Friday, July 22, 2016

Behind the Scenes: Brazilian Music

Carnival in Rio
I can hear people singing and drumming through the window all day and evening along a street filled with restaurants that runs beside us.  My favorite parts of discovering culture involve all the sensory delights of those two great arts:  food and music.  They both involve the amalgamation of skill, time, generations of expertise and experimenting, but best of all, their creations reflect our love for each other - our musical performances and meals exist to be enjoyed by our friends, families, and ourselves.  Recipes and musical compositions are passed down through the generations.  Today let's go behind the scenes to take a look at the music of Rio, although let me tell you, I will also be VERY passionate about exploring the food scene as well!

Shhhhh...we're behind the scenes!
Of course, like every major culture on the planet, Brazil has had a vibrant art music tradition.  It was influenced by the Portuguese and music of the Christian World beginning in the Renaissance, African music from the millions who were trapped into slavery, and even the ancient traditions of indigenous peoples in the Amazon.  But Brazil invented several younger, sexier styles of music which took the world by storm:  choro, samba, and bossa nova.

Earlier today I had to take a trip out to get a few more instruments and other supplies.  What better place than Brazil's largest Brazilian Music store, Bossa Nova & Companhia.  A special thanks to Claudio who helped answer all my questions, and introduce me to all sorts of new music and performers.

I found what I was looking for - cuicas - a type of pitched drum.  Pictured below is a professional cuica made of aluminum, rawhide drumhead, and stick attached to the underside of the drum.  To play it, you wet cloth or cotton and move it along the stick to create higher or lower pitches.  I had to take the picture against a mirror for you to see the inside.

Inside a cuica - a peculiar pitched drum

Here is a terribly hilarious cuica solo.  Believe it or not, it's named cuica because that is the local name for the woolly mouse opossum, which makes a high pitched squeaky sound.  And this instrument definitely squeaks!  Yikes!

It's often used in samba as the following video shows.  Samba is a relatively new form of music and dance that developed from the African music traditions of those living in the poorest communities, favelas.  And like jazz, gospel, and blues in the US, Samba transcended race and class and became a truly Brazilian art form.  This is a cuica team practicing for the carnival parade at the Sambodromo (pictured at the very top).

One more exciting use of the cuica is in the victory ceremony music that was just announced today.  Although the video is still unlisted on youtube, only about 100 people have heard this at the time of this posting!  The bit below is the music that they will play as the medal winners in some of the more modern sports like BMX, moutain bike, and beach volleyball ascend the podium.  Can you spot the cuica?  Other popular and traditional sports will have different podium music, in case you wondered.


  1. I've never seen or heard of this instrument before! Thanks for introducing us to it!

  2. That reminds me of the Plastic cup chicken.
    Thanks for sharing.


Featured Post

OLYMPIC CEREMONY DATABASE: Every Summer and Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games may be the largest art form in the modern world and certainly one of the rarest.  I provided all ...