Northeast Music and Rhythms

Northeast Music and Rhythms
Northeast Music and Rhythms

It is impossible to think about the culture of Brazil without considering the music and rhythms of the Northeast, the themes and the inventiveness of the music of the Northeast – a mixture of influences in which tradition and renewal coexist.

In all of Brazil, the Northeast region is the one that most zealously preserves its traditions, music and rhythms – a very rich heritage in which indigenous, African and Iberian influences are mixed and which is manifested in hundreds of sung and danced rhythms in all states.

Thus, if the candomblé drums and capoeira circles that multiply in Bahia are distinctly African, the sertanejos, with their improvised verses, are a heritage of the Iberian Peninsula and bring Arab reminiscences; in the same way, the caboclinhos have indigenous origins – choreography performed at the Pernambuco Carnival by dancers dressed as Indians -, while the zambê from Rio Grande do Norte, circles in which the participants invite each other to dance, calling them through their navels, came from Angola.

Videos on “Music, Rhythms and Dances from the Northeast”

The examples are inexhaustible from the music and rhythms of the Northeast: Northeastern popular festivities multiply throughout the year, but reach their peak in the Carnival and in June.

See some types of music, rhythms and dances from the northeast:


Bahia and Pernambuco represent the two poles of the Northeast Carnival.

In Salvador, the party has become a lucrative tourist product. Alongside the ubiquitous axé music (a fusion of northeastern rhythms with commercial pop born in the 1980s) and trios electricians, the city is the stage for manifestations linked to African traditions, such as afoxés and Afro blocks.

The afoxés emerged at the end of the 1970th century. The popular Filhos de Gandhy walks through the streets, dragging sandals, singing ijexás – the rhythm of Candomblé chants – and greeting the orixás in the Nagô language. Afro blocks are very recent: they were formed in the XNUMXs.

Ilê Aiyê, very attached to the idea of ​​affirming black culture and identity, only accepts Afro-descendants in its community.

Em Pernambuco, Carnival is a party – even – less structured and more spontaneous. There, among other rhythms and dances (caboclinhos, coco, etc.), frevo and maracatu prevail.

The frevo, born at the end of the XNUMXth century, probably from the polka and military doubles, is characterized by the unmistakable nu rcha of frantic rhythm and by the choreography, an incessant up-and-down of legs and arms.

Maracatu is based on a collective and rehearsed petformance, with the sound of drums, rattles and gongh.

The members, dressed in colorful costumes and adornments, go after the doll, a richly decorated doll attached to a stick. Seu Salustiano, founder of the Pernambuco group Piaba de Ouro, is the biggest promoter of the variant known as rural maracatu, considered the most faithful to African origins.

During Carnival, frevo bands spread the vibrant sound of brass throughout Olinda e Recife. They join the maracatu blocks, known as nations.

Since the 1960s, Recife celebrates, at midnight on Carnival Sunday, the Night of Silent Drums: gathered in Pátio do Terço, in front of the church of Recife Antigo, the crowd stops for a minute and all the drumming stops, in homage to the Africans enslaved in the past.

The break anticipates many hours of sound, at the meeting of nations from all over Pernambuco, some of them traditional, such as the Elefante (founded in 1800), the Leão Coroado (from 1863) and the Estrela Brilhante (from 1910).


Like the drums, the accordion occupies a prominent place in northeastern music. At a forró party – a party animated by rhythms such as baião, coco, xaxado and xote – you can't miss the “pé-de-bode”, popular accordion with eight basses.

A zabumba and the triangle they form the basic ensemble of the “ball without etiquette”, in the definition of folklorist Câmara Cascudo. From popular entertainment, forró gained status as a musical genre, mainly with the intensification of the migratory movement of northeastern people to the Southeast of Brazil.

it was up to Luis Gonzaga pioneering the spread of baião throughout the country. Born in Exu, in the Pernambuco hinterland, Gonzaga made his name in the 1940s with presentations in Rio de Janeiro.

He died in 1989, sacred king of baião, in a court where several illustrious northeasterners appear, such as the singer Marinês, the accordionists Sivuca and Dominguinhos, and Jackson do Pandeiro, a man from Paraíba of impoverished origin, an excellent tambourine player due to the absolute lack of money from his parents to buy an accordion.

Forró marks another high point in the northeastern calendar: the celebration of June festivals. The celebrations in honor of Saint Antônio, São João and São Pedro take place throughout the country, but in the Northeast they mobilize crowds and extend for days, usually on holidays.

In June, the whole region gets busy with lots of shuffling, square dancing and typical food. Caruaru, in Pernambuco, and Campina Grande, from Paraíba, compete every year for the consecration of the best June festival in the world, each receiving 150 visitors a day.


Alongside the music and rhythms of the northeast, and fed by them, they developed in the Northeast other musical aspects.

In the 1940s, while Luís Gonzaga presented the sounds of the sertão to Brazil, a Bahian obtained national recognition: Dorival caymmi, one of the great sambistas – and musicians – of the country.

It is important to remember, by the way, that samba was born in Bahia, and was taken to Rio de Janeiro by Northeastern immigrants established in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro; in 2005, the samba-de-roda of Recôncavo Baiano has been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

At the end of the 1950s, bossa-nova was born in the south of Rio de Janeiro, which instituted a sophisticated guitar beat in popular music and an intimate style that opposed the grandiloquence that until then dominated Brazilian popular music; curiously, the best translation of the carioquíssima bossa-nova was a Bahian from Juazeiro, João Gilberto.

The song festivals that stirred up the cultural scene of the following decade were the great channel of expression for young musicians during the military dictatorship instituted in 1964.

The artists from Paraíba, Geraldo Vandré, known for his songs of a political nature, and the Bahians performed Caetano Veloso e Gilberto Gil, whose influence would extend over the following decades.

In 1968, the two composers launched, with fellow Bahians Tom Zé and Capinam, and singers Maria Bethânia and Gal Costa, the tropicalist movement – ​​which discussed the concepts of good and bad taste, national and foreign, promoting the meeting of sounds traditional and foreign influences.

In the same decade, the polyinstrumentalist from Alagoas, Hermeto Paschoal, began, with his Quarteto Novo, to combine the levadas of baião and xaxado with jazz and contemporary harmonies.

Maestro Moacir Santos, an exceptional composer and arranger, recorded his first album in 1965; born in Pernambuco backlands, Santos built a solid international career.


From 1970 onwards, the Brazilian music industry could no longer do without Northeastern artists.

There is an extensive list of composers and singers who, more or less linked to the typical music of their states of origin, crossed regional boundaries and achieved popular recognition throughout the country – just remember the names of Djavan, Belchior, Fagner, Raul Seixas, Elba Ramalho, Zé Ramalho, Nando Cordel, Alcaeus Valença, Among others.

The more traditional rhythms of the Northeast were also exposed to the general public: in 1973, Edith do Prato, a samba-de-roda singer from the city of Santo Amaro da Purificação, in the Recôncavo Baiano, participated in the album Araçá azul de Caetano Veloso (In 2004, at the age of 87, she would record her first CD).

The unusual sound of the Fife Band from Caruaru, formed in 1924 in the hinterland of Alagoas, had its first record on vinyl in 1972. In 1977, cirandeira Lia, from the island of Itamaracá, in Pernambuco, also recorded her first album. At the end of the decade, critics and audiences from the United States, Europe and Japan bowed to the avant-garde beats of percussionist Naná Vasconcelos.

In the following decade, the Afro bloc Olodum, from Salvador, was transformed into. national fever; shortly after, it was Timbalada's turn, led by the composer Carlinhos Brown.

Axé music took to the national charts singers such as Margareth Menezes, Daniela mercury e Ivete Sangalo, currently one of the biggest record sellers in the country, and Lenine became known in Brazil and Europe as a singer, songwriter and arranger.

In a very different way, Antônio Nóbrega, from Pernambuco, dancer, musician and scholar of traditional northeastern culture, settled in São Paulo, where he continues an important work of research and musical dissemination.


The younger generations are not less creative. Zeca Baleiro and Rita Ribeiro mix folk trends from Maranhão with electronic pop, and Parai bano Chico César hits hits with his vigorous repertoire.

Mestre Ambrósio and Cordel do Fogo Encantado are good examples of groups that combined. popular poetry and rhythms of the sertão (toré, samba-de-coco, reisado, embolada, caboclinho, ciranda).

Annual festivals ensure movement in this talent pool. Percpan, Panorama Percussivo Mundial, held in the capital of Bahia since 1994, aims to bring together musicians from Brazil and the world linked by the percussion link.

Two Recife festivals, Abril Pro Rock and Rec Beat, which emerged respectively in 1993 and 1995, brought the mangue beat movement to the fore, an almost improbable fusion of soul, funk, hip hop and maracatu, originally promoted by Chico Science with Nação Zumbi and Mundo Livre S/A.

In recent editions, Abril Pro Rock opened space for two new figures in the current northeastern scene: the rocker Pitty and the electronic DJ Dolores. Paddling against the tide, the Bahian prefers the heavy sound of the guitars.

DJ Dolores – stage name of Helder Aragão de Melo from Sergipe – travels around Brazil and the world showing sampled versions of regional sounds captured on the streets of his homeland. The success achieved by both leaves no doubt: the Northeastern board fits all sounds.

Northeast Music and Rhythms


candomblé, axé, samba-de-roda, capoeira, samba reggae, ijexá, afoxé


Reisado, warrior, coco-de-rod, bacamarteiro


Coco-de-Roda, Warrior, Arrival, Alagoas Pagoda, Bahia, Kneading Machine, Maragogi Ox, Viola Pagoda, Galloping Hammer, Waltz Wheel


Maracatu baque solto, maracatu, baque virado, rural maracatu, caboclinhos, seahorse, candomblé, frevo, coconut, ciranda, suddenly


Ciranda, catarineta ship, coco-deroda, baião


Coco-de-Roda, Zambe


Reisado, warrior, maraca tu, cool stick


Reisado, coconut-wheel


Tambor de Creole, boi de pindaré, boi de matraca, boi de orchestra, boi de costa de hand, tambor de mina, reggae from Maranhão

Music and Rhythms from Northeast Brazil – Tourism and Travel Guide for Bahia, Salvador and Northeast

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