Exploring the rhythms of Brazil – part 1: Maracatu

February 7, 2010 2:02 am in World by Eduardo Guedes

Hi everyone,

And welcome back to our series “Exploring the Rhythms of Brazil”.  As explained previously, we will be exploring rhythms from Brazil categorized by the region in which they are founded. The first region to be explored will be the extremely culturally rich, Northeast Brazil. In the Northeast you will find rhythms such as:

  • Maracatu Nação
  • Ijexá
  • Coco
  • Caboclinho
  • Frevo
  • Ciranda
  • Samba de Roda
  • Maracatu Rural and many many others.

So let me take you on a trip to one of my favorite parts of Brazil. Take your straw hat,  sunglasses,  lots of sun lotion and let’s go to the Northeast!

Our first stop is Recife, which is the capital of the state of Pernambuco. There we will find our first rhythm: MARACATU

Maracatu is directly related to the Coronation of the Black Kings ceremony, which was first recorded in 1674 in the city of Recife.  In the early 1700’s, when Brazil was still a Portuguese colony, the enslaved Africans would consecrate a black leader, the King of Congo, who would speak for the slaves in the presence of their masters. Each king would be the representative of a nation or tribe. That is the reason for the designation Maracatu Nação.

This processional ceremony combined music, theater and dance which is the direct ancestor of today’s modern Maracatu.

Today’s Maracatu Nação groups, also called Maracatu de Baque Virado, parade during  Carnival. The actual procession was a direct influence from the Catholic church and reflects the hierarchical structure of seventeenth century European courts. Maids (the Baianas) and Lanceiros (warriors with lances) follow the King and the Queen, who are shaded by large umbrellas carried by servants. An Ambassador and a Porta Estandarte lead the King and Queen in the procession followed by the Duke, Duchess, Prince and Princess. At the very end follows the Batuque (drum ensemble) and its conductor, the Mestre de Toadas.

This procession is rich with historical meaning. The dancers (Dama do Paço) carry the Calunga or Boneca; small dolls which represent ancestral power and wisdom. The King and Queen are protected by the Lanceiros and the Baianas dance and sing to honor the Orishas (Afro-Brazilian deities).

The rhythm of Maracatu is called Baque or Toque. This rhythm is determined by the Toada, the singing part of  Maracatu, in which a leader begins the song and is answered by a chorus.

The instruments traditionally used are:

  • Tarol (high pitched snare)
  • Caixa de Guerra (medium pitched snare)
  • Gonguê (large bell)
  • Mineiro (cylindrical  shaker)
  • Alfaia or Bumbo (bass drum).

While the Maracatu is performed using a percussion ensemble of different instruments, its characteristic sound derives from the Alfaia or Bumbo, which is made of Macaíba wood with rims made of Jenipapo wood, a goat-leather skin and is played with a pair of wooden mallets.

Its style has been kept alive by groups including: Maracatu Nação Elefante (established in 1800 and extinguished in 1962), Maracatu Nação Leão Coroado (established in 1863), Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante do Recife (established in 1906), Maracatu Nação Cambinda Estrela (established in 1935), Maracatu Nação Indiano (established in 1949), Maracatu Nação Porto Rico do Oriente (established in 1967), and Maracatu Nação Encanto da Alegria (established in 1998).

In the early 1990’s, the Mangue Beat movement reinvigorated Maracatu. Bands such as Chico Science e Nação Zumbi and Mundo Livre S/A took traditional Maracatu, as well as other rhythms from Pernambuco’s folklore, and mixed them with electric guitars, samples, funk and hip hop, creating an inventive contemporary style of music.

I believe this preliminary information I have just shared with you will give you a  solid ground to start on your own research now.  Let’s share information and experiences to go as far as we can without actually being in Recife.

Your participation is essential.  Use google, youtube, wikipedia to find keywords: Maracatu, Mangue Beat, Chico Science. You will find a lot out there.

Then come back here and share what you have found out. Let’s keep the exchange going…

I say good bye for now. Next week we will continue with another popular rhythm from the Northeast: COCO

Até a próxima” ! (See you next time)