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The Berimbau

The Berimbau: Soul of Brazilian Music

Eric A. Galm
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Berimbau
    Book Description:

    The Brazilianberimbau, a musical bow, is most commonly associated with the energetic martial art/dance/game ofcapoeira. This study explores the berimbau's stature from the 1950s to the present in diverse musical genres including bossa nova, samba-reggae, MPB (Popular Brazilian Music), electronic dance music, Brazilian art music, and more. Berimbau music spans oral and recorded historical traditions, connects Latin America to Africa, juxtaposes the sacred and profane, and unites nationally constructed notions of Brazilian identity across seemingly impenetrable barriers.

    The Berimbau: Soul of Brazilian Musicis the first work that considers the berimbau beyond the context of capoeira, and explores the bow's emergence as a national symbol. Throughout, this book engages and analyzes intersections of musical traditions in the Black Atlantic, North American popular music, and the rise of global jazz. This book is an accessible introduction to Brazilian music for musicians, Latin American scholars, capoeira practitioners, and other people who are interested in Brazil's music and culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-406-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. A Note Regarding Musical Transcriptions
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    A young woman was on her way to her first trip to Brazil. She had developed a fascination for Brazilian music and culture in her hometown in the United States, and wanted to learn more. It started when she was in a city park, and saw two dancers engaged in a conversation of free-flowing movement. She later learned that this was calledcapoeira, and it was set to the sounds of singing, hand clapping, and musical instruments, including something that looked like a bow, called aberimbau. Perhaps many years ago, this may have been associated with a hunter’s bow,...

  6. Chapter 1 Historical Connections and the Emergence of a National Symbol
    (pp. 19-33)

    Descriptions of theberimbau de barrigain colonial Brazilian life were a favorite subject of foreign travelers to Brazil, beginning in the early 1800s.¹ Musical bows appeared in marketplaces and were played exclusively by black street vendors and beggars until the 1888 abolition of slavery. Unique African-derived musical instruments were employed with the intention to increase sales; instruments such as musical bows functioned as novelties and had an exotic appeal at a relatively early stage in Brazilian history.

    European chroniclers who traveled to Brazil were frequently enchanted by the sounds that emerged from the berimbau. They captured its various physical...

  7. Chapter 2 Theme and Variations: Tracing a Musical Motif from Bossa Nova to the 1990s
    (pp. 34-64)

    Brazilian popular music composers began to search for a national voice drawing from traditional genres during two distinct periods. (See related discussion in chapter 5 regarding the search for a national voice prior to the 1950s.) The first phase took place with the rise of bossa nova music in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when composers started incorporating elements of Brazilian folklore into their jazz-influenced works. The second phase can be seen in public popular song festivals that were initially designed to promote tourism and that were sponsored by the military dictatorship from October 1966 until the early 1970s,...

  8. Chapter 3 Afrocentric Themes of Resistance
    (pp. 65-92)

    Following the transformation of the berimbau’s role in Brazilian popular music from the mid-1990s to the present, new musical ensembles have emerged that are based on ideas of resistance. The musical examples in this chapter demonstrate a shift in emphasis from a Brazilian national identity toward an articulation of an empowered Afrocentric identity that has not been able to generate a sustained national political base. This discussion builds upon material presented in chapter 2 that shows a transformative concept of the berimbau’s function within Brazilian society. Incorporated into this changing notion of identity, the berimbau continues to portray notions of...

  9. Chapter 4 The “One Note Samba” Starts to Jam
    (pp. 93-115)

    The berimbau emerged as a solo instrument in several genres of Brazilian popular music from the early 1970s to the present through the work of three berimbau artists: Naná Vasconcelos, Dinho Nascimento, and Ramiro Musotto. Each of these musicians relates to Brazilian national identity and the berimbau in a manner different from Baden Powell and Gilberto Gil. One principal point of distinction is that there were less cultural restrictions imposed on the berimbau by the capoeira tradition, and as a result they incorporated the berimbau into new musical contexts. Although many prominent Brazilian percussionists such as Airto Moreira, Papete, Dom...

  10. Chapter 5 Creation Myths
    (pp. 116-145)

    An exploration of the berimbau’s presence in Brazilian art music reveals connections that have affected elements of capoeira scholarship. For the purposes of this chapter, I define Brazilian art music as a genre in which music is produced specifically for performances in concert halls. An analysis of the berimbau’s use in Brazilian art music highlights interpretations of Brazilian nationalism that reinforces nation-building ideologies promoted by the Vargas regime beginning in the 1930s. This chapter begins with an overview of Brazilian art music and discusses how African-derived thematic material has been used in the genre since the late 1800s. Two major...

  11. Chapter 6 Visual and Literary Images of the Berimbau
    (pp. 146-159)

    As an extension of its associations with capoeira, the berimbau has come to represent “Afro-Brazilianness” in recent decades, appearing on capoeira academy logos, jewelry, and tattoos.¹ Walls of academies become sacred altars that prominently display berimbaus and photographs of “ancestors” (capoeira masters), most of whom are playing or holding a berimbau. One logo shows the berimbau incorporated into the Brazilian national flag, reinforcing the Brazilianness of the berimbau and capoeira within both a national and international context. This becomes an international symbol for Brazilian capoeira groups based outside of Brazil, and for non-Brazilian capoeiristas who use both the berimbau and...

  12. Conclusions
    (pp. 160-169)

    The berimbau is representative of a tradition that has been continually modified and incorporated into many musical genres throughout Brazil and the rest of the world. Through many years as an observer and performing musician, I have been able to reconstruct the history of the berimbau by drawing upon a synthesis of historical and ethnographic information. The berimbau has experienced a trajectory across a broad range of Brazilian social, cultural and musical contexts, demonstrating how it has become a symbol of identity and resistance in Brazil while retaining its identity as an African-derived musical bow. At this point in the...

  13. Glossary
    (pp. 170-173)
  14. Appendix: Musical Examples
    (pp. 174-184)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 185-206)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-216)
  17. Discography
    (pp. 217-218)
  18. Videography
    (pp. 219-219)
  19. Interviews
    (pp. 220-221)
  20. Index
    (pp. 222-229)