The Instruments and Rhythms of Capoeira Music

By Imogen Reed

As you may already know, Capoeira\’s African and Brazilian heritage play a central roles in the way capoeira is perceived and understood by the people who practice it.

As it is in cultures throughout the world, its music is not only a form of personal entertainment, but it is also a medium through which social interaction and group cohesion occurs. In the case of capoeira, music is used to create the space and occasion in which to practice. It also sets the dynamic of a particular capoeira circle both energetically and spiritually.

The ability to connect with the music of Capoeira forms the basis of a link to its Afro-Brazilian heritage, on both an emotional and intellectual level. The songs of Capoeira pass down the history and traditions of the culture to future generations of capoeiristas.

Short of bagging a cruise deal and heading over to Brazil\’s heartlands, for an elementary understanding of capoeira music, it is recommended to listen to examples of music online and ask questions of all your available resources. Ask your teachers here at FICA NY to recommend a CD or two if you prefer – we\’re here to help!


\"berimbaus\"One of the primary instruments used in creating capoeira music is the berimbau (the musical bow). And this instrument commands the movement of capoeiristas in the roda. In capoeira, berimbaus may play together, up to three in number, each with a different tone and role: the bass (berra-boi or gunga) leads the rhythm, while the mid (médio) and high (viola) berimbaus build on and follow the gunga. The rhythms made by the berimbaus are called toques. In the toques, the gunga sets the tone for the players in the roda, and can heighten or lower the tension in a particular game if it is deemed necessary to do so. Other instruments include the pandeiro, atabaque, agogo, and the reco reco. The pandeiro is similar to a tambourine, but has adjustable tensions to allow high and low tones. The atabaque is a smallish drum made of wood and calfskin, and the agogo is similar to a cowbell and is used in Samba as well as capoeira music.


\"songbook\"The songs are of four main kinds: ladainha, corrido, louvação.

Although there are variations following the different schools of capoeira practice, the Angola roda begins with the singing of the ladainha, which is often sung by the most senior member present. This is usually the one playing lead berimbau. The ladainha’s lyrics are emotional ones, often about life’s lessons and hard work.

The chula, or louvação, is a solo that begins the call and response section of the roda and usually gives thanks or offers praise to God or one’s mestre.

Corridos, are one or two verse songs in which the part of the singer and of the chorus is equal. The singing of the corrido is connected closely to the action inside the roda.

Changes to the music signal changes happening inside or outside of the roda. This makes improvisation a common element in all parts of capoeira music and listening closely is a crucial part for any dedicated capoeirista.

For some, the ability to move to music is not an innate skill, and comfort doing so only comes after years of practice. At FICA NY, we are fortunate to have music and movement workshops that help people of different levels of ability and ages to build their skills in this area. For our class schedule check out our website. Music is at the core of our practice here at FICA NY, and all are welcome to listen, interact, and enjoy.

Njoli Brown