Exploring the Rhythms of Brazil – part 2: Coco

February 27, 2010 6:26 pm in World by Eduardo Guedes

Hello and welcome back to our series. Now that Carnival is over, we are ready to continue our exploration of the rhythms of Brazil.

This week we will learn about one of the most popular rhythms of the Northeast of  Brazil: COCO

Coco is a rhythm and dance from the states of Ceará, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte, Alagoas, Maranhão, Piauí and Sergipe, which are all in Northeastern Brazil.

It was born in the sugarcane mills during the 17th century, and later brought to the coast. It either comes purely from the enslaved Africans or is a mix of Native Brazilian Indian and African traditions.

The rhythm first took shape in the singing of the “Tiradores de Coco” (coconut catchers), based on the sounds they made while breaking the coconuts to extract the meat. From there it became a dance.

The music begins with the performers in lines and circles, while a lone performer sings the initial verses. The rest of the performers then reply with the chorus, all the while tapping and clapping and dancing to the rhythm.  The percussion instruments used are Pandeiro ( Brazilian version of the Tambourine)  Bombo (small Bass Drum), Caxixi (instrument made of straw, filled with rice or seeds) Ganzá or Mineiro (cylindrical metal shaker), depending on the style of Coco.  Sometimes, though, the only accompaniment is clapping and singing.

There are several variations in style, depending on whether the rhythm is found at the coast or in the countryside. The best-known Coco forms are the Coco de Roda and the Coco de Embolada. Coco de Roda is the rhythm in its simplest form, in which participants sing, clap and dance in a circle. The Coco de Embolada is the rhythm with no choreography, sung by two participants, playing just the Pandeiro, and improvising humorous verses to challenge each other. To win, the singer must compose the verses ex tempore without losing the rhyme. We can also mention the styles of Coco de Ganza, found in the state of Paraiba and Samba de Coco, form the the interior of the state of Pernambuco.

The greatest Brazilian Coco composer and recording artist was Jackson do Pandeiro. He was born in 1919 in the small city of Alagoa Grande in the countryside of Paraíba. He began his career in 1953 with the recording of Sebastiana, which became a hit on Brazilian radio and popularized the Coco style nationally. Since then his compositions had been recorded by many contemporary Brazilian artists such as Gilberto Gil, Elba Ramalho and many others.

Like Maracatu, Coco was revitalized in the nineties by the Mangue Beat movement. Bands and artists such as Chico Science e Nação Zumbi, Mestre Ambrósio, Lenine, Otto, Cascabulho and others, incorporated the rhythm in their music, exposing it to the media and the public in Brazil. It ended up bringing attention to traditional Coco artists such as Selma do Coco, Zé Neguinho do Coco, Caju and Castanha and Dona Cila do Coco.

So this week we will inaugurate our link section. I posted a link that gives you an example of the Coco the Embolada style and shows clearly the spirit of the rhythm. Artists Caju and Castanha show their skills improvising verses and playing at a very young age.


Enjoy it!

See you all next week.