World Music Spotlight: Capoeira

by Abby @ Quaver on July 5, 2012

in In the Quaver Classroom!,

Are you still mourning the end of Quaver’s World Music Month in May?
Well, stop your crying and get excited, because we have another World Music Spotlight to ease your cravings!

This time we’re looking at an art form from the country of Brazil, and we’ve asked Quaver team member Chris to show us what it’s all about!
This is bonus info you won’t find at!

Hey Quaver fans! I’m Christopher Johnson, an artist at Quaver’s Marvelous World of Music, & I practice the art of capoeira!

What is capoeira you may ask?

Capoeira (Kah-po-erah) is a Brazilian martial art that mixes elements of dance & music! It was created by Afro-Brazilians, (Brazilians of recent African descent) & became established in the 16th century when the United States was not even a nation! That’s a long time ago!

A quick history lesson:

African slaves imported to Brazil would often escape and move to remote locations deep in the forests called quilombos to pursue freedom. These quilombos are where capoeira thrived & evolved into an even more powerful martial art.

Capoeira was one way that slaves in captivity in Brazil could protect themselves and their families. By incorporating music & dance into the martial art, they could practice and even use the forceful moves without drawing unwanted attention from colonists. What looked like dancing & playing music to African rhythms, was effectively hiding the volatile martial art. Because capoeira relies on mainly the legs and feet, slaves could even defend themselves with bound hands.

After slavery was finally made illegal in the Brazil Empire in 1888, much violence & injustice still persisted. Capoeira was unfortunately adopted into a subculture of violence, until it was outlawed in 1890.

In 1932 when capoeira was still an underground practice, Mestre (Master) Bimba founded the first school in Salvador, Bahia. Schools like these helped the art of Capoeira gain a non-violent following, interested in the art form, music, and movement of the sport. Capoeira finally became legal in 1940 and many other schools such as Mestre Pastniha’s school (which had more traditional roots) were also created.

How it works:

Capoeira has two styles of fighting – characterized by movement and the TEMPO of the music:

  1. Regional is full of aerial acrobatics and hard blows and is “played” to music with a fast, airy tempo.
  2. Angola has more ground-based movements, and the music generally has a slower tempo.

Some of the main instruments used in capoeira are:

  • three berimbaus (stringed bow instrument with a hollowed gourd for resonance)
  • two pandeiros (tambourines)
  • one atabaque (a drum)
  • one agogô (cow bell)
  • one ganzá (percussive rattle)

This format may vary depending on the Capoeira group’s traditions or the roda (group) style. While players in the roda spar, the other participants chant in a call & response style, similar to many traditional African songs.

Here is an example of a song about war:

Vou dizer à minha mulher, Paraná
Capoeira que venceu, Paraná… [Venceu a guerra]
Paraná ê, Paraná ê, Paraná.
Ela quis bater pé firme, Paraná [Ela = a guerra]
Isso não aconteceu, Paraná…

I will tell my wife, Paraná
That capoeira won [the war], Paraná
Paraná ê, Paraná ê, Paraná.
It [the war] wanted to stamp its foot hard, Paraná
This did not happen, Paraná

Who is capoeira for?

Anyone! All ages can learn the basics of capoeira.

The most basic movement is an au. The player uses au’s to move around the roda, it is otherwise known as a cartwheel! Check out the videos below for more information!

If covering Brazilian music in a classroom setting, it might be fun to talk about capoeira, then go and create a capoeira rhythm using the creative QBackBeat on! Then explore Quaver’s World Music to hear Brazilian instruments played.

Find out even more here!:


Thanks, Chris, for sharing this interesting Brazilian art form with us!

Do you ever cover movement forms like this in your classroom?

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