The musical instruments of capoeira
Music is essential to capoeira, the mastering of several percussion instruments all of african origin must be undertaken in order to truly define oneself as a capoeirista.
A monochordal, musical bow known as the Mbulumbumba in some parts of present day Angola. This fascinating instrument consists of a stick (pau), a single string of steel wire (arame) and a gourd (cabeca) attached to the stick. A small stick (varreta) is used to strike the wire and coin (dobrao) or stone (pedra) is held beneath the wire to alternate and reveberate the note by holding it on, off or close to the wire.
The size of the gourd (cabeca) largely dictates the overall tone of each berimbau and there a three types, in order of decreasing size and rising pitch: Gunga - the lead berimbau holds a steady base line; Medio; and Viola - upon which the majority of improvised variations are played.
Although many types of wood may be used in its construction, the wood of the sacred Beriba tree is considered to be the finest. It is said that it should be harvested from the forest at midnight of a full moon. The berimbau has overt spiritual connotations, it is an icon of paramount significance in capoeira.
A tambourine, traditionally made with a frame of wood covered by leather or snakeskin. Different tones are produced by varying the hand slap and region struck.
A musical cowbell found in many parts of Africa. The most common type is formed of two iron bells soldered into one piece as shown. The bells differ in size and therefore pitch, two distincts notes are thus produced by striking the agogo with a small wooden or metal stick.
A serrated, hollow wood scraper of varying design. The stick is dragged back and forth across the grooves to produce a constant rythm.
Samba drum of medium size, traditionally tuned with rope and wooden wedges and covered with cow's leather (couro de boi).
Inter-scholastic variations given, the capoeiristas playing the instruments sit or stand at the head of the capoeira circle (roda). Three berimbaus, with the Gunga held by the Mestre remain the middle, next two pandeiros on either side and then one each of the other instruments. The berimbau leads, controlling the tempo of the other instruments and of physical play within the roda.
Monotonous, repetitive, simple rythms are played with the exception of the Berimbau Viola which sings high above the rest with its frantic improvisations. The combined effect is an adrenaline charged rush of sound anchored to a steady undertone of resonant african buzzing, beating and scraping. Capoeiristas forming the perimiter of the roda sing, chant and clap in response to the music.
The experience is at once exhilarating and hypnotic - it induces a trance-like state calming the "conscious" self and driving one to ever greater feats of athleticism and cunning. The magical atmosphere created in the roda helps to liberate capoeiristas from the 'everyday' so that they may reach new levels of experience as they "go out into the world" of the capoeira roda.
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