General Characteristics of West African/Afro-Brazilian Music Dense textures

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African Influences in Brazilian Music

Slave Trade

General Characteristics of West African/Afro-Brazilian Music

  • Dense textures

  • Interlock

  • Rhythmic complexity (polyrhythm)

  • Open-ended forms

  • Structure based on melodic/rhythmic ostinato patterns

  • Music as means of communal participation


Aspects of Candomblé

  • Afro-Brazilian religion

  • Worship of hierarchy of orixás: deities

  • Ceremonies: involves dancing, drumming, singing (in Yoruban), to invite orixás to manifest (spirit possession)

  • Musical characteristics:

    • Call and response
    • Polyrhythms
    • Open-ended forms
    • Specific rhythms for each orixá
    • Hierarchy of drums

Master Drummer

  • Candomblé: three drums (atabaque) in hierarchical relationship; directed by master drummer

  • Is oldest male initiate,lead singer,plays any drum he desires; responsible for facilitating spirit possession

  • Plays improvised patterns against rhythmic ostinato patterns of other drums

  • Drums considered sacred: “drum baptism”



  • Instruments:

    • Berimbau: musical bow with shaker
    • Pandeiro: similar to tambourine, played with hands
    • Atabaque drums: similar to conga drums, played with hands
    • Agógô: double-headed cowbell, struck with stick

Roda de Capoeira

  • Jogar = body play

    • Ginga = basic movement
  • Tocar = musical play

    • Lead berimbau plays “toques” (rhythmic patterns)
    • Directs course of the “game”
  • Brincar = verbal play (improvised song lyrics with stock refrains)

  • Malícia=cunning, trickery (ex. Benção)

Samba “Tudo acaba em samba

  • Afro-Brazilian urban popular song/dance form

  • Origins in rural roda de samba:

    • Participatory
    • Accompanied by improvised songs and percussion instruments
    • Style: syncopated, call and response vocals, open-ended forms, musical interlock, diatonic melodies

Types of Samba

  • Carnival samba (e.g. samba batucada and samba enredo)

  • (Year-round) samba

    • Characterized by light percussion and plucked string accompaniment (guitar, cavaquinho)
    • Songs often satiric, witty, improvised

Samba Batucada

  • Instruments of the Batería:

    • Surdo drums (basic pulse in 2 divided among three sizes of surdo)
    • Pandeiro (sixteenth-note division)
    • Cuíca (accents)
    • Tamborim (syncopation)
    • Caíxa (snare drum)

Samba Batucada Rhythms


  • Urban-popular instrumental genre

  • Late 19th c. in Rio de Janeiro

  • Predates Carnival samba

  • Considered “musicians’ music”

  • Performed for hire at parties

  • Played for pleasure in the roda de choro

  • Serves as “Brazilian” musical grounding for instrumentalists of all types

Instruments of Choro

  • Violão (6- and 7-string)

  • Cavaquinho

  • Pandeiro

  • Melody instrument (flute, clarinet, bandolim, saxophone)

Choro Genre

  • Instrumental composition in 2/4

  • Based on formal structure of polka with standard harmonic progressions

  • Lively tempos; syncopation

  • Some improvisation, importance of malícia (playful competition between soloist and accompanist)

Choro and Villa-Lobos

  • Heitor Villa-Lobos (1857-1959)

  • Choro is “the integral translation of the Brazilian soul in the form of music”

Choro Influence

  • Played guitar in roda at music store

  • Choro guitar style permeates works

    • Syncopation
    • Active bass lines typical of 7-string guitar in choro
    • Arpeggiated chords
    • Three sixteenth-note pickup typical of choro

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