The Bateria: Meeting Point of Many Cultures

The African roots of capoeira are well-known, but the contributions of other cultures to the art form may surprise many angoleiros.

In his seminal work Capoeira Angola: Ensaio Socio-Etnográfico, the celebrated scholar of Afro-Bahia culture, Waldeloir Rego, traced the origins of the instruments present in the modern capoeira bateria and found a true musical kaleidoscope.  Rego describes the berimbau as an instrument frequently used not only in capoeira but also in Afro-Brazilian parties, particularly in samba de roda. Its specific origins or how it arrived in Brazil, according to Rego, are unknown: “There are mentions of this instrument in various corners of the universe, including Africa…” In Latin America, Rego identifies Cuba as the other country where the instrument is as well-known as it is in Brazil, but, unlike its Brazilian cousin, the Cuban berimbau—also known as burumbumba, sambi, pandigurao, or gorokikamo—was used specifically in Afro-Cuban religious ceremonies to ‘talk with the dead.’

The pandeiro is, according to Rego, “one of the oldest musical instruments of Ancient India” and was used by Hebrews in religious ceremonies.  With the Moorish invasions of the Iberian Peninsula, the pandeiro, became popular throughout Portugal and Spain, frequently used in weddings and religious ceremonies and was a favorite of the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.  It arrived in Brazil through the Portuguese and was first used in Bahia in the processions of the Feast of Corpus Christi.  Another musical instrument with a heavy Arabic influence is the atabaque. According to Rego, the instrument’s name is Arabic and “is an Oriental instrument very old among the Persians and the Arabs, but well known in Africa.”  Rego states:  “Although Africans already knew the atabaque, and other varieties of the instrument came from Africa, I believe that when Africans arrived in Brazil, they found that the instrument had already been brought [to Brazil] by Portuguese hands to be used in parties and religious processions in the same circumstances as the pandeiro.

Reco reco
Rego writes that the origins of the reco-reco or ganzá and of its name are unknown, but that the instruments has been widely used in the Northeast of Brazil and has been mentioned in many of the poetic verses sung by Northeastern troubadours.  The instrument was a favorite in carnival processions in Rego’s time.  Oddly, Rego states that he never saw the reco-reco being played in capoeira rodas.  The agogô is, according to Rego, an African instrument that arrived to Brazil through the slave trade.  Its name is a Nagô word that means “bell.”  The instrument has been widely popularized throughout Brazil and is used popular festivities.  Rego, however, says that the instrument features prominently in Afro- Brazilian religious ceremonies, where it is used to greet the orixás.  Interestingly, in the capoeira context, Rego mentions that he only saw the agogô being used in the schools of M. Canjiquinha and M. Pastinha.

Many might dispute Rego’s theories of the origins of the capoeira instruments.  One thing may be certain, though. The capoeira bateria, like many other aspects of Brazilian culture, is an amalgam of many cultural traditions.   Rego’s Capoeira Angola: Ensaio Socio-Etnográfico is only available in Portuguese and is now out of print, but if you’d like to read the entire chapter on the capoeira instruments, there are some versions of the book scanned on the web or you can come to the FICA DC Archives in Washington, DC!


We're back.... With Some Rock Star Angoleiros

In his My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume I, 2012, Moroccan artist, Hassan Hajjaj, describes his subjects as ordinary people he admires who are "...comfortable in their own skins... Real rock stars: not aware of anything, they just go for it." His nine-panel video installation currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) features nine performers from around the world showcasing their musical talents.  Among the Jamaican female hip hop artists and the Malian kora player is one familiar face: a London angoleiro named Toca Feliciano playing berimbau and singing a ladainha.

Two FICA-DC angoleiras recently visited LACMA and took this amateur video of Toca just "going for it."  Enjoy! (and apologies for the low quality sound!).  If you're in LA, check out LACMA and this fantastic exhibit currently on display in the Ahmanson Building.  Keep rockin'!!