It is the central instrument of Capoeira, there is no roda without berimbau. In certain groups, students are not allowed to play it before undergoing training. The reason for this is that to manipulate the berimbau, it means that we should be able to play it for the entire time in the roda and to understand its importance with respect to the game. The ones who have the responsibility of playing the berimbau must also have other capabilities such as being able to have an overall control of the roda, being able to sing and keep the singing going, deciding when a game must be stopped or not. This requires an understanding of Capoeira because the berimbau is the sole master of Capoeira.

Technically speaking, the berimbau is a musical bow used in Capoeira. It may be one of the most primitive of all musical instruments. Various forms of it can be found in different cultures, including New Mexico (USA), Patagonia, Central Africa, South Africa and Brazil.

There are different theories about the origins of the musical bow in connection to the weapon. One may be at the origin of the other or their creations may have been separate from each other.

Even though it is presently impossible to know which of these theories is correct, the musical bow was already being used in 15000 BC. In the Cave of the “Trois-Frères” in southern France, from that era, there is a painting of a man clad in bison skin holding an object that looks like a bow, close to his face.
All other proofs or piece of evidence with regard to the old usage or the development of the musical bow is obtained to us by means of accounts written or told by travelers and explorers, particularly during the nineteenth century.

It was brought to Brazil very early, at the same time as the slaves. There is no trace of musical bows existing in the Indian tribes of Brazil.


When we thoroughly study the sources, we see that Capoeira was not always associated with the Berimbau. When Rugendas was describing Capoeira in 1825, there were drums. When Debrét was drawing the black street vendor with the Berimbau, there was no Capoeira. In the few first-hand sources we have about Capoeira of the 19th century, there is just no Berimbau. And still, today all Capoeira Mestres and teachers do emphasize the importance of the Berimbau. The Berimbau started to become a symbol of Capoeira. When one see somebody walking around with a Berimbau, we just assume he is a Capoeirista. So, what happened in the last 100 years? Why is the Berimbau so important to Capoeira, while it was just not associated with it just 110 years ago?


Out of Africa – the Berimbau

The Berimbau is an African-derived instrument. Recent and past indigenous tribes of Brazil did not have musical bows, the Europeans neither. But in Africa around the 15th century till today there was a huge diversity of different musical bows. The ones who played these bows and built them in Africa were shipped over to Brazil and there they started making Berimbaus and playing them. We find the first historical documentation of the Berimbau in the early 19th century. Especially travelers from Europe were fascinated or curious about the musical bow which was described as being used by street vendors and beggars. And it was especially an instrument used by Blacks, not by the mestizoes, not the poor whites, it was the African Brazilian people who used the Berimbau.

The first times the Berimbau was mentioned together with Capoeira, was in the early 1880’s. One document of this time (about 1891) is a description by Joao Silva da Campos, whose description was published posthumously in 1941:

The excited dark crowd performed Batuques. Samba. Capoeira circles. One heard pandeiros, cavaquinhos, violas, harmonicas, berimbau and cadential hand clapping. It was  pandemonium (Campos 1941:131).

This description, which does not seem to be the description of an insider, does definitely show us that Capoeira and the Berimbau were already in the same happenings, but maybe not specifically linked to each other. It was still mainly poor African Brazilians who practised Capoeira, and who played the Berimbau. But in one expect there is an important difference between Capoeira and the Berimbau. While Capoeira was practised in different places, the Berimbau seems to have survived in only few places. Especially in Salvador. In Rio Capoeira was practised without the Berimbau (and without the Ginga and so on), but was associated with war songs used by the Guiamos and the Nagoas. In Recife Capoeira was associated with the city’s principal music bands, but they also had no Berimbau.



In the 1930’s the Berimbau was nearly extinct in Brazil. It was only played in Salvador, and here most of its players were Capoeiristas or associated to them. And then, when Capoeira did suddenly increase in popularity thanks to Mestre Bimba and the legalization of Capoeira Academies by Getulio Vargas, the Berimbau did start to be used more and more. And today, only 70 years later, the Berimbau is a symbol of Brazil, but more of Afrobrazilian culture, and, of all, of Capoeira. It is still most intimately connected to Capoeira, but has now its existence in performance and entertainment outside of it as well. Without Capoeira, the Berimbau would never had experienced such an increase in popularity in the world. And maybe, though this is speculation, it would not have survived.

But there is also the other side of the coin. Would Capoeira have survived or gained so much popularity without the Berimbau? Mind, that the Capoeiras of Rio de Janeiro and Recife, the ones without the Berimbau and stripped from many parts of Afrobrazilian culture, did not survive. Alright, this is all speculation, because, in fact, Capoeira and the Berimbau did survive. My opinion is still, that without each other, both would have been much weaker nowadays than before. They are in a symbiosis: a situation, where two different entities are closely associated gaining mutual benefit from this. Already this is a reason to respect the Berimbau and keep it in your Rodas and in your trainings.



There is more to the Berimbau. The Berimbau is the Master of the Roda. Of course, yes, there are other Mestres, but in every Roda, in modern Capoeira Rodas and in traditional ones, the Berimbau does control speed and style of the game. That’s why there are different rythms, different toques of the Berimbau. That is why the Berimbau is the first instrument to play in a Capoeira Roda. That’s why every instrument can miss in a Roda, but not the Berimbau. And that’s why Capoeiristas can walk through any street and will react on the sound of the Berimbau, usually making him attent and making him search for the Roda. That is why there are all rituals around the Berimbau, why it’s at the Pé do Berimbau where we enter the Roda.

Mestre Bimba did modernize Capoeira, but he did leave the Berimbau, because it is the controlling instance in a Capoeira Roda. It is the Berimbau and the bateria of Capoeira, which did keep Bahian Capoeira under control, so that it could be playful in the first, beautiful in the second and deadly in the third game. That’s the big difference of Bahian Capoeira to Capoeira Carioca or Capoeira of Recife. That’s why it did survive.

Everybody has to listen to the Berimbau, if he does not, he doesn’t have any idea of Capoeira.



The verga

A straight stick with a diameter of 15 to 25 mm, and a height of 1.50 m to 1.70 m, in resistant hard wood. A berimbau is originally made from a beriba stem. It’s trunk is used for the instrument because it is straight, solid and flexible. At least 3 years are required for a biriba to grow at the appropriate height so that it can be used as an instrument. Note that it is better to cut the trunk so that it can grow back. The beriba is a tree that is essentially found in Bahia, which, according to some people, is becoming extinct because of excessive slashing in order to sell the berimbaus to the Capoeiristas and to the tourists. There are different types of beriba (beriba roxa, beriba branca, beriba cabeluda,…), they can all be used to make a berimbau.
There are also other elements which have similar features to the beriba and they can also be used to make the instrument: Pau-d’arco, Candurú, Camaçari, Tapioca and Aracà

If nothing else is available, bamboo can always be used since it has similar characteristics and it is also very accessible.
We can also use: Ash tree, Crape Myrtle, Eucalyptus, Maple tree, Locust or Linden.

Contemporary berimbaus are different from the berimbaus that were made before the development of tourism and Capoeira outside Brazil. They have apparently been shortened and refined in order to adapt to the European clients who are too weak to string the instrument or to hold it…

There are two ways of making the arame hold: as it was done previously, it was pointed (so that it could also be used as a weapon), or as it is currently done, with a flat and round end.


The arame

Metallic wire strung between the ends of the verga. It is traditionally obtained from a car tire whose edges have been cut. In earlier times, fiber or casing wires were used.
Some Mestres buy arame by the meter and do not concern themselves with carving up the tires. This allows them to have arames and berimbaus with the same constant quality and also, it saves them time.


The cabaça

The cabaça comes from the fruit of the bottle gourd (lagenaria vulgaris) also known as calabash and is used as a resonator. There are three types of cabaça according to their size: The berra-boi or gunga has a deep sound, the medio has a medium sound, the viola or violinha has the most acute sounds of the three. These categories do not depend on the size. Three berimbaus of the same size may be categorized in three different classes. Their categorization is relative to the number of instruments. The tone depends on the tightness of the verga’s wood, the thickness and size of the calabash.
A good gourd is smooth and as round-shaped as possible. To transform it in a cabaça, first, a circle is cut out at the top of the dry gourd and is usually used later to make the bottom of the caxixis. Two holes are made at the bottom in order to pass the string that attaches it to the verga. Some capoeiristas add a piece of leather above the holes inside the cabaca in order to improve the sound.
Each cabaça needs to match the right verga.


The baqueta or vageta

A stick, generally made of hard wood (biriba or ticum), which is around ten centimeters in height, that is used to hit the arame and hence play the berimbau.


The dobrão or pedra

Metal coin or a stone that is used to change the tone of the instrument.


The caxixí

Rattle made of straw with its bottom made of the calabash. It accentuates the sound of the berimbau.

Berimbau players in other styles of music

  • Electronic arist and multi-instrumentalist Bibio makes use of the berimbau on the track “K Is For Kelson”, the first single from his 2011 album Mind Bokeh.
  • Candomblé-de-caboclo songs have been recorded by ethnomusicologists to the accompaniment of berimbau. Musicians have also played Ketu, Gêgê and Angola candomblé rhythm patterns on berimbau, but this does not appear to have any relationship either with the cults or with capoeira.
  • Berimbau has appeared in a number of bands as a marker of Afro-Brazilian origin.
  • Nana Vasconcelos, since the late 1970s, has played berimbau and other percussion with modern jazz musicians worldwide.
  • Paulinho Da Costa – A highly sought after studio musician.
  • Dinho Nascimento, Brazilian percussionist, has used berimbau as his main instrument for music recording, like Berimbaus Blues and has a group of Capoeira named orchestra Orquestra de Berimbaus do Morro do Querosene.
  • Max Cavalera – Lead singer and guitarist in metal bands Sepultura, Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy.
  • Airto Moreira – Brazilian percussionist, works with many musicians and combines many styles from different continents.
  • Ney Rosauro – Brazilian percussionist and composer of contemporary classical music has utilized the Berimbau in several of his compositions for orchestra and percussion ensemble.
  • Greg Beyer – Percussionist and professor at Northern Illinois University. Spearheading a project titled O Berimbau to bring the Berimbau and other such musical bows into the world of western compositions.
  • Okay Temiz – Turkish Jazz drummer and percussionist. The Berimbau is an instrument which he commands and used in many songs. “Denizalti Rüzgarlari” from 1975 is the most famous one of these songs.
  • Cut Chemist – Turntablist of such groups as Ozomatli and Jurassic 5 made use of the Berimbau in his single “The Garden,” off his album The Audience’s Listening.
  • TaKeTiNa – The berimbau is used as a drone—along with the surdo, which serves as the “heartbeat”—as part of the TaKeTiNa Rhythm Process, a musical, meditative group process for people who want to develop their awareness of rhythm.
  • Minnesota metal band GRYZOR uses a modern contemporary version of the berimbau in their live show.
  • Mauro Refosco, a Brazilian percussionist and member of bands Forró In The Dark and Atoms For Peace, plays the berimbau in the live rendition of the Atoms’ “The Clock”.
  • Ramiro Muzzoto, was a percussionist from Brazil. His music is characterized by a combination of traditional music and electronic music.