Detail of Berimbau
The berimbau is a single string Brazilian musical bow with a hollowed gourd resonator. Similar instruments exist in Africa that have been played since prehistoric times, and it is now widely accepted as having originated in Angola. There is an African legend that tells how the berimbau came into being. A young girl was murdered while drinking from a stream, and her body instantly turned into the bow to exact revenge. The melencholy sound of the string represents her sadness at her untimely demise.
The bow is held in the left hand which also holds a stone or coin, which when pressed against the string produces tone variations such as high tones or buzz tones. The string is played with a thin stick, held in the right hand which also holds a basket shaker known as caxixi. Opening and closing the gourd also alters the pitch of the instrument.
The Pandeiro is the Brazilian equivalent to the tambourine. The basic design of a small frame drum with metal jingles around the circumference is the same, however a pandeiro is usually larger in size. The other important difference is in the jingles. The modern orchestral tambourine has been developed to produce a 'brilliant' sound to cut though an orchestra easily, and the jingles are made of a hard metal like steel or brass. The pandeiro's jingles are more usually made of softer tin like the original 'bottle top' jingles, and therefore produce a much drier sound which is more suited to the fast rhythms of Brazilian music such as the Samba.
Cowbells are exactly that! The bell from around a cow's neck. Many cultures have a type of bell that they put on their cattle and/or other livestock, to be able to identify it even at night or in fog. In some of these places people have discovered that humans are usually much better performers on the bells than the cows, and can actually get quite a variety of sounds from them. The bell pictured is a modern one that is designed to be mounted on a stand, but can also be played in the traditional way, which is held in the hand. The bell is gripped at the closed end between the thumb and the rear fingers, with the pointer and index fingers pointing down towards the mouth of the bell. By placing these fingers on the mouth or removing them, a closed or open sound is obtained. In Latin-American music, the hand cowbell is usually quite large, and often simply plays open strokes on the beat to keep time.
The agogo bells are similar to cowbells, but were never really intended for cows so much. They are small high pitched bells which traditionally come in hand held pairs, but modern versions often come as a set of three and/or ready for mounted on a stand. They are usually tuned a small interval apart such as a second or minor third. Agogo bells are particularly used in Brazil and play more elaborate rhythms than the hand cowbell, similar to those of the tamborims.
The chocalo is a shaker used widely in Brazil. The design is not something to be fussy about, and a wide variety of shakers are often employed simultaneously, as many people join in. The chocalo is often a home made instrument, created from tin cans or hollowed gourds, or just about any type of container. It is an extremely important instrument for sambas, always playing the classic semiquaver pattern, with accents on the first and fourth semiquaver of every beat.
Scrapers of all sorts can be found in all Latin-American countries, from those made from springs or thin notched bamboo in areas such as Brazil, to those such as the Guiro which is favoured in Cuba. The common name for all of these Latin-American scrapers is "reco-reco", although some such as the guiro are worthy of special note. The guiro is traditionally constructed from a dried calabash gourd. The inside is hollowed out and the stem end removed to allow the sound to escape. Two holes are usually drilled on one side, for the thumb and index finger which grip the guiro through the holes. the opposite side has a series of grooves cut in it that make the sound when scraped with a thin stick. In particular the guiro is commonly used in cha patterns playing a pattern consisting of a long sounding crotchet scrape ascending in pitch, followed by two staccato quaver scrapes.
Tamborims are particularly important in Brazil. They are essentially a small hand held frame drum struck with a small stick or mallet. Quite high in pitch, the tamborims play similar rhythms to the agogo bells. The two different pitches are achieved on the tamborim by pressing the fingers of the hand which is holding the drum, into the skin from the inside. This raises the tension and therefore the pitch for the higher note.
Timbales are a pair of shallow drums with metal shells, and skins on the top side only. The heads are quite thin, and played with thin wooden sticks about 12mm in diameter. This lends the timbales their very powerful 'cutting' sound. The name originates from the French word timbale, which means 'kettledrum'. Although they sound nothing at all like orchestral timpani which are often given the same name, they share the same quality of sound created by thinner skins and beaters. Timbales are almost always mounted on a stand with a pair of cowbells. The timbale player will tend to mostly use the cowbells and play pailia (on the side of the drum) during a song, until the timbale solo, where the drum sound can easily cut through the whole band.
The surdo is the master of the samba in Brazil. The surdo is essentially the bass drum of the band, and is like a very large and very deep tom tom which is often hung on a rope around the neck, so it can be used in a march or on parade. (although a "march" in a place like Rio can be more like an energetic dance which moves mainly in one direction!) The drum is hung around the neck, so the head is flat and can be reached with both hands. The surdo is played with a single large headed mallet, while the other hand is employed to vary the sound by sometimes pressing on the head to create a slightly higher pitch 'closed' or muffled sound.
Conga drums probably originate in Africa, although the type of conga drums that are still used there are now quite different to the Latin-American Conga drums, as they have remained fairly authentic. The Latin-American Conga drums are single headed, often with a shell that bulges in the middle, and are played with the hands in a variety of ways to produce quite a large array of differing sounds.
Authentic Latin-American music usually employs three sizes of conga drum played on the floor by three independent musicians. - The smaller 'Quinto' which is used mainly for soloing and introducing new rhythms, and the middle sized 'Conga", and the larger 'Tumba', which are used mainly for the base rhythms. Most situations today see a pair of conga drums mounted on a stand, and played by a single drummer who can combine the more important aspects of the quinto, conga and tumba rhythms, to produce a fairly equivalent sound.
The bongos are a pair of Afro-Cuban drums fixed to one another. They are similar to the conga drums, also played with the hands and using real animal skin, but much smaller and shallower. The bongos that we know today originated in Cuba around 1900 and are popular with Latin dance bands, rhumba bands and Western rhythm bands. The bongo player is usually a highly regarded musician in a Cuban band and is often called upon to solo. When playing just a rhythm part, the bongo player almost always sticks to a rhythm called "martillo" (The Hammer!) which drives the music with its sharp steady pulse.
Cuban style Clave
African style Clave
Claves are a pair of solid, wood sticks, each about seven inches long and an inch in diameter, and usually made of rosewood. One clave is cupped loosely in the hand and is struck with the other. The clave are used widely in Latin America, and most popular in Cuba. The rhythm usually played on the clave is called 'clave'.
The cuica is a friction drum from Brazil. A stick is fixed in the center of the drum skin and projects from inside the shell. The sound is made by rubbing the stick between the thumb and the forefinger with a damp sponge or piece of leather. The cuica is often used to accompany the samba.
Steel drums are not really 'drums' in the normal sense at all. They are a called drums, because they were (and still are) originally created from steel "oil" drums. The steel drum is a tuned instrument which can create sophisticated melodies, and comes in a range of pitch ranges, from the high "lead pan" right down to bass pans with only three or four notes on each pan. The modern pan is normally made from a 55 gallon oil drum.
Steel drums evolved on the island of Trinidad where there was a healthy oil trade. The surplus oil drums were employed for many things, but steel drums have become the most famous. The oil drum is cut in half, then the flat end is carefully hammered into shape. The metal is stretched quite a bit in the process, so a bowl or 'pan' shape is created. Each little section is separately tuned to a different note, and a lead pan gets over three octaves from one oil drum! The first "steel bands" did not used tuned instruments, but used anything made of steel because it tended to be louder than bamboo instruments or similar. The discovery of the tuning process started in the early 1940s and in just one decade a range of chromatic instruments had been developed.
The maracas can be made in a variety of ways depending on the materials that are locally available. Typically they are made from calabash gourds with the dry seeds still loose inside, so they make a sound when shaken. The ones shown here are made from dried and stitched leather. The maracas are usually played in pairs so they have handles, and although they are mostly typical of the Caribbean countries, they are known throughout Latin America.
Apito or Pito
The Apito is essentially a whistle, and the louder the better, usually of the 'pea' type. The origins of the apito are
undoubtedly a fairly simple instrument, but has developed as a standard today into a whistle capable of giving three notes. The LP Tri-Tone Samba Whistle shown here has its origins in Brazilian music but has become a standard in today's dance music as well. It has three distinct, complementary tones that are achieved by placing fingers over the side chamber holes in various combinations.
Westerners tend to think of the triangle as an orchestral instrument, but triangles are also commonly used in Brazilian music. Usually the triangles used are bigger and coarser than those we expect to see used in an orchestral setting. They often sound a little more dull. To play a samba pattern on a triangle we need to get an open and choked sound - the open sounds are used for the accents on the first and fourth semiquavers of each beat, following the chocalo pattern. Sometimes this pattern is reversed, so that the closed sound is used for the accents. You can see here the grip used - suspending the triangle on the bent index finger while the palm and other fingers can close or grip from here to choke the sound. The beater is used in a side to side motion inside the triangle.