Do Brasil: The history of Rio’s samba roots

Samba is largely considered to be Brazil’s most recognizable genre of music, and although in recent years Lapa has been the epicentre of the samba scene and its related genres (such as bossa nova, partido alto, pagoda, samba-canção and samba-exaltação), samba didn’t necessarily originate there.

The earliest roots of samba (known as “samba de roda”) actually came from the Recôncavo region of Bahia sometime during the 17th century when it was used as a type of “prayer” music for “candomblé” ceremonies. (As a matter of fact, the word “samba” is literally translated as “to pray,” and is believed to be have been passed down from the African word “semba”).

During the second half of the 19th century, Rio’s former slaves who were working in the city’s port would often get together to practice this unique style of prayer dance music, and eventually started combining musical elements that were popular in Rio at that time, such as European march music, polka, the lundu and others. Because of this, some of the many musical elements in samba range include intense African drumming with a 2/4 time signature, and a unique batucada rhythm that is unlike any other musical genre on the planet.

Eventually samba music started trickling into the streets of rural Rio and the city’s favelas (or shantytowns) where the locals would regularly host samba dance parties throughout the week, and soon samba clubs started popping up all over the city.

And although samba eventually went out of style after the 1950s as more and more of Rio’s youth preferred to go to clubs and discos, the samba movement in Lapa prevailed; as it was in this southern neighbourhood of Rio where people would venture to immerse themselves in samba’s pulsating rhythms and mind-boggling percussion beats.

Over the years the samba music genre has evolved and developed into a fusion of countless other musical genres like samba-rock, samba-reggae, samba-rap and many more, and Lapa alone is essentially the epicentre of not only samba, but also bossa nova (otherwise known as “samba’s jazz-fusion offspring”) as well as choro, Rio funk, forro, and MPB.

Where to find the best music venues and nightclubs in Lapa

From the infectious beats and rhythms of samba, to the jazz-infused elements of bossa nova, Lapa’s many music venues and nightclubs have it all.

If you’re hoping to head to Lapa to experience its music movement in all its glory, you can almost always count on there being some type of samba-related festivity on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night just by hopping from one venue to another.

But there are few places in particular which are known to have helped make Lapa’s music scene famous over the years:

Rio Scenarium (20 Rua do Lavradio; $15 to $25 entry) and Carioca de Gema (Av. Mem de Sá, 79; $14 to $16 entry) are known to be the top music venues in terms of where samba and bossa nova are concerned, as both these venues regularly host samba and other samba-related artists throughout the week.

Lapa 40 Graus (Rua do Riachuelo 97; $10 to $50 entry) also hosts popular live samba, choro and sertanejo artists, and Leviano Bar (Avenida Mem de Sá 47; $20 to $40 entry) has some popular live samba and forró sessions as well as artists ranging from a ton of other musical genres like electro, reggae, reggaeton, classic rock and jazz.

If you’re looking for something off-the-beaten-track, head to Clube dos Democraticos (91 Rua do Riachuelo; $8 to $12 entry) which is a popular samba hotspot amongst locals. But if you’re looking for something with a little more historic feel, head to Café Cultural Sacrilegio (Av. Mem de Sa, 81; $25 to $35 entry), which features artists ranging from the samba de roda, Brazilian pop and choro genres.