The Capoeira Blog

Intro to Capoeira Music: The Basics
June 4, 2008, 8:31 am
Filed under: Music, Tips & Guides

Quem vem la, sou eu,
Quem vem la, sou eu,
Berimbau bateu,
Capoeria sou eu

Who goes there? It’s me,
Who goes there? It’s me,
playing the berimbau,
Capoeira that is me

Photo by Roda de Angoleiros (Flickr)

Welcome to The Capoeira Blog’s new blog-series about capoeira music (a spinoff of the Capoeira for Beginners series).

All novice capoeiristas must understand that music is as important to capoeira as the ginga. Perhaps more important, in fact, because without the berimbau to lead, there could be no jogo. And without the jogo, there is no true capoeira

For some people, the musical aspect of capoeira comes very easy. For others, it’s the hardest part for them to learn. But the fact remains, if you want to be a well-rounded capoeirista, and truly participate in the roda, you need to learn the music.

Because of this, I’ve decided to write a few posts dealing with the basic aspects of capoeira music. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is not meant to be a comprehensive resource of all things capoeira music. This is meant as an introduction; a way to give beginners (and those for whom music isn’t a strong point) a place to get a feel for capoeira’s beautiful melodies.

The series is split into 5 Parts:

Part 1: The Basics

Part 2: Singing

Part 3: The Berimbau

Part 4: The Atabaque, Pandeiro, and Supporting Instruments

Part 5: Resources

As you may have noticed, this introductory post is The Basics, so without further ado…

Call and Response

Most capoeira songs (corridos) are sung in a form of call and response. That is, one person sings a verse (this is commonly whoever is playing the berimbau, but it certainly doesn’t have to be), and the rest of the roda sings a chorus in response.

An exception to this rule comes in capoeira angola, where, at the beginning of the roda, the mestre will sing a solo called a ladainha. Ladainhas can be songs written by mestres of old and passed down through generations, or they can be made up on the spot to fit the mood of the mestre and the roda. As I said, the ladainha is most often found in capoeira angola, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in capoeira regional.

Sometimes the songs are simple and easy to remember, and other times they are long and difficult to learn. When you are taking your first crack at capoeira songs, you’d do well to try and memorize some of the more basic songs until you get the hang of it. I’ll give you some ones to start with in another post.

One of the things that makes it hard for many people (especially non-Brazilians) to get the hang of capoeira songs is that they are all sung in Portuguese. If you don’t understand what everyone is singing, it’s hard to make out the individual words.

The BEST thing you can do is ask your mestre or other more experienced students to write down the lyrics of any songs that you practice, so that way you can follow along and actually know what you’re saying. The next best thing is to find capoeira music online, or on a CD, and search around online (or, again, ask other capoeiristas) for the lyrics, and practice with that.

By the way, your progress will be painfully slow if you only sing during class. You’d do well to get some CDs or MP3s and practice as much as you can on your own time.

The Bateria

For as long as capoeira has been around, instruments have accompanied the game. The area of the roda where the musicians stand is commonly referred to as the bateria.

The bateria is made up of three basic instruments:

The berimbau is a bow-like instrument that (many people believe) originated in Africa. It sets the pace of both the music and the game, and thus, is the most important instrument in capoeira.

The atabaque is a tall Afro-Brazilian drum that provides the basic rhythm and beat for the capoeira game. It is not necessary in all rodas, and is usually omitted in more spontaneous rodas or outside demonstrations because of its size.

The pandeiro, on the other hand, is a Brazilian tambourine that will be found in almost every capoeira roda due to its small size (easy to carry with you) and because it’s quite easy to play.

There are other instruments involved in capoeira, and you’ll learn more about all of them later in the series.

Music and the Game

If you’ve played capoeira for any decent amount of time, or even if you’ve only witnessed a roda or two, you’ve no doubt realized that music controls the capoeira game.

This can happen in more ways than one…

The most obvious example of music’s influence on the game is that the game follows the pace of the music. If the berimbau and atabaque play slowly and the singing is subdued, the players follow along and slow themselves down. If the berimbau speeds up, the singing becomes louder and faster, and the atabaque player’s hands seem like they might fall off, the game heats up as well and the kicks start flying in a blur.

But another way that music can influence the game is less obvious to anyone who doesn’t speak Portuguese, unfortunately. What I mean is, whoever is leading the songs (usually a mestre or high cord) can improvise and start talking about what’s happening in the game. He can comment on the game, telling a player what to do, or poking fun at some mistake. If the game is getting violent, he can tell the players to calm down, and if it’s too slow, he can tell them to pick up the pace.

So, there you have it; an introduction to the music of capoeira. If I’ve gotten anything wrong, or explained anything poorly, please let me know. I am by no means an expert on capoeira music, and I’m not adverse to updating anything if need be.

Be sure to check out Part 2 of this series where we take a closer look at singing in capoeira.


8 Comments so far
Leave a comment

THANK YOU!! I’m starting to try to learn Portuguese so that I can sing and understand the songs (not to mention go to Brasil). This series will be a great help!

Comment by Pipoca

Hey Faisca, nice introduction. I am curious to see how this “series” continues (and might give my comments on it). And you are right, if you just try to learn the music on classes, it doesnt work. at least it will take too long. Sadly enough, music is usually one of the first things get lost along the way many capoeira groups take. this is not only the case for modern capoeira groups, but also capoeira angola groups.

Comment by Angoleiro

Good introduction Faísca. The music is indeed as important as the game itself and is equaly hard to learn. Learning Portuguese is the first, maybe most important step to singing. Once you get the hang of it, a whole new world opens up. I beg to differ on the pandeiro is easy to play part though. I know few people who know how to play it well. I can play the rythm too but nowhere near how it could/should be. There’s a huge difference between playing the pandeiro and ‘playing’ the pandeiro.

Comment by Cantor

I agree with Cantor on the pandeiro for one main part. It can have such wonderful nuances in the right hands. But, on the other hand Faisca I know where you are coming from. Playing instruments like the Berimbau and Atabaque take a certain level of skill while a simple beat can be taught fairly quickly on the Pandeiro.

That said, I am extremely happy that you started this series of posts. As I said in an earlier post, on what my favorite part of Capoeira is, the Jogo or game is what I love best. There is no game without the music so inherently is one of the most important aspects of Capoeira and is what sets it apart from other martial arts.

Ie viva canção da música, Camara!

I am looking forward to future posts on this subject.

Comment by Mike

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