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The Beat of Capoeira

Music plays a vital role in the development of Capoeira by injecting energy, style and rhythm to the game. Apart from infusing power to the players, it also helps in masking the self-defence techniques developed by them, which they had perfected as a tool against rebellion. This Brazilian martial art invented nearly 500 years ago by a group of African slaves, used music very effectively to disguise their training sessions as just simple dance lessons, from their colonial masters. This art which was actually born out of slavery soon became a great mechanism for defence and revolt.


The Atabaque is believed to have originated in East Africa where they were used in religious rituals and played to encourage warriors before going to battle. Atabaques are of three types, Le, Rum-pi and Rum, differentiated by their size, which in turn emit their own unique sound pitch. During capoeira, only one type of Atabaque is used. It is the second most important instrument after the 'berimbau' and creates the beats and dance steps in the capoeira game. In fact, it can be used even if no other instruments are available. The Atabaque is a tall instrument made of Brazilian Jacaranda wood, with the head made from calfskin interconnected by a system of rings and ropes all which play an important part in the use of the Atabaque. The Atabaque rhythm usually involves 4 beats with deep bass on the third beat. Capoeira may have been created by African slaves for protection and rebellion, but over the centuries this popular art has become a worldwide religion.


The atabaque, a drum, was probably the first musical instrument introduced to Capoeira. As drums were very much part of the integral culture of Africa it was not surprising that the atabaque became an inspired part of Capoeira. Not only did they provide the initial beats to the players, but also played an important role in forming the part of the 'roda' or circle which is primary to the game.

Atabaque is very unique in its creation. Each and every part has its functions and uses. Starting from the head which is made from the skin of an animal calf, stretched on the SHELL which itself is a hollow wooden piece of Brazilian wood. The ROPE attached to the HEAD is alternatively used to change the tone by tightening or slacking. This is kept in its place by the RING which in turn are held apart by WEDGES. They help in regulating the tension in the ROPE. The entire drum rests on a STAND, made of the same wood as the shell, and is not only used while playing but also acts as a storage box.


The unique and complex sounds of capoeira music are really what makes it stand tall amongst other martial arts. Not only does it drive and disguise the game it essentially promotes creative expression and teaches tradition. The songs are beautiful to listen to, and, the lyrics cover everything from historical importance to actually playing the game itself. There are hundreds of capoeira songs around the world, some well known and some written by vague composers, but, they all stay similar across the capoeira world. The actual lyrics play a vital role. Starting with the 'Ladinha', which is a solo offering of thanks or teaching lessons or relating stories, we move to the 'Quadras' which is a four-verse song which can be alternately used instead of the 'Ladinha'. 'Louvacao' played after the 'Quadras' is basically an offering to God and other leading capoeira figures. The 'Toques' are the various rhythms played during the game with each of them having a different significance. Then 'Clapping' by which the participants contribute to the energy and the music of the game.

Music these days is not only for personal entertainment but it acts as a channel to bring about cohesiveness and dynamism. It not only creates a sound space but an aural space as well that is believed to connect with the spiritual world with the atabaque acting as a connection between the player and the dancer.

Evolution and popularization

Capoeira is a dance-like martial art, originating from Brazil, performed by a call and response choral music accompanied by using percussion instruments. The main elements of capoeira were carefully disguised to create a unique means of self-defence -by merely a dance display-accompanied my music naturally. Music forms an integral form of capoeira. Atabaques are single-headed, standing conical drums which, normally two in number, played along with the other ensemble accompanied by songs and clapping while performing the game.

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