By Claudia Lyra

During the time of carnaval, everyone talks about samba and axé music, but in this article we’ll remember some other long forgotten or, at least, not very well exposed rhythms that show a colorful Brazil. They are Maracatu, Côco, Bumba Meu Boi, Tambor de Crioula, Ciranda, Cacuriá, Jongo and other traditions that were created during a time when 3 worlds were mixed resulting in the Brazilian nation.

Three unique races marked a land when the Portuguese arrived in Brazilian territory during the 1500’s: the indigenous, the Africans and the Europeans. The first people to reside the land of Pau Brasil (type of wood very explored by foreigners) were the indigenous, and their music is represented by what is called “Brasil Folclorico”. For the native Indians, the interaction with nature was the meaning of life, and with this interaction, there are folk tales and songs that have kept the oral traditions alive.

Also, the African drums, with its people’s strength, history, rhythms and songs, echoed from inside of the fields, represent “Brasil Escravo”. They also echoed the pain of slavery, which spread through the Brazilian territory during this time in history. Finally, the immigrants from Europe, or exploiters, made use of the slaves and native people in order to trade sugar cane and other natural riches. As a consequence of the invasion, the third “race” (ethnicity) was being mixed by the European habits, which had a meaningful influence on the development of what is today, Brazilian Culture. The rhythms and traditions cited above – such as Cacuriá, Côco and Maracatu, plus the mix of the people of the 3 ethnicity, are responsible for the base of the magical Brazilian music.

“Magical” because it is always welcomed and admired by many nations in the world and fascinates those who hear it, dance to it, appreciate and understand its origin.

The creation of samba, according to the community of Jongo da Serrinha – involved with the Jongo tradition in Rio de Janeiro, happened in the beginning of the 20th century when Jongo was the most played rhythm in the “favelas” (specifically Portuguese word for a shanty town) and even before samba became famous or well known. The former “sambistas” (samba musicians) played Jongo in their houses and visited one another as a gathering to practice the traditions of Jongo.

Generally, the verses in the “partido-alto” and “samba de terreiro” (styles of samba), are improvised by the singer.This styles started with Jongo. The “umbigada” (gesture done by the Jongo dancers while they are dancing), which is called “semba” in the African language of quimbundo, which is the origin of the name SAMBA. The “mpwita”, is a Congo-Angolan instrument present in the Jongo tradition as well as the African “grandmother” of the cuícas, a distinguished instrument played in Rio samba parades and a very important instrument for the traditional samba.

Because of its festive characteristics and mystic aspects (regarding the religion involved in it), Jongo was restricted to be practiced within families and close friends. As a result, it didn’t become popular. Also, Jongo was a tradition kept by the elderly, eventually prohibited for the young people, leading it to its extinction.

Like Jongo, other traditions slowly disappeared also due to the mystic aspect involved in them. However, the cultural richness of these traditions has been recognized by musicians – giving credits especially to Chico Science with the “mangue beat” movement – historians, dancers, art teachers and even curious people.

In order to actively bring this “scenario” back, research has been done and it’s been found that the traditions are usually practiced in circle called “roda”, making possible the interaction between dancers, drummers and everyone around. Every rhythm carries within it a respectable story to be represented. Its exuberance can vary between a simple but essential sound of a shaker called “maracas” in “Bumba meu Boi”, or the foundation of the “Côco” beat on a “pandeiro”, and the rhythmic beat on an “alfaia” filling the complex structure of the Maracatu, which has been played on the streets all over the world.


* Claudia Lyra lives in San Diego and are the founder of Brazil Cultural Center San Diego and the leader of group ‘Nos de Chita” –

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