Carimbó – The magical song of the Amazon

(foto: ParaTur)

The Carimbó is considered an indigenous musical style, however like other Brazilian cultural manifestations, it mixed with and received other influences. Its name in Tupi refers to the drum (curimbó) with which the rhythm is marked. The carimbó itself as African origins which are present in the percussive rhythm and both its Portuguese (the snapping sound made with the fingers and the palms in certain parts of the dance) as well as European influences, or rather the melodies of the colonizers. Appearing in the area of Belém in the Salgado region (Marapanim, Curuça, Algodoal) and on the Island of Marajó, it became a traditional dance which later, when influenced by a more modern rhythm, lent to the creation of the Lambada and the Zouk (a musical style from the French West Indies).


In its traditional form, it’s accompanied by drums formed from tree trunks. At some point, the name of these drums came to be called “curimbó”, which is a corruption of the word Carimbó. They are also used together with the maracá, an indigenous rattle used in ceremonial war dances.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, more modern instruments were added to the Carimbó (such as guitars) as well as cúmbia and merengue influences from Colombia. The modern rhythm became popular in the Brazilian Northeast and gave birth to the lambada, which spread internationally (ironically popularized by a Bolivian musical group, Los K’jarkas).

The original instrumental formation of the carimbó was composed of two curimbós: one on top of the other in reference to the timbers or tones (agudo and grave) of the instruments; a wood flute (generally made from ebony or acapú wood, deriving from the Northeastern rustic flute made of bambu and used by the first Christians to pay homage to the Virgin Mary), maracás and a rural guitar with four cords, later substituted by the handcrafted banjo (made of wood, nylon chords and deer skin). Today, the instrumental part of the carimbó incorporates other wind instruments such as flutes, clarinets and saxophones.

Additional history

Being the preferred music of the Marajoan fishermen, although not yet known as carimbó at the time, the rhythm spread across the Guajará bay (where Belém is situated) by these fishermen and landed on the beaches of the Salgado region of Pará. In a region neighboring the cities of Marapanim and Curuçá, the genre solidified itself, earning the name it carries to this day. Maranhãozinho, in the municipality of Marapanim; and Aranquaim, in Curuçá, are two of the places that in recent times have reclaimed the paternity of the genre. In Marapanim, in the Salgado region in the Northeast of Pará, the genre has been cultivated well in the annual event known as the  “Festival de Carimbó de Marapanim — O Canto Mágico da Amazônia” (“Carimbó Festival of Marapanim – The Magical Song of the Amazon”), in the month of November.

For an idea of how the curimbó instrument sounds, see the video below!

To hear some of the Carimbó music, here’s Pinduca singing Garota do Tacacá (a song about the best dishes from Pará)

For more of an idea of what the dance looks like, see the video below

The Ritual

The dance is presented in pairs. It starts with two rows of men and women facing the center. When the music begins, the men follow the women while clapping as a way of inviting the women to the dance. Immediately, the pairs form, turning continually around each other and at the same time forming a big circle that goes counter-clockwise. At this point, the indigenous influence shows itself, when the dancers make certain body movements with their bodies thrust forwards and one foot in front of the other. The women, full of charm, customly have fun at their partners by holding the ends of their dresses, waiting for the moment when their partners are distracted in order to hit them in the face with this part of their clothing. This always provokes shouts and laughs from the other dancers. The gentleman that is booed by his own companion is forced to abandon the dance area. At a determined moment in the carimbó dance, one couple goes to the center to enact the famous turkey dance or “Peru de Atalaia”, where the gentleman is forced to pick up a hankerchief his partner dropped using just his mouth. In case the gentleman doesn’t succeed, his partner hits him in the face with her dress and subjected to the boos of the others, must leave the dance area. If he succeeds, he is applauded.