Highlights of Musical
About the works
The Coming Decline of Frevo
Tambourine Playing in Brazil
The African Influence in Brazilian Music
Frevo Steps and Music
Art and Artists
In Terms of Music from São Paulo
A Mistaken Analysis of a Brazilian Rhythm
Scales in Brazilian Folk Music
The Indians of Petrópolis
Índios or Cabôcos of Petrópolis
Notes on Playing Marbles
Variations on the Boi
Variations on the Baião
Variations on the Maxixe
THE AFRICAN INFLUENCE IN BRAZILIAN MUSIC
III Congresso Afro-Brasileiro.
Recife, September 1982.
Fundação Joaquim Nabuco. Editora Massangana, 1985.
Since most people
are not music lovers, I feel obligated – avoiding technical terms
as much as possible – to report to Europe and then Brazil a comparison
of the Negro influence here. As we know, a given color may be more
or less blue in comparison to another.
The Greeks, who
raised music to great heights for their time, synthesized their
music, for the sake of theory, into scales. There were essentially
three: Dorian, Phrygian and Lydian. The Dorian
came about due to a split in the Greek people. The city of Sparta,
for example, had Dorian origins, much like others that were scattered
throughout the regions the Greeks inhabited. Phrygia and Lydia were
found beginning in parts of Asia Minor [in the region of modern
day Turkey]. Properly speaking they were not actually Greek, but
they had close contact with Greece. Tradition claims that the great
fable writer Aesop was of Phrygian origin, but that is not related
to the scale of his fables. The Greeks called the scales that defined
their melodies modes. This simplified things, giving us Dorian
chants, Phrygian chants and Lydian chants. Three lower modes derive
from these three: hypodorian, hypophrygian and hypolydian. This
leaves us with six modes.
Roman domination – the Romans were, of course, greatly influenced
by the Greeks – these scales spread to all the countries: Italy,
Greece – where they still are -, the Slavic countries, Germany [although
with some differences], Switzerland, England and the Iberian Peninsula.
From there they came to Brazil’s Northeast, where Brazilian civilization
was born. At that time, the end of the Renaissance, all European
music adopted these modes, whether it was for the court or for the
masses. This music based on modes arrived in the Northeast and traveled
to the North as far as eastern Goiás and northern Minas Gerais.
While doing research for the Ministry of Education I found it along
the northern coast of São Paulo, in Ilha Bela, Caraguatuba, São
Sebastião and especially Ubatuba; a little in southern Minas Gerais,
in Folias de Reis; and even in Paraná; much less further south,
but reaching Santa Catarina and even Rio Grande do Sul. There, however,
it was not melodic, but resulted from the singing in two or three
voices; this I heard in a recording a student made while researching
the moçambique. Northeastern immigration carried these
modes to Amazônia, most notably Manaus, where previously they were
not common. On one occasion I spent at least four hours listening
to music in Manaus, and you could hear the Northeastern modes.
They also found their way to São Paulo. There are at least ninety
forrós in the city of São Paulo today.
A new concept
became established in Europe after the 18th century that
was not only melodic, but harmonic as well. This classical tonality
has four modes. The major mode, exemplified in the children’s
song “Atirei o pau no gato,” the minor, as seen in another
children’s song, “Terezinha de Jesus,” and two other variations
of the minor mode. So there are ten northeastern modes: three fundamentals
and their three variations, plus the four classical modes.
These came much later, emerging in Europe after the discovery of
There in Europe,
music made its way from the courts to the salons of the bourgeois:
waltzes, quadrilles, polkas and the like. From there it easily reached
the masses. Beginning in the 19th century, the new European
immigrants headed to southern Brazil bringing this music with them.
The further south we look, the great this tendency, which arose
upon Brazil’s Opening of the Ports. The older modal music continued
There are then no less than ten modes – or scales
if you prefer – being used in Brazil. Those traced to Greece turning
up in the baiões of Luiz Gonzaga, in the aboios, in
the music of the “caboclinhos” and of the viola players,
etc. The ones that came with the Opening of the Ports are found
in the pastoril, the frevo, and in a few other folk
manifestations. The prevalent modes in the Northeast are the most
deeply traditional and genuinely folk. Whatever the form they take,
the ten European modes are very commonly heard.
And the Negros?
What did they bring? We know that a scale is a succession of notes,
but I am talking here about modes, which are melodic. A mode
may have only one note, “in recto tono,” or straight melody. In
the Xangôs I found a few examples of this straight mode:
three modes of two notes; five of three notes; six of four notes;
seven of five notes [It is pentatonic, but it has nothing at all
whatsoever to do with the traditional Chinese pentatonic scale;
the relationship of the notes is completely different.] I found
six examples having six notes; three of seven; four of eight. In
the Xangôs a total of thirty-five modes.
And in the Maracatus?
The layman – in music and in Maracatu – normally does not
perceive the differences between them and the Xangôs because
of the singing style, which is the same. But I can tell you that
in the Maracatus there is a two-note mode; two four-note
modes; five five-note modes – still with no similarity to the Chinese
pentatonic; two six-note modes; and four seven-note modes. That
makes a total of fourteen modes in the old-style Maracatus,
those that are visibly reminiscent of the Reis do Congo coronation
In total there are forty-nine Negro modes. Add to these the ten
European modes for a total of at least fifty-nine commonly used
modes in the Northeast, not to mention mixtures of African modes
with each other and with the European ones.
of the most important contributions from the Negros – actually they
all are, the melody, the rhythm, the instruments – was, in my view,
their way of singing. It’s not exactly the timbre. That’s not it
at all, because it isn’t a question of the voice’s innate timbre.
I visited an Umbanda center in the South where almost everyone
was white, but they sang in the Negro style. I have also heard North
American Negro choruses that do not sing this way; rather they sing
in a completely academic way. Negros, the real commoners, have their
own way of singing, and this heavily influenced Brazilian popular
There is also
a style of playing, especially the drums. Negros have a different
emphasis, give a different color, with the way they strike the
skin; every point produces a different tonality, beating sometimes
with the hand open, sometimes with it closed. Even when they play
with sticks, they are different, meant to substitute the hands to
produce a different sound, whether by their quality, how they are
used, or where they strike. In other words, the Negros have a musical
And now, rhythm.
In Recife alone, in the Xangôs, I documented over 500 variations
at that time. This is why: At that same Umbanda center, when
the ogan-ilu, the head of the ogans, changes, something
in the rhythm changes. There are differences from one center to
another. The 500-plus variations I referred to were in six hours
of playing, two each visit. That’s because I usually went to these
centers by taxi, and the drivers didn’t want to wait for me very
long because they would lose money. Fortunately I had an excellent
informant, the Negro Gobá; he was recommended by the old Santinha
do Maracatu Elefante and had the instincts of a researcher.
He would even go to the Baptist churches, the Assemblies of God,
and he told me everything. He was extremely valuable and could clarify
so many things.
Let’s look at
examples of percussion rhythms. For the sake of comparison we take
the beats, which is like the counts in a measure. This beat is subdivided
into an even – two or four – or odd – three, maybe two times three
- number of subdivisions. Some are mixed. I only found one three
count measure, the Xangô Alujá or Elujá,
here in Recife. In only one center, the Severino center, I found
and heard on three occasions a five count, which is very rare in
Brazilian music although common in Slavic countries.
rhythms. I don’t know anything about the etymology of the words
batá, melê, nagô. They are just names
that I noted. First the rhythm called batá. * [The
first five were recorded at a house of Lídia de Oxalá; her son-in-law
was leading, Zé Romão, the flesh and blood son of Pai Adão. You
can’t get any more traditional Pernambuco Xangô.]
A lot of rhythms
are called batá. They have two or four beats, depending
on who writes them. They have an odd number of subdivisions, which
another drum in the ensemble - one we can’t hear in this recording
- maintains throughout.
is the melê. Here let me note something I learned
from our friend Gobá, something that no other researcher seems to
have noted. Ilu is the name of the drum used in the
xangôs. It is shaped like a wine barrel, with two heads,
different than the atabaque, which is tapered and has only
one head. The older names of the drums were: melê-chefe,
the main ilu, which led the rhythm; melê-de-marcação,
the middle one that kept the same rhythm, like a cavaquinho
that plays the middle during the choro; and melê-uncó,
the smaller one that played a lot of different variations. Uncó
means false, because the variations are intentionally off
of the ensemble’s polyrhythm. You don’t see these details in all
the rhythms. Let us listen to a two-beat melê with
an odd number of subdivisions. The drummers may play variations
outside the pattern. Depending on the saint that is being played
for or that comes down, they may have more or less freedom to vary.
In one we will hear there are a lot of them. Fantastic!
is the batá-de-Emanjá. It can have two or four beats
– I opted to write it in four – with an odd number of subdivisions.
It is considered extremely difficult. It was recorded one of the
first times I visited the centers, precisely during a Xangô
of Lídia de Oxalá. It took me at least sixty days to understand
it. The percussion rhythm formed one unit; the dance was an independent
unit; and the chant – led by Zé Romão, who signaled with his head
for the initiates to sing together – was yet another independent
unit. In other words, none of the parts were related to the others.
Now another batá
– a very common name – with an even number of subdivisions, as one
can see. It is followed by the beat called nagô, which
is very common in both Recife and Bahia. I estimate that this beat
is played for an average of 30% of each session, of each celebration,
making it the most characteristic one at the centers. The dance
is in a two count, two pulses. It would be interesting to hear this
same beat played in Bahia. Surely something would be different,
since they use a different type of instrument. Here in Recife the
resonating body is smaller, so variations shouldn’t be played too
fast. Also from Bahia, an Alujá or Elujá
[depending on who is saying it], a Xangô beat, that is the
Orixá called Xangô. It is interesting to compare the
interpretations from Bahia and Pernambuco.
The number of
beats in the Candomblés is huge. I have heard a lot of them
in centers in Rio de Janeiro. I’ve only heard recordings of the
ones from Bahia, never live. However I did hear them in Rio Grande
do Sul, on the batuques, which are the candomblés
there. I heard them in Porto Alegre at the center of Mãe Apolinária,
in the Auxiliadora neighborhood. Later my friend Carlos Galvão Krebs
gave me a tape. You could see that many of the rhythms have the
same shape as in other African cults in Brazil, just with some variations.
As far as the melodies, I recognized some from those I knew from
Recife. I’ll say it again: when they sing in the African cult services,
the Spanish influenced gaúchos do it in the African style.
Now moving on
from the xangôs. I’ll show now a mixture of religious and
profane elements. Let’s hear a Bumba-Meu-Boi rhythm
from Maranhão, which mixes different measures while the melody goes
along in one of the non-Negro modes.
It seems to me
that wherever there was Bantu influence the rhythms are simpler,
probably because the Sudanese Negros had Arabic influence, more
sophisticated, more rhythmically complex. What is certain is that
as soon as the music leaves the more traditional cult, of Xangô
or Candomblé, the rhythms become simpler. Take for example
a rhythm from the Rio macumba that I recorded in Irajá.
It is like a samba, which everybody knows. There are other rhythms
in macumba, but this easier type is predominant. The advantage
of it being easy is that when one person can’t play, someone else
can substitute, although it won’t have the rich variety that traditional
Here in Recife
there is, or was anyway, like in Porto Alegre, Salvador, Rio and
other places, a rhythm called congo. I have no doubt
it is from Angola or the Congo, because I have heard it in documentary
recordings from areas where Bantu is spoken. The congo
rhythm played here is from the Pai João d’Angola center, from Belo
Horizonte. Besides the rhythm, we see the Negro singing style and
an influence from Minas Gerais, a second voice.
Negro influence is found in the baião, usually on
the bass drum although sometimes on other instruments. This Negro
influence on the baião rhythm is sometimes even sophisticated,
but you wouldn’t notice it unless you were educated to. The baião-de-viola
is even more African and has exactly the same characteristic syncopation.
This is very clear in the piece this short passage is from, the
famous story A onça e o cachorro.
There is another
kind of music with African influence that rhythmically, but not
in the melody, is similar to the baião. It is the tango,
which seems to have nothing at all to do with the Argentinean tango.
Due to the success of the Argentinean tango, they started calling
ours the “Brazilian tango,” as if it were like the Argentinean one.
However, the Brazilian tango existed long before the Argentinean
one. Some people used to, or still do, get it mixed up with the
maxixe. This is a big mistake, because the maxixe
is not a type of music or even a dance properly speaking; it is
just a style of dancing. The maxixe was danced to polka or
galope music, etc. However the Brazilian tango lent itself
to the maxixe better, so people confused the two, and sometimes
due to their commercial interests. Recordings of Chiquinha Gonzaga
or Nazaré released in France when the Argentinean tango was at its
prime often read “tango-maxixe,” which was understood to
mean “tango for dancing the maxixe.”
Let me add something.
The Argentinean musicologist Rodrigo said that the Brazilian tango
had been influenced by the habanera, which I hope
to write about at some point. He also said the Argentinean tango
was influenced by Brazilian Negros exported to Buenos Aires as slaves.
He saw the Argentinean tango as a regional version of the Brazilian
tango, like the Brazilian tango is a regional version of the habanera.
Rodrigo also explained the name – I personally don’t understand
etymology, so I leave that up to him. He said the word tango
is from the Xangô, both the cult and one of its orixás,
and means between us. The fact is that in Cuba Xangô is pronounced
tchangô, which could have led to tango. The
tango reproduced here I got from Vicente, a zabumba player
low line, which is very African, is also found in the slow processional
music like that played in the Good Friday procession, as part of
One rhythm that
is played a lot – but you can’t dance to it – in the African cult
services and sometimes in sacred-profane music, like the congada,
the folia de reis [at certain times], etc, is what
they called rufado in Recife. It is a random beat
that doesn’t have to adhere to the timing. The drums do a roll and
maybe a few slaps; the agogô does whatever.
There are many
different rhythms in the São Paulo congada, although
not as many as in the Xangô. For reproduction here
I chose one that is similar to the baião; following that
is a fandango from São Paulo, with typical Negro details,
and lastly a fandango from Paraná for the sake of comparison.
I just want to say
that African syncopation is very clear in Brazilian music. Syncopation
may not be exclusive to Brazil, nor to Africa; the Portuguese have
it too, as do other peoples from completely different cultures.
However, the way it is done in Brazil – how it’s played, articulated
– is typical of Africa.
In one of his
books – don’t ask me which one, but the phrase is quoted a lot -
Mário de Andrade wrote that a large part, perhaps the largest part,
of what we received was from Europe, but the Negros gave everything