Music of capoeira

Berimbau: a chordophone played with a wooden bow, capable of three different sounds (open string, high note, buzz). The instrument is associated particularly with capoeira but also candomblé, making it a large part of the culture for many slaves located in Brazil. In certain areas, during the period that capoeira was illegal, even carrying a berimbau in public was thought to be sufficient grounds to justify arrest and legal prosecution [].

The music of capoeira substantiates its subversive nature. Not only does the choice of ‘toque’ (literally ‘tolling’ but roughly translated to ‘song’) establish the pace and energy of the game, many of the lyrics are direct references to slavery. Examples of this include ‘na Roda de Capoeira / nêgo joga para valer’ [Vamos Trabalhar], which states that slaves might play the game to prove their worth. Another example can be found in ‘A Manteiga Derramou,’ which speaks of classic acts of sabotage [Scott 1985].

The music was also used as a form of communication. Not only did specific beats delineate the need for a change in players or incite more energy, it also served as a warning. Given that slaves were not permitted to practice any form of martial art, capoeira had to be hidden from the Portuguese officials. By playing a syncopated rhythm (akin to the sound of galloping hooves), a berimbau player who was stationed as a lookout could alert the capoeiristas of incoming officials. This would result in the players of the game switching to a purely dance-based form of movement, so as to avoid confrontation with the law.

In this sense, the music also contributes to the ‘malandragem’ (cunning) of capoeira, which is considered an integral part of the art. One mestre in Rio stated that “Malandragem is survival, it is surviving the fight that is every day life” [Wesolowski 2015]. This cunning is perceived to be an effective technique in dealing with societal constraints.

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