The game of capoeira was actually a product of oppression emanating from an epic freedom struggle. A dance and martial art combine, intermixed with fight, deception and a display of the physical prowess of the players, present-day capoeira have become a spontaneous exploration of possibilities.
Music is at the very core of capoeira; as it emerged from very very poor and submissive people, mainly treated as outcasts, it was the beat of the berimbau which imbibed in them togetherness, an improved quality of life and most importantly social justice. It gave identity to the game. The berimbau was considered the symbol of capoeira and an indispensable part of the game to an extent that they are now interdependent on each other.
The Brazilian berimbau is basically a gourd resonated, braced musical bow (verga),which acts as an amplifier. It is of African origin , made from the branch of biriba, bamboo, oak or other wood bent in to an arc. The bow is strung with a single metal strip (arame) with the gourd resonator attached to the bottom. The string is struck with a thin stick called the "baqueta", which in turn is held in the right hand along with a small basket ,containing beads, called the "caxxi" that emit additional sounds that complete the overall sound produced, when the berimbau is played. A small coin known as the "dobrao" is held between the musician's left hand and index finger and pressed to the string in order to change the pitch of the instrument and alternate the notes when the string is strummed. The quality of the berimbau, does not depend on the length of the verga or the size of the gourd, rather than on its diameter, the hardness of the verga wood used and the quality of the gourd.
The sounds range from silly lyrics to historical depictions and other aspects of capoeira. A faster music would signify a faster flashier game, whereas a slow beat would indicate a slow tone with more technique involved.
The berimbau was considered as a real sacred instrument, which helped the slaved to prevent being understood by their masters. In capoeira, the music required from the berimbau was essentially rhythmic. As the players holding the berimbau twangs, by beating the string furiously with the baqueta. Once the rhythm is set, the songs begin to emerge from the three notes, which the instrument is used to produce. These very important notes are; open sound (solto), produced by striking the instrument an inch up from the gourd string, with the bow resting on the little ginger. The medium or buzz sound (chiad), played by pressing the berimbau against the belly, and the closed high sound (preso) played by forcefully playing the dobrao on the string.
Music's role in the game capoeira is indispensable. From transmitting information and knowledge, it also imparts energy to the players, the onlookers, and dictates the speed and style the game both inside and outside the roda. The speed of the berimbau indicates to the players whether the game is to played cooperatively or competitively, with the lyrics imparting tradition, philosophy and wisdom.