Musings on the musical aspects of capoeira - Part 1

 Music is an essential element of the capoeira experience

Music is an essential element of the capoeira experience

Hi again!

Today's post is about an aspect of capoeira that makes it unique in the spectrum of the various martial arts - music!

To talk about music, we must also acknowledge the origin of capoeira from slavery in Brazil. The instruments are of African origin, and the lyrical content of the songs often describe slave experience. There are many scholarly papers and analyses of these topics, and I hope that what I share here will pique your interest to seek out other sources of knowledge - I wrote paper a couple years ago about improvisation and capoeira, and I've referred to several sources of literature if you're curious. In this short post, I won't be able to do justice to the depth of the musical history related to capoeira or even the musical experience of capoeira in the present. So, what follows is a brief description of the musical instruments of capoeira. You may find this information easily in other parts of the internet, but I hope to provide this background here first before diving deeper in future posts.

Capoeira music = songs + percussion

When capoeira is "performed" in a group, it is traditionally composed of a ring of people standing around a pair of capoeiristas. This ring is called the "roda" ("circle" in Portuguese). A few of the people play percussion instruments, and generally the person playing the "berimbau" will also be leading the songs in call-and-response format. The rest of the people in the roda accompany the leader by singing the lyrical responses and clapping their hands in rhythm.

A well-balanced capoeirista is not one that can hold an infinite handstand or do backflips - he or she also leads the roda with songs, and can play all the percussion instruments. Each instrument has a simple, but specific rhythm used during a capoeira roda, with the exception of the berimbau, which is played with many patterns and variations. The berimbau is a monochord, bow-shaped instrument that uses a gourd as a resonator. The string is struck by a thin stick, or baqueta. The pitch can be changed by holding a dobrão and pressing it on the string. Listen to a berimbau sample here. See below for the names and images of the instruments.

 Image credit: http://gcbtr.com/en_US/music-and-instruments/

Image credit: http://gcbtr.com/en_US/music-and-instruments/

Songs are a very special part of the capoeira roda. They are sung in Portuguese, and the lyrics can be simple words or phrases, playful jokes, commentary about the roda and its participants, or stories of historical figures and events. They often make references to legendary mestres (mestre = master) of capoeira, gods or deities, or the experience of being a slave in Brazil. By singing these songs today, we preserve, honor, and share the stories of the Afro-Brazilian people who developed the art of capoeira over 500 years ago.

 Capoeira roda at Stanford University - you see two berimbaus, two pandeiros (they look like tambourines), one agogô double-bell, and the atabaque drum.

Capoeira roda at Stanford University - you see two berimbaus, two pandeiros (they look like tambourines), one agogô double-bell, and the atabaque drum.

Below is a little promotional video produced by Stanford Recreation for the class we've been holding for the past several years the the Stanford Capoeira Club, my home school - Capoeira Narahari. You can hear the instruments in action, and see the interaction between the capoeiristas and the percussionists. The music sets an implicit tempo for the capoeiristas'  movements - slower tempo usually corresponds with slower movements, while faster tempos inspire faster games. There are no hard and fast rules about this though, and the beauty of capoeira is that the movements are improvised on the spot, inspired by the music, whatever happens, happens!

In the next post, I'll dive deeper into this topic. I'm stoked to be starting a new capoeira class at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness. Our first workshop will be on September 25th, 2017 at 8pm (RSVP here). I will be co-teaching with Professor Marcelo Medusa, who is here from Rio de Janeiro. You can learn about him here. He's got tons of tricks up his sleeves and is a talented acrobat, fighter, dancer, and drummer. We will learn basic movements and songs/percussion. It will be super fun. Mark your calendar, and tell your friends!

Let's get moving!
-Megha Makam

GMB Fitness - Focused Flexibility

CONTACT US FOR MORE INFO ON SESSIONS!