Music GCSE Set Work – Samba Em Prelúdio

Samba Em Prelúdio by Esperanza Spalding is the eighth and final set work in this blog series. This Edexcel GCSE Music set work is part of the “Fusion Area of Study”. If you haven’t read my previous blogs then please do have a look at those. I am going to use my 5W’s approach when analysing this set work. Full details of the set work can be found in the guides on the Pearson website.

Who is Ezperanza Spalding?

Esperanza Spalding is a 4 time Grammy winning singer, multi-instrumentalists, composer & song-writer. She is from Portland, Oregon and released her first album in 2006. This set work comes from her second studio album entitled Esperanza, and it is the final track on this album. It is remarkable to think that she sings in three languages on this album – English, Spanish & Portuguese. Alongside singing on the album she plays Electric Bass & Acoustic Guitar. There is a great review of the album on the All Music Website.


This piece is very different to the Samba pieces that we often hear. The title means “Samba in the form of a Prelude” and it is the opposite to the carnival style Samba that focusses on drumming. This song is therefore better referred to as a Bossa Nova which means “New Trend”. It is slower than a carnival samba and relies on more of a “jazz style”. The harmonies are therefore more complex and there is an improvisatory feel to the music.

The original song was written in 1962 by Roberto Baden Powell who was himself a guitarist. So what we have here is a Fusion, and the aim is to identify the way different styles are combined to make something new. In the previous set work we saw the bringing together of West African, Celtic and Electronic traditions. Here we see a Fusion of Brazilian Samba and Jazz. This must be the focus for us as we study this piece. We are considering how this Fusion works and also what features in the music are common to the two styles. Fusion will always make something new when the styles combine.

Brazilian Samba & Bossa Nova

  • 4/4 Time
  • Syncopated Rhythms – triplets, rests
  • Polyphonic passages
  • Portuguese language used
  • Use of Rubato in the performance
  • B Minor tonality – common in Bossa Nova
  • Whilst the harmonies are tonal, they are also complex in keeping with the jazz influences
  • Free tempo

Other key features include – Portuguese lyrics, finger-style guitar playing, “jazz” influenced chord voicing, lyrical melody lines, soulful vocals and contrasting sections.


Similar to Afro Celt Sound System, Esperanza Spalding intended to create a fusion of styles with this song. This is in keeping with the Bossa Nova style and she has created a new trend or sound with her music. This song was written to be enjoyed by the listener in both a private capacity but also in concert performance. It is good for students to consider the difference between music that is written with a live audience in mind and music that is more for a studio. When Queen produced Bohemian Rhapsody they added a number of studio effects. Whilst they performed the song live, it sounded very different to the studio version.


If we weigh this piece up against another fusion we will find a range of similarities and differences. Every fusion is different and will draw on different influences. The key thing is to firstly spot what makes any music you hear an example of fusion. Listen out for instruments, style and techniques. Then you can weigh the set work up against this. Remember that to weigh up is my way of saying, compare and contrast. Question 9 in the Edexcel Music GCSE will ask you to compare this set work with something unfamiliar, drawing on similarities and differences.

You might like to try comparing Samba Em Preludio with Release by Afro Celt Sound System. Or you could use another piece by Esperanza Spalding. There are lots of great examples of fusion in music, and the more you listen, the more you will develop your understanding.


Wider Listening is a crucial part of studying any piece of music. Listening to other examples of fusions will not only prepare students for the unfamiliar listening questions, but will also support their understanding of the fusion. In my previous blog on ACCS I added a number of Fusion listening examples. Here are a few more to add to the list, you never know, one of them might come up in Question 8 or 9.

Transglobal Underworld
Beats Antique
Baka Beyond


The study of this piece is all about focussing on what makes it an example of Fusion. Alongside that, we are learning to understand all of the musical features that go in to creating this piece of music. The way she approaches harmony (and the use of the acoustic bass) certainly point towards jazz. But we also have the clear links to latin music in the Bossa Nova. As you study this set work, make sure that you listen to other music by Esperanza Spalding, absorbing as much of her style as possible.

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