Best Drummers of All Time: Samba edition

Discover the legendary Samba drummers who transformed music. From their iconic beats to their influential styles, explore the stories of the best drummers of all time.

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Samba’s Finest: Ranking the Best Drummers of All Time

Samba, a genre that embodies the rhythm and soul of Brazil, has produced some of the most talented and influential drummers in the world. These percussionists have not only mastered their craft but also left an indelible mark on music history. Today, we dive into the lives and legacies of the best drummers of all time in Samba, celebrating their contributions and understanding what makes each one truly iconic.

While the phrase “best drummers of all time” in this case Samba edition, often implies a clear-cut hierarchy, it’s crucial to appreciate the broad spectrum of skill that exists beyond the spotlight of mainstream fame. Our compilation is dedicated to those who have emerged as the most influential and celebrated figures in the music industry, while also recognizing that countless exceptional drummers may not receive the same recognition. These artists have not only perfected their craft but have profoundly influenced our auditory landscape, securing their status as legendary icons. With that context in mind, let’s dive into our list of the best drummers of all time:

1. João da Baiana


  • Band: Os Oito Batutas
  • Start on Drums: Grew up in the early 20th century Rio, where he was enchanted by the rhythms of street parades and began playing the pandeiro, eventually becoming a master of various percussion instruments.
  • Favorite Gear: Our first in the list of best drummers of all time, preferred traditional instruments like the pandeiro and tamborim, often customizing them to produce a unique sound that became his signature.
  • Iconic Playing Style: João da Baiana was known for his intricate rhythms that seamlessly blended African influences with the emerging sounds of Samba, laying the groundwork for future genres.
  • Famous Songs: “Pelo Telefone,” “O que é que a Bahiana tem?,” and “Na Pavuna.”

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2. Milton Banana

  • Band: Bossa Três
  • Start on Drums: Started playing at a young age, inspired by the vibrant music scene in his hometown. He quickly gained recognition for his prodigious talent.
  • Favorite Gear: Loved playing a compact drum kit, which allowed him to integrate the nuances of bossa nova and samba with astonishing precision and creativity.
  • Iconic Playing Style: His playing style was characterized by a soft yet compelling approach to drumming, making extensive use of brush techniques and subtle cymbal work to enhance the bossa nova’s rhythm.
  • Famous Songs: “Só Danço Samba,” “Chega de Saudade,” and “Desafinado.”

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3. Airto Moreira

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  • Band: Weather Report
  • Start on Drums: Airto began his musical journey in Brazil, playing in samba bands before branching out into jazz and fusion, which catapulted him onto the international stage.
  • Favorite Gear: Known for incorporating a wide range of percussion instruments into his setup, from traditional Brazilian instruments to unconventional objects, all to enrich his sound palette.
  • Iconic Playing Style: His style melds the complex rhythms of samba with elements of jazz and funk, creating a vibrant, eclectic sound that pushes the boundaries of traditional drumming.
  • Famous Songs: “Light as a Feather,” “Free,” and “Return to Forever.”

4. Paulo Braga:


  • Name: Paulo Braga, aka Paulinho Braga
  • Band: Longtime collaborator with Tom Jobim
  • Date of Birth and Death: Born November 24, 1942, Guarani, Minas Gerais, Brazil
  • Journey: From playing in the Berimbau Trio to becoming a vital part of the Bossa Nova movement alongside Tom Jobim, Paulo Braga’s evolution into the “father of modern Brazilian drums” is a tale of innovation and dedication.
  • Signature Move: His minimalist approach to accompanying samba and bossa nova has made him a legend.
  • Favorite Gear: Known for his affinity towards traditional samba drums fused with modern drum kits.
  • Must-Hear Songs: “Águas de Março,” “Chega de Saudade,” and “Girl from Ipanema” are classics that showcase his revolutionary drumming style.

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5. Hélcio Milito:

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  • Name: Hélcio Milito
  • Band: Tamba Trio
  • Date of Birth and Death: A career spanning the golden age of Brazilian music.
  • Journey: From nightclub performances in São Paulo to international stages, Milito’s innovative drumming and smooth brushwork have captivated audiences worldwide.
  • Signature Move: As one of the masters of our list for the best drummers of all time, he created a unique percussion instrument of his own invention that he was know for, this percussion instrument was called “tamba”.
  • Favorite Gear: Favored a mix of traditional Brazilian percussion instruments and a standard drum kit.
  • Must-Hear Songs: “Mas Que Nada,” “O Barquinho,” and “Desafinado” are testament to his versatile and expressive drumming.

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6. Mário Negrão:

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  • Name: Mário Negrão Borgonovi
  • Band: Collaborated with a host of Brazilian music giants.
  • Date of Birth and Death: Born November 18, 1945, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Journey: A transition from studying accordion to becoming a stalwart in Brazilian jazz and samba drumming, showcasing his remarkable versatility and depth.
  • Signature Move: Negrão’s ability to blend jazz sensibilities with samba rhythms sets him apart.
  • Favorite Gear: Known for his eclectic setup, incorporating both traditional samba percussion and a jazz-inspired drum kit.
  • Must-Hear Songs: His work with MPB4 and “Samba Antigo” capture the essence of his innovative drumming style.

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These drummers, each with their unique backgrounds, preferences, and styles, have contributed immensely to the rich tapestry of Samba and its evolution. Through their innovative approaches and unparalleled skill, they’ve ensured that the heartbeat of Samba continues to resonate around the world, inspiring countless others to explore the depths of rhythm and melody.

The rhythm of Samba, driven by these legendary drummers, remains a cornerstone of Brazilian music, captivating audiences with its energy, emotion, and undeniable groove. As we celebrate their achievements as the best drummers of all time and revisit their most famous works, we’re reminded of the power of percussion to unite, excite, and transcend cultural boundaries, keeping the spirit of Samba alive and thriving.

Conclusion: The best drummers of all time in Samba have not only defined the genre but also influenced countless other music styles worldwide. Their legacies, built on the foundations of traditional Brazilian rhythms, continue to inspire new generations of musicians. By revisiting their iconic songs and understanding their percussive journey, we pay homage to the masters on the drums who have set the stage for what Samba has become today—a global phenomenon that continues to enchant and energize.

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Get ready to take your drumming to the next level. Get expert tips on coordination, drumming techniques, improvisation and more in the post titled “Charting Your Drumming Journey”. / Written by: Raul Rodrigues: CEO of Drumap, Drummer, Music School Director and Mariano Steimberg: Drum Professor at Berklee College of Music, Valencia Campus.

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