The berimbau is a single-string percussion instrument that belongs to the stick-zither chordophone family. It has strong regional ties to the state of Bahia in northeastern Brazil. It also has a cultural affinity to Brazilians of African descent. Capoeira is famous even outside Brazil, giving the berimbau a much broader reach in recent decades.

Many researchers agree that the berimbau originates from the Angolan region of west-central Africa. This place in Brazil was famous for slave transportation for plantation labor. Bows were unlikely to have been carried to Brazil by slaves; instead, they were most likely recreated from the memory of people who had migrated to Brazil.

Its Origin

The usage of the basket-rattle caxixi by bow players dates back to 1856. While the oldest reference of a berimbau predecessor (named urucongo) dates back to the early 19th century. The first mentions of capoeira originate from the second half of the nineteenth century. It’s still unclear when the berimbau was first used in capoeira, although it’s most likely in the early twentieth century.

A wooden string carrier (verga or arco), a gourd resonator with a big opening (cabaça) connected to it, and a single metal string make up the berimbau (arame or corda, frequently acquired from the sidewall of an automobile tire). There are three distinct sizes, which differ more in the relative size of their cabaças than the length of their verga`s: gunga (biggest), médio or center (middle-sized), and viola (smallest) (smallest). The two birimbaus seen here are a berimbau gunga and a berimbau médio, respectively.

Dobrao

The arame, which is shorter than the Verga, is tensioned by tying loops over notches carved in the bow’s end (the bow must be flexed considerably to accomplish this). With a string tension loop (or sliding nut) that runs over the arame towards the bottom end of the bow, the cabaça’s apex is pressure coupled with the verga. The string stops with a metal coin known as dobrao or moeda. The string activates by a thin striking stick (baqueta) and a little wicker rattle called a caxixi. Standing or seated, the performer holds the bow vertically with his left hand. The arch of the bow pointing away from him and the opening of the cabaca facing his abdomen (this instrument is also famous as the ‘belly bow,’ or berimbau de barriga).

The performer grabs the dobrao between his left-hand thumb and index finger. The baqueta, along with the caxixi, is usually in the player’s right hand. To trigger the string, it needs striking towards its bottom end with the baqueta and hearing the caxixi respond to the energy of these blows. Moreover, the basic pitch of the bow is adjustable by halting the string a little more above the tuning noose with the dobrao. The player can induce timbral shifts by pushing the cabaca on his belly.