Boi Bumbá Festival in the Amazon

“The Boi Bumbá (deriving from the Bumba-Meu Boi, see photo below) festival presents myths, tales and legends using characters, parade carts and giant puppets followed by the words of a master of ceremonies who describes in detail every bit of the action.

It is an incredible musical and theatrical experience, a religious procession, a tribal ritual, a giant puppet show, a fairy tale of powerful villains and brave heroes, a folk art presentation, a major party for the audience and an energizing choreography of the galera (gah-le-rah), all at once. The characters in the performance come from the Boi Bumbá tale. There are two teams called Bois (plural of Boi). Each one tells the same story in all three nights of the festival, amounting to 6 different performances of the same show. But every night is different because legends, rituals, dances, puppets, garments, alegorias, they all change and create the show anew.

There are many similar festivities in Brazil, but Parintins (in the state of Amazonas) is the home of the biggest and most impressive of all. It is both an artistic display and a dispute between two different teams: Bois Caprichoso (cah-pree-show-zol) and Garantido (gah-run-tee-dow). Boi is the Portuguese word for ox, and it is also the main character of the drama that unfolds every night in an arena closely watched by 35,000 people. After the 3-hour show of each Boi, the city has food, drinks and party for everybody. The main square, countless bars and every little corner near the Bumbódromo accommodate a crowd still full of energy to mimic the dance and songs of their favorite Boi.”  – More here

Other videos (also in Portuguese, although of the Bumba-Meu Boi) can be found here. Part 1 and Part 2.

Tambor de Crioula

Tambor de Crioula is “a dance with African origins, that is found in Brazil, only in the state of Maranhão. The men make the rhythms by playing rustic “tambores” or drums made of wood and leather while the women, in a circle, sing and dance. The high point of this dance is the belly bump which is the signal for the dancer to be substituted by another in the center of the circle.” – Top Tour.

The belly bump is called a “punga”, for more info on this, go here (in PT)

Here’s a 3-part informative show (in PT) on the dance. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

For more on Afro-Brazilian music and dances, try one of these two research papers. (If you like research papers, try changing the number 256 in the url of the second link above, perhaps to 255, 254, 253, etc. That way, new papers will be shown, although on what topic, I don’t know)

Maculelê – Capoeira’s Wild Cousin

Maculelê (Pronounced: mah-koo-leh-LEH) is an Afro Brazilian dance where a number of people gather in a circle called a roda with one or more atabaques positioned at the entrance of the circle. Each person brandishes a pair of long sticks, traditionally made from biriba wood from Brazil. The sticks, called grimas, traditionally measure 24 inches long by 1 and 1/8 inch thick. As the Maculelê rhythm plays on the atabaque, the people in the circle begin rhythmically striking the sticks together. The leader sings, and the people in the circle respond by singing the chorus of the songs. When the leader gives the signal to begin playing Maculelê, two people enter the circle, and to the rhythm of the atabaque, they begin striking their own and each other’s sticks together. On the first three beats, they strike their own sticks together, making expressive and athletic dance movements, and on each fourth beat, they strike each other’s respective right-hand stick together. This makes for a dance that looks like “mock stick combat”. (Also, traditionally in Maculelê, the players wear dried grass skirts).

In some capoeira schools, Maculelê can be played with the use of a pair of facões (literally big knife) which are large knives of about 40 cm, used primarily to cut way through tall grass areas. However this style of play is only practiced by graduated students and masters. It is characterized by the loud noises and flying sparks when the players strike the knives.


The origins of Maculelê are obscure, and there are many stories, theories and beliefs that claim “this is how Maculelê came to be”. Here are two:

  1. During the slavery era in Brazil, the slaves in the sugarcane plantations would gather and play Maculelê as a game to vent their anger and frustration from being slaves. At this time, machetes were used instead of sticks. Sticks were later incorporated for safety reasons. However, some experts still use machetes.
  2. There were two tribes in Brazil: a peaceful tribe, and a warlike one. The warlike tribe would repeatedly attack the peaceful tribe, who had no way of defending themselves. One day, during an attack, a young boy named “Maculelê” picked up a pair of sticks and fought off the other tribe. The other tribe never attacked again. The boy didn’t manage to fight them off completely, but did die trying. His home tribe then made a mock combat dance using sticks and named the dance “Maculelê” in his honor and memory.

Maculelê is sometimes practiced by itself, but is quite often practiced alongside Capoeira, and featured in many Capoeira performances. It should be noted that Maculelê and Capoeira are fairly similar in style.

Here’s another show.

Jongo – Roots of Samba

Jongo is an essentially rural cultural manifestation directly associated with the African culture in Brazil. The formation of samba carioca was heavily influenced by Jongo. 

Inserting itself within the so-called ‘dances of the belly strike’ (however being related to the ‘Semba’ or ‘Masemba’ of Angola), the Jongo was brought to Brazil by Bantus. Generally, these Bantus were kidnapped in the ancient kingdoms of Ndongo and Kongo, which nowadays makes up most of the region of Angola. 

Composed through characteristics of music and dance and animated by improvisational poets, the Jongo most likely has its origins in the traditional Angolan guessing games, the Jinongonongo. One essential characteristic of the Jongo is the utilization of symbols that, aside from maintaining rhythm, possess a magical function, apparently provoking paranormal phenomenon. Among the more evident ones, one can cite the fire, with which the instruments are tuned; the drums, that are considered to be ancestors of the community’ the circular form of the dance with a couple in the middle, which refers to fertility; and not to forget, the rich metaphors used by the jongueiros (participants of the Jongo) in order to compose its main points and whose meaning is inaccessible to those not yet initiated. 

These days, both men and women can participate in the Jongo, but this participation in its original form was very restricted to the initiated or the more experienced members. This factor relates itself to the ethical and social norms commonly found in other traditional societies, such as the Amerindians. The basis is a respect and obedience towards the older individuals and the ancestral past. 

Historical research indicates that the Jongo possesses, within its Bantu origins, the need to create diverse communities, similar to secret societies and political-religious sects. These fraternities had an important role in the resistance of slavery, as a means of communication, organization and even the purchase of liberated slaves. 

The Jongo is made up of singing and dancing, with the accompaniment of the urucungo (a musical Bantu arc, that gave way to the berimbau), the violin and pandeiro, in addition to the consecrated drums, used even today, called Tambu or Caxambu. The Jongo is still widely practiced today in various cities: The Vale do Paraíba in the Southeast region of Brazil, to the South of the state of Rio de Janeiro and to the North of São Paulo. 

Below is an example of one group of Jongo, called Jongo do Quilombo de São José, which is more traditional. It is followed by another group called Jongo da Serrinha, which is more contemporary. After the videos, you’ll find links to a documentary.


Here is a documentary (in Portuguese) on the Jongo

Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

Maracatu – Turning the Beat Around

Maracatu is a term common to two distinct performance genres found in Pernambuco state in northeastern Brazil: maracatu nação and maracatu rural.

Maracatu Nação

Maracatu nação (also known as maracatu de baque virado: “maracatu of the turned-around beat”) is an Afro-Brazilian performance genre. The term, often shortened simply to nação (“nation”, pl. nações), refers not only to the performance, but to the performing groups themselves.

Maracatu nação’s origins lie in the investiture ceremonies of the Reis do Congo (Kings of Congo), who were slaves that occupied leadership roles within the slave community. When slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, the institution of the Kings of Congo ceased to exist. Nonetheless, nações continued to choose symbolic leaders and evoke coronation ceremonies for those leaders. Although a maracatu performance is secular, traditional nações are grouped around Candomblé or Jurema (Afro-Brazilian religions) terreiros (bases) and the principles of Candomblé infuse their activities.

Traditional nações perform by parading with a drumming group of 80-100, a singer and chorus, and a coterie of dancers and stock characters including the king and queen. Dancers and stock characters dress and behave to imitate the Portuguese royal court of the Baroque period.

The performance also enacts pre-colonial African traditions, like parading the calunga, a doll representing tribal deities that is kept throughout the year in a special place in the Nação’s headquarters. The calungas, usually female, are traditionally made of either wax and wood or of cloth. They may have clothing made for them in a similar Baroque style to the costumes worn by the other members of the royal court. The calunga is sacred and carrying this spiritual figurehead of the group is a great responsibility for the female Dama de Paço’ (Lady-in-Waiting) of the cortège.

The musical ensemble consists of alfaia (a large wooden rope-tuned drum), gonguê (a metal cowbell), tarol (a shallow snare drum), caixa-de-guerra (another type of snare drum), abê (a gourd shaker enveloped in beads), and mineiro (a metal cylindrical shaker filled with metal shot or small dried seeds). Song form is call and response between a solo singer and (usually) a female chorus.

Today there are around 20 nações operating in the cities of Recife and Olinda. Although several have an unbroken line of activity going back to the 1800’s, most have been set up in recent decades. Well-known nações include Estrela Brilhante, Leão Coroado and Porto Rico. Each year they perform during the Carnival period in Recife and Olinda. Maracatu Nação Pernambuco, while not a traditional maracatu, was primarily responsible for introducing the genre to overseas audiences in the 1990s.

The genre has inspired the establishment of performing groups in a number of cities outside Brazil, including Toronto, New York, Cologne, Hamburg, Lyon, Stockholm, London, Edinburgh, Auckland, Brighton, Oakland and Manchester .

Maracatu Rural

A Maracatu Rural performer

A Maracatu Rural performer

Maracatu rural is also known as maracatu de baque solto, maracatu de orquestra, and maracatu de trombone. It is rooted in the Pernambucan interior and evolved in the early 20th century as a fusion of pre-existing forms of Carnival revelry. It is considered to be Afro-indigenous in origin. Its members, typically sugarcane workers, are involved with the native-influenced Catimbó religion. Maracatu rural has a high participation rate with dozens of groups operating all over the state.

Instruments for Brazilian Rythyms

Below are a few instruments widely used to make Brazilian rythyms in music.

Pandeiro – How to Shake It

The pandeiro is a type of hand frame drum commonly found in many types of Brazilian music.

Much like the distinctions between the ukelele and the cavaquinho, there are two important distinctions between a pandeiro and the common tambourine. The tension of the head on the pandeiro can be tuned, allowing the player a choice of high and low notes. Also, the platinelas (metal jingles) are crisper, drier and less sustained on pandeiros than on the tambourine. This provides clarity when swift, complex rhythms are played.

It is held in one hand, and struck on the head by the other hand to produce the sound. Typical pandeiro patterns are played by alternating the thumb, fingertips, heel, and palm of the hand.

A pandeiro can also be shaken to make sound, or one can run a finger along the head to create a “rasp” noise. The pandeiro is used in a number of Brazilian music forms, such as Samba, Choro, Coco and Capoeira music (see Capoeira songs).

Some of the best-known pandeiro players today are Paulinho Da Costa, Airto Moreira, Marcos Suzano, and Carlinhos Pandeiro de Ouro.


In the video below, a percussion major at Northwestern University, give a great description of the pandeiro and how to play a basic beat.

If you are looking for a little more information while still focusing on the basics, Cassio Duarte has some tips for you.

Berimbau – Afro-Brazilian Rythyms

The berimbau is a single-string percussion instrument, a musical bow, from Brazil. The berimbau’s origins are not entirely clear, but there is not much doubt on its African origin, as no Indigenous Brazilian or European people use musical bows, and very similar instruments are played in the southern parts of Africa. The berimbau was eventually incorporated into the practice of the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira (which I will speak about in a later post), where it commands how the capoeiristas move in the roda (circle). The instrument is known for being the subject matter of a popular song by Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. Below is a short intro. to the aesthetic history of the berimbau.

Cuica – Strange Sound in the Samba

The Cuíca (pronounced KuWEE-kah) is a Brazilian friction drum often used in samba music. The tone it produces has a high-pitched squeaky timbre which is why it has been called a ‘laughing gourd’ and even the ‘lion’s roar’ due to its deeper sound.

The body of the cuíca is normally made of metal. It has a single head, normally made of animal skin. A thin bamboo stick is attached to the centre of, and perpendicular to, the drum head. To play the cuíca, the musician rubs the stick up and down with a wet cloth held in one mão (hand), using the thumb of the other hand to press down on the skin of the drum near the place where the stick is attached. The rubbing motion produces the sound and the pitch is increased or decreased by changing the pressure on the thumb.

The cuíca plays an important rhythmic role in samba music of all kinds. It is particularly notable as a fixture of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival groups, which feature entire sections of cuíca players. It is so commonly used in radio-oriented samba music that in the absence of a cuíca player, Brazilian singers or other musicians imitate the sound of the cuíca with their voices.

Examples of the cuíca in popular non-Brazilian music include:

  • Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”
  • Beck’s “Tropicalia”
  • Barenaked Ladies’ “Enid”
  • Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved”
  • Jamiroquai’s “Music of the Mind”
  • Dido’s “Thank You”
  • Stevie Wonder’s “Bird Of Beauty”

I find it always interesting what wealth of intruiging information I am able to find by reading about things in their language of origin, in this case Portuguese. Upon reading the English Wikipedia article on the Cuíca, I found the above information, but by reading just a few sentences from the Portuguese Wikipedia article, I found this…

“A cuíca é um instrumento cujas origens são menos conhecidas do que os outros instrumentos afro-brasileiros. Ela foi trazida ao Brasil por escravos africanos Banto, mas ligações podem ser traçadas a outras partes do nordeste africano, assim como à península Ibérica. A cuíca era também chamada de “rugido de leão” ou de “tambor de fricção”. Em suas primeiras encarnações era usada por caçadores para atrair leões com os rugidos que o instrumento pode produzir.”

The cuíca is an intrument whose origins are less known than the other Afro-Brazilian instruments. It was brought to Brazil by African slaves from the Banto tribe, but connections can be traced back to other parts of Northeastern Africa, and even the Iberian Penninsula. The cuíca was also called “the roar of the lion” or “the friction drum”. In it’s first incarnations, it was used by hunters to attract lions with the sounds it can produce.

Cavaquinho – Cousin to the Ukelele

The cavaquinho or little cavaco (piece of firewood) is part of the small string European guitar family. It’s cousin to the ukelele (or “jumping flea” in Hawaiian), differing only by certain small modifications made when brought to Brazil from Hawaii. The ukelele in turn was brought to Hawaii from Portugal. The cavaquinho is mainly used in Samba music.