Mestre Suassuna playing the berimbau
Magnificent display of how the berimbau is such a cool musical instrument.

1. Introduction

Originally brought to Brazil in the 1500’s by Bantu slaves from Africa and used to accompany the famous dance called capoeira (a sort of a martial art were two fighters are training while berimbau, pandeiro, atabaque and agogo bells play the rhythm).

The berimbau was also a means of communication used by slaves to prevent being understood by their masters and is considered a sacred instrument.

Berimbau Manual

It is consists of an arched wooden stick (made of special wood from the interior of Bahia called ‘biriba’), a wire from end to end (‘aço’ or ‘arame’) and a gourd (‘cabaça’), open on one side serving as a resonator, attached with a piece of cord at the lower end of the biriba (20cm from the bottom).

Moving the cabaça back and forth from the abdomen creates a kind of wah-wah effect. You also can vary the “feel” of each sound.

To play berimbau, you need a stick- “baqueta” — to strike the aço, a stone (‘pedra’) or a coin (‘dobrão’) which is held against the aço to modify the sound, and a caxixí (a small percussion instrument consisting of a closed basket with a flat-bottom filled with seeds or other small particles).

2. Sounds

Basically, there are three different sounds:

  1. Open sound – SOLTO (ABERTO)
    1. no pedra
    2. hit arame below stone (between pinky and other fingers)
    3. cabaça away from stomach
  2. Closed sound – PRESO
    1. dobrao pressed firmly into arame
    2. hit arame above stone
    3. cabaça away from stomach
  3. Buzz sound – CHIADO
    1. dobrao loosely against arame
    2. hit arame above stone
    3. cabaça against stomach

Moving the gourd back and forth AND changing the position of the pedra allows you to create slides between the different notes.

3. Rhythms, Toques, Syncopation

Rhythmically, the music is in 4/4 time, common for music in the Angolan region of Africa, where the rhythms of both Brazilian samba and Cuban guaguancó have their origins. The lyrics align themselves with the rhythm of the music, sometimes coming in on the strong beats, sometimes on the weak beats and pickups, depending on the vagaries of the song.
The atabaque serves as the heart beat of the music, providing a steady pulse on 1 and 3 with open tones, often with an anticipation to 1, and a muted bass on 2.

Angola/São Bento Pequeno Rhythms:

The Angola and São Bento Pequeno rhythms – which Capoeira Angola is known for – create a syncopation through silence on 3, and stressing 4 with two short buzzed notes.

Angola:
Berimbau Manual: ANGOLA rhytm

Sao Bento Pequeno De Angola:

SAO BENTO PEQUENO DE ANGOLA

São Bento Grande Rhythms:

The São Bento Grande rhythms stress both downbeats on the berimbaus which has the effect of a driving march (played in a quick double time tempo).

São Bento Grande De Angola:

SAO BENTO GRANDE DE ANGOLA

Benguela:

BENGUELA

Regiona Mestre Bimba (Sao Bento Grande Mestre Bimba):

REGIONAL MESTRE BIMBA (SAO BENTO GRANDE MESTRE BIMBA)

Other Rhythms:

CAVALARIA

CAVALARIA

IUNA

IUNA

MIUDINHO

MIUDINHO

Useful links