Berimbau

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The berimbau is a stringed chordophone that has a single string and a gourd-like resonator body to produce sound. The player uses a thick metal disk known as a dobrão to affect the instrument’s pitch as he strikes the string with a thin stick known as a baqueta. The berimbau has origins in Africa but is most commonly associated with music from Brazil.
History of the Berimbau
The berimbau has origins in Africa where many string instruments that use a gourd resonator body originate from: for example, the banjo, guiro and kora. Though the history of this distinctive instrument has been difficult to trace, many attribute its first appearance in South America to the 16th century when the martial art of Capoeira was developed by enslaved Africans in Brazil. The berimbau often determined the tempo and style of the music played in the ensemble accompanying Capoeira and is still traditionally used in Brazil today. Documented evidence of the berimbau emerged in the early 19th century, in written records and art of the time. It wouldn’t be until the mids 1950s that bold distinctive colours would be added to the gourd body in order for the instrument to stand out and fit in with new Brazillian cultural trends. The berimbau is still predominantly played by ensembles in South America but has also been used in the United States by players such as composer and percussionist Gregory Beyer. His non profit organisation, Arcomusical, attempts to preserve and spread awareness of the berimbau outside of its native continent.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

$50 - $200

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How to Play

A single-string percussion instrument played with a wooden bow and a gourd resonator. The player strikes the string with a stick and varies the pitch by pressing the gourd to their stomach.

In Popular Music

Berimbau players have not often featured on popular music recordings. However there are some notable exceptions, American musician David Byrne has used berimbau in his concert film ‘American Utopia’. The Grateful Dead have also used berimbau on their songs ‘Throwing Stones’. Youtuber and musician Andrew Scallon has performed berimbau metal and dubstep with the instrument which has renewed its popularity for modern listeners.

Famous Players

Naná Vasconcelos, Mestre Bimba, Baden Powell

Close Relations

Morin khuur, Kora
Video Credit: FlorianBronk
Understanding the Berimbau
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16th century

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Percussion

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