Type: Chordophones > Bows > Idiochords > Mono > Percussive.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 311.121.21
Region: South America.
Description: The berimbau [Portuguese pronunciation in IPA: beɾĩˈbaw] is a single-string percussion instrument, a musical bow, from Brazil. Originally from Africa where it receives different names, the berimbau was eventually incorporated into the practice of the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira, the berimbau “the soul of capoeira” leads the capoeiristas movement in the roda — the faster the berimbau is playing the faster the capoeirista moves in the game. The instrument is known for being the subject matter of a popular song by Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. The instrument is also a part of Candomblé-de-caboclo tradition.
History: The origins of the berimbau have yet been fully researched. Though the consensus of its origins point to Africa as there are no known musical bows played among the Indigenous, Brazilians and Europeans. By the twentieth century, the instrument was with the jogo de capoeira [game of capoeira] which had come to be known as the berimbau, a Portuguese misnomer. The Portuguese used this word for their musical instrument the guimbarde also known as a jaw-harp.
As the jaw-harp and hungu shared some similarities when the latter was held in the mouth, the Portuguese referred to it as berimbau, akin to how the African lamellaphone came to be known in English as the “hand piano” or “thumb piano.” The smaller type of the African bow in which the performer’s mouth is used as a resonator was called the “berimbau de boca” [mouth guimbarde] whereas the gourd-resonating type became the “berimbau de barriga” [belly guimbarde].
Playing Techniques: The berimbau and the m’bulumbumba of southwest Angola are made and played are very similar, as well as the tuning and basic patterns performed on these instruments. The assimilation of this African instrument into the Brazilian capoeira is evident also in other Bantu terms used for musical bows in Brazilian Portuguese, including urucungo and madimba lungungu.
To play the berimbau, one holds it in one hand, wrapping the two middle fingers around the verga, and placing the little finger under the cabaça’s string loop [the “anel”], and balancing the weight there. A small stone or coin a pedra or dobrão is held between the index and thumb of the same hand that holds the berimbau. The cabaça is rested against the abdomen.
In the other hand, one holds a stick a baqueta or “vaqueta” – usually wooden, very rarely made of metal and a shaker (caxixi). One strikes the arame with the baqueta to produce the sound. The caxixi accompanies the baqueta. The dobrão is moved back and forth from the arame to change the pitch produced by the berimbau. The sound can also be altered by moving the cabaça back and forth from the abdomen, producing a wah-like sound.
Construction: The berimbau consists of a wooden bow, a verga – traditionally made from biribá wood, which grows in Brazil), about 4 to 5 feet [1.2 to 1.5 metres] long, with a steel string; arame – often pulled from the inside of an automobile tire tightly strung and secured from one end of the verga to the other.
A gourd [cabaça], dried, opened and hollowed-out, attached to the lower portion of the Verga by a loop of tough string, acts as a resonator. Since the 1950s, Brazilian berimbaus have been painted in bright colours, following local Brazilian taste; today, most makers follow the tourist consumer’s quest for “pretend” authenticity, and use clear varnish and discreet decoration.
Components of the Berimbau: Verga: wooden bow that makes up the main body of the Berimbau Arame: steel string – Cabaça: opened, dried and hollowed out gourd-like fruit secured to the lower portion of the berimbau, used to amplify and resonate the sound. The fruit used for the berimbau’s resonator, while still known in Brazil as ‘cabaça’, it is not technically a gourd [family Cucurbitaceae]; instead, it is the fruit of an unrelated species, the tree Crescentia cujete [family Bignoniaceae], known in Brazil as calabaça, cueira and cuia or cabaceira.
Pedra or Dobrão: Small stone or coin pressed against the arame to change the tone of the berimbau Baqueta: small stick struck against the arame to produce the sound Caxixí: small rattle that optionally accompanies the baqueta in the same hand ; Capoeiristas split berimbaus in three categories:
Berra-boi or gunga: Lowest tone Médio [others say viola]: medium tone Viola [violinha if the medium tone is viola]: highest tone
These categories relate to sound, not to size. The berimbau’s quality does not depend on the length of the verga or the size of the gourd, rather on the diameter and hardness of the verga’s wood and the quality of the gourd.
The berimbau slowly came to replace the drum as the central instrument for the jogo de capoeira, which it is now famous for and widely associated with.
Citations: Bibliography: Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium Retrieved 2015-04-11. Funso S. Afọlayan 2004. Culture and Customs of South Africa. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-32018-7. Retrieved 10 August 2012 ; Obi, T.J. Desch 2008. Fighting for Honor: The History of African Martial Art Traditions in the Atlantic World. Columbia, South Carolina, USA: University of South Carolina Press. p. 184. ISBN 9781570037184 ; O Estado de S. Paulo, 6–12 April 2011, Suplemento Agrícola, page 2 ; Houaiss Dictionary ;