An Interview with Philip Galinsky: Director / Founder of Samba New York!

Promoting Samba Music in New York City – A Conversation with Philip Galinsky, from Samba New York!

By Rodrigo Brandao

Founded in 2003 by New York musician (and Ph.D. Professor in Ethnomusicology) Philip Galinsky, Samba New York! has played an important role in continuing the legacy of Brazilian samba in New York City.

Following the trailblazing work of other samba groups credited for transplanting samba music from concert houses to the New York streets beginning in the early 80s (such as the Empire Loisaida Samba School, ran by Nego Beto and other Brazilian samba luminaries), Samba New York! offers a variety of monthly samba workshops to a diverse group of New Yorkers.

Samba NY Logo

During a phone interview on December 7, 2008, Galinsky told me that in the process of teaching Samba workshops in New York City since 2003, he has also fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams, which was to create a samba school in the middle of New York City.

And while he is committed to teaching a variety of samba styles, ("I try to teach a bit of Mocidade, Viradouro, Mangueira, Imperio Serrano…" said Galinsky, referring to a dozen of famed samba schools in Rio de Janeiro) it is the overall legacy of samba music that pushed him to introduce samba music to several spots of the New York life.

Nowadays, Samba New York! is one of the most eagerly awaited shows during the city’s annual Halloween parade and this year, Galinsky group was asked to be the first band in the procession.

Samba New York! has brought its music to such venues as Joe’s Pub, Copacabana, SOB’s, NJPAC, and the Brooklyn Museum, and they have appeared in a variety of Nationally syndicated TV shows, such as the CBS Early Show, LatiNation, and the We Women’s Network program, Platinum Weddings, as well as on Brazilian national TV.

Here is BrazilNYC’s exclusive interview with Philip Galinsky, the founder and director of Samba New York!

Mermaid Parade

Q: When was Samba New York created and what are the goals of the organization? Can anyone join Samba New York?

A: I founded Samba New York! in 2003. The goal of the organization is to share the joy, passion, and richness of samba culture with as many people as possible, while at the same time offering our own unique interpretation of samba music. Anyone can become a member of our Bateria by taking the Samba Percussion Course, which provides students with a solid foundation in samba basics. We also have a professional group, which performs at many exciting events throughout the New York area.

Q: Where are you from, originally? And how did you get exposed to Samba music?

A: I am from New York and have been a musician my entire life. For many years, my main instruments were guitar and drum-set. I began my passion for Brazilian music while studying at Columbia University. A classmate at school recommended David Byrne’s compilation, O Samba, and what a revelation that was. Samba was the music I had been looking for. If only this friend knew the impact she had on my life and career. From there, I learned Portuguese, delved into Brazilian percussion, and began conducting field research in Brazil. I have a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University and have been studying, teaching, and performing Brazilian music for over 15 years.

Q: Tell us about this coming trip to Brazil, being organized by New York Samba. Will this be an introduction to Samba and Brazilian culture to Americans, or a more relaxed, no-cultural-agenda event? How can we find more information about the trip?

A: The Samba Study Trip is a music-oriented tour that I run in Rio de Janeiro over Carnaval. In 2009, the dates will be February 16-26. The trip is designed as an immersion into samba culture in its original context and is one of the ways that Samba New York! maintains a strong connection to the music’s source. We will visit samba schools at their rehearsals, have a workshop with a master Brazilian percussionist, witness a spectacular night of samba school parades during Carnaval, and much more. The trip is open to people with any level of musical experience. For further information, please visit the Rio 2009 page of our website: The deadline to register is December 15.

Q: Samba New York has done a great job incorporating samba performances to a variety of NY events, and in the process, introduce Brail tonew audiences around New York. When did you first realize that Samba could mix with the Halloween parade? Did you ever face any resistance from the parade’s organizers?

A: I have been performing samba with a variety of groups in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade since the 1990s. The parade’s organizers have been highly receptive to incorporating Brazilian music into the event. Samba New York! first marched in the parade in 2005. In 2008, we were asked to be the first band in the procession. The Halloween Parade is very much our local version of Carnaval and an excellent opportunity to perform for thousands of spectators.

Q: What are the biggest misconceptions that Americans have about samba and Brazilian music?

A: Knowledge about samba is growing in the US, although samba has not yet reached much of the American public. One of the biggest misconceptions is a lack of understanding of the true depth and significance of samba culture, which is a music and dance but also a way of life in Brazil. Samba came from Africa and developed in Brazil through a mixture of races and traditions, yielding myriad varieties. It is a source of tremendous joy and beauty and one of Brazil’s greatest gifts to the world. Samba New York! is honored to share this gift with increasing numbers of people.

A Samba New York! event at Joe's Pub in 2006

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  1. Joseane

    I’m touched by this interview. Mainly because Philip Galinsky expresses the joy and the emotion of samba.

    Someone who “felt” a samba school bateria knows how powerful and visceral it is.

    Samba is a way of life and it expresses the creativity of a marginalized group. Although Samba is a cultural symbol of Brazil, nowadays many Brazilian samba composers still have to fight to be recognized as artists.

    I agree with Philip Galinsky. Samba is one of Brazil’s greatest gifts to the world.

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