Name: Birimbau.

Type: Struck Bow > Monochord > Idiophone.

Region: Brazil > South America.

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Description: The birimbau is defined as a struck musical bow, it is classified as struck monochord [single stringed instrument]. Originally the use of the birimbau is associated with the martial art and dance “Capoeira”. In the development of capoeira as martial art the capoeira was concealed as a dance that was used by the slaves as a means of self-defense and survival during colonial times. Struck or plucked monochords can be found throughout Central and South Africa where the birimbau likely has its origins.

Development: In Brazil during the 1950s birimbau’s have been painted with colourful patterns and designs as they follow local Bahian and over all Brazilian taste. Professional quality instruments are usually plain. Throughout the Brazilian diaspora and many other communities the birimbau is enjoying a much wider exposure. Due to the tourism in Brazil and the expansion of Capoeira schools outside of Brazil increased the popularity of this musical instrument. Nowadays the birimbau is adapted as a percussion instrument, it has found its way through jazz, popular and other forms of world music. The Brazilian Guitarist Baden Powell and poet Vinicius de Moraes have written lyrics that describe the birimbau. The percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Nana Vasconcelos known for his work with Pat Mathany who often used the birimbau in accompany. As a percussion instrument the birimbau found its self in genres outside of Brazilian music including Jazz.

Playing Techniques: The birimbau is held up by the left hand and close to the chest while the musician is standing. The right hand strikes the [arame] string with a [baqueta] being a stick of a thin diameter and short length. The [baqueta] is used to tap the string to produce the sound. Whereas the left hand manipulates a small brass coin called the [pedra or dobrão] it is used to press against the [arame] string to change the tone of the birimbau. The birimbau is used to keep the tempo of a rhythm during capoeira and other dances. Practitioners of Capoeira called “Capoeiristas” classify three sizes of birimbau. The first size of the birimbau is the [berra-boi or gunga]. The gunga is the largest of the sizes, patience is required to play the gunga since the rhythm rarely changes throughout the performance. The second size of the birimbau is called the Médio [others use the term viola] is the medium size of birimbau. The Médio birimbau is considered to be the medium size. The viola or violinha is considered the highest pitched of the birimbau's.

Construction: The birimbau is constructed from a bow, gourd, string and brass ring or stone. The [arame] or wire is tied to each end of the bow [verga]  and a gourd [Cabaça] is affixed almost a foot to the bottom end of the bow. The gourd serves as a resonance chamber. Often the wire [arame] for the birimbau string is from bicycle break cable, or steel wire.   

















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