The Berimbau

The berimbau has long been recognized as a symbol of Capoeira. The instrument plays an integral role in the Capoeira roda, directing the speed and style of the jogo (game) through distinctive rhythms. As the lead instrument, the berimbau is always the first to begin the music of the roda and is usually played by the mestre or senior Capoeirista.

Parts of the berimbau

The berimbau is made up of a long wooden bow (verga) bent by a steel wire (arame) that runs from one end to the other. A hollow gourd (cabaça) is attached near the bottom with strong twine. A thin stick (baqueta) is used to strike the wire to make sound, and a coin (dobrão) is pressed against the wire at different levels to change pitch.

Types of berimbaus

In the typical Capoeira roda, three types of berimbaus are played that differ in tone, size, and musical role:

1. Gunga: A lower-toned berimbau marked by a large cabaça, a thinner verga, and a more lax arame; it usually plays a base rhythm.

2. Médio: A medium-toned berimbau marked by a medium-sized cabaça, a thicker verga, and a tighter arame; it usually plays a harmonious rhythm with occasional flourishes.

3. Viola: A high-toned berimbau marked by a small cabaça, thick verga, and a tight arame; it usually plays the main rhythm with frequent flourishes.

Tones of the berimbau

There are three major tones of the berimbau that are played by changing the levels of pressure of the dobrão against the arame:

1. Open tone: The dobrão isn't pressed against the arame.

2. Closed tone: The dobrão is pressed firmly against the arame.

3. Buzz tone: The dobrão is lightly pressed against the arame.

Rhythms of the berimbau

The rhythms of the berimbau determine the style of game being played within the Capoeira roda. Each rhythm calls for a specific game that varies in speed, aggression, movement, and style; these games can be fast and forceful, slow and mischievous, or harmonious and expressive. Capoeira schools use different rhythms to train techniques that characterize the style of the corresponding games. One game might be used to train fast spinning kicks and dodges, while another might be used to train acrobatic movements.