Capoeira: The music

Besides the movements capoeira also contains music. Here we define music as singing and percussion, which are at least equally important as the movements themselves. The music brings positive energy and a good atmosphere to the roda. When the music is good, positive energy is created in the roda which motivates the players and which makes the quality of the games rise. Making music in the roda is encouraging other capoeiristas to enter the roda.

The instruments

Depending on the style of the group, 2 to 5 different instruments can be used in the roda. This group of instruments in a roda, the orchestra or musical band, is called the 'bateria'. Possible instruments are: the berimbau, atabaque, pandeiro, reco-reco and the agogô. Players who stand in the circle also clap their hands to the rhythm of the music. In our group we use the following setup (from left to right): pandeiro, berimbau viola, berimbau médio, berimbau gunga and the atabaque. From time to time we use an agogô or reco-reco, this mostly happens when we are playing Capoeira Angola. There is also a specific order in which the instruments start playing. The berimbau gunga always starts, followed by the médio and viola which are followed by the atabaque and lastly the pandeiro. Only when all instruments are playing the others can start clapping their hands. Finally, one can begin singing.

The hands

The rhythm of the music is supported by clapping of the hands. By clapping your hands, you turn them into an instrument and use this pattern: 123 pause. It is very important to always participate, thus also clapping and singing, to maintain the energy in the roda.


The pandeiro

The pandeiro is also known as the tambourine. This instrument supports the berimbaus and its high pitched sound flows over the rhythm. The pandeiro is also very popular in Brazilian music genres like samba.

The atabaque


The atabaque is a wooden drum which you play with your hands and it can be compared to a conga. Just like the berimbau, there are 3 types of atabaques: the rum (the biggest), rum-pi and lê (the smallest). In capoeira usually only one atabaque is used, often a rum-pi. The atabaque is the bass of the bateria and its task is to maintain and mark the pace of the music.

The berimbau

The berimbau is probably the most known instrument of capoeira. The berimbau is probably one of the first instruments man ever made and originated in Africa. During slavery the instrument made its way into Brazil, but was separated from capoeira for a long time. Capoeira and the berimbau were united only 200 years ago and today we can't think the two apart anymore.

The berimbau consists of various parts, namely: the verga (stick, bow), the cabaça (gourd), arame (string), dobrão (flat stone of coin), baqueta (small stick) and the caxixi (rattle). As mentioned before, there are 3 types of berimbaus: the berimbau gunga, médio and viola.

The gunga is the absolute leader of the roda and usually only is played by the highest ranked capoeirista of the roda. The rhythm of the gunga is the base rhythm that everyone has to follow, that's why the gunga cannot deviate from its pattern too much. The berimbau gunga has the biggest gourd and the lowest sound.

The berimbau médio has a smaller gourd than the gunga and its tone sounds a bit higher. Whoever plays the médio can deviate from the base rhythm (play variations).

The viola is the berimbau with the most freedom in the bateria. The berimbau viola can play all variations possible and only sometimes returns to the base rhythm. The berimbau viola has the smallest gourd and the highest tone of the three.


The rhythms or 'toques de berimbau'

It is possible to play different rhythms, paterns of 'toques' with a berimbau. Every toque consists of a combination and pattern of notes which are repeated continuously. In capoeira every toque has its own meaning and stands for a specific kind of capoeira-game. For example, when the berimbau plays the rhythm called 'Angola', only Capoeira Angola can be played in the roda. Some of the berimbau rhythms used in capoeira are: Angola, São Bento Pequeno, São Bento Grande de Angola, São Bento Grande da Capoeira Regional, Benguela, Iúna, Santa Maria, Samba de Roda, Cavalaria, Amazonas, ...

There are much more toques than one would think. A lot of capoeira masters invented their own rhythms which might or might not got in general use.

The agogô

The agogô is originally an instrument from the African Yoruba culture. The instrument consists of two cowbells which are attached to each other with a U-shaped piece of metal. One bell produces a higher pitched note than the other. To play the instrument, the bells are hit with a wooden stick. In capoeira the agogô mostly appears in a wooden variant where the bells are replaced by small, hollowed nuts. The wooden agogô doesn't have a metal sound which why it is preferred in capoeira baterias.


The reco-reco

The reco-reco is a, mostly from wood manufactured, instrument consisting of a hollow gourd or bamboo stick with parallel placed notches cut into the surface. By rubbing a stick over these notches, a typical sound is produced. There are lots of variations on the look, size and sound of the reco-reco and it is not only used within capoeira.


Besides the instruments, chant is also a big part of music in capoeira. Chants in capoeira are based on the call and response principle. One leader sings a part and the group responds by singing a chorus. Songs in capoeira are only sung in Portuguese. This is an example of a traditional capoeira-song: