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On The Beat (Part 9)

Ignoring the sunshine and the siestas, this month's On The Beat concentrates on the sounds and the instruments of Brazil. Nigel Lord guides us through the samba Batucada and the Maracatu.


AFTER HAVING (HOPEFULLY) whet a few appetites in last month's article on Cuban rhythm, it's time to shift the scene a couple of thousand miles south-east to a country whose very name has become synonymous with Latin American music. Though no more (or less) important than Cuba in its contribution to the rhythmic arts, Brazil, probably as a result of its closer ties with the West (Cuba having been aligned with the Eastern bloc over the last three decades) is often the country which most readily springs to mind when we think of Latin music.

Much of this stems from the imagery which surrounds the annual four-day carnival in Rio de Janeiro - arguably the best known event of its kind in the world. Far from simply providing a few days of celebration for the beleaguered citizens of one of the world's poorest nations however, the carnival engages the time and energies of literally thousands of people for many months of the year. Pre-eminent amongst these are the Samba Schools who compete at the annual event to determine the best costumes, the best dancers, and of course, the best samba arrangements.

Unlike Cuban music, there is no obvious division between traditional and modern rhythmic form in Brazil, though being a much larger country, there has been a greater diversity of cultures involved in its development. There's a broader range of instruments and more flexibility in the line-up of bands too, and this has led to the evolution of a huge array of "ethnic" instruments, many of them with a sound quite unique to Brazilian music.

This, of course, poses real problems for the beatbox programmer anxious to sample the delights of a country for whom rhythm is, quite literally, a way of life. Few machines are equipped with the kind of instruments which provide Brazilian rhythm with its essential character. The sampler is, once again, perhaps the best means of overcoming this problem, and with world music now fairly well represented in the country's record shops, it shouldn't be too difficult finding a suitable source for your (covert?) sampling activities.

In the absence of a sampler, there are certain alternatives to the prescribed instruments (different types of shakers, for example, are often freely interchangeable) and there are ways of manipulating onboard sounds to make them more usable within the context of Brazilian rhythm. Certain instruments, however, really have no effective substitutes and will either have to be omitted from a pattern completely or exchanged for different instruments altogether.

Of the two approaches, I would most definitely recommend the latter - at least that way you stand a chance of producing an interesting groove even if it doesn't have a totally authentic Latin flavour.

The first, and perhaps most important instrument is the surdo (pronounced soor-doh). This takes the form of a large double-headed drum of about the same internal volume as a bass drum, but more closely resembling a large floor tomtom. Its importance lies in its role as the foundation for most rhythms in Brazilian music: the drum which provides the deepest sound in an arrangement. As you might imagine, as a close relative of the tom-tom, it's quite an easy instrument to recreate on the drum machine, particularly if (de)tuning is possible. However, because the surdo player uses a hand as well as a stick to increase the tonal range of the instrument, we have to make use of the other two other tomtoms to achieve a convincing effect. More on this later.

The ago-go bells will, perhaps, be more familiar to programmers, as they are included on a number of machines currently available, and on many of the classic models of the last few years. With a rather more open, penetrating sound than the cowbell, they need to be pitched about an octave apart and kept well down in the mix if they are not to become overbearing. Of course, two cowbells tuned an octave apart would make a perfectly acceptable substitute if ago-gos are not available, but they will need to be pitched fairly high.

The chocalho (pronounced shochal-yo) is the most popular type of shaker within Brazilian music and in its most common form comprises a metal cylinder about 18 inches long filled with sand or shot. In practise this can produce tones ranging from a fairly loose rattle to a tight "chic" on accented notes. Again, it's not particularly difficult to recreate with other types of shaker, but it's best to keep the tuning quite low, and perhaps add a short, high-pitched maraca sound for the accented beats.

The reco-reco (love the names) was traditionally made out of bamboo with a series of grooves cut (at 90 degrees) along its side. It is played with a scraping action using a short stick across the grooves to produce a characteristic 'zipping' sound, which as you might imagine is almost impossible to recreate in any other way. Given the wealth of applications for this instrument - both inside Brazilian music and out - I strongly recommend that owners of samplers, at least, make every effort to track one down and commit it to disk.

The tamborim is a high-pitched single-headed drum looking rather like a small tambourine, but without the jingles. It is played with a drum stick in one hand and the fingers of the other to muffle the tone by pressing the head underneath. Those with samplers should have no problem recreating this - simply take a tambourine (everybody has one lying around somewhere - or knows a man who does), and either remove the jingles altogether or tape them down with gaffa tape. When you're sampling, remember to record both the open (accented) and closed (muffled) sounds.

Non-samplers might try using a highly tuned tom-tom with perhaps a low pitched sidestick blended in to produce more of a "rap". On machines like the HR16 where you're offered a choice of single and double headed toms, try using the single headed drum to produce the closed, muffled tone and the double headed for the open accented note.

In case you're wondering, the Brazilians do actually use a tambourine in their music, but they call it the pandeiro (pronounced pon-die-roh). It differs from the European version in that the jingles are made of tin and produce a much drier sound than the high-pitched "ring" familiar to European ears. When sampling, this is easily achieved by applying a small piece of gaffa or carpet tape to each jingle and again, recording both the open and muffled head sounds. If you're restricted to the tambourine on your drum machine, you might like to try detuning it a few semitones and/or using the mid to high EQ on the mixing desk to filter out the inherent ringiness of the instrument.

The caixa (pronounced guy-shah) is a fairly dry-sounding, high-pitched snare drum (a descendant of the European marching drum). The traditional Brazilian playing technique involves the use of both a stick and the hand to dampen the sound, but this isn't really essential in the rhythms presented here which simply use a combination of accented and non-accented notes.

The caixeta (pronounced guy-sheh-tah) - a type of wood block used in many Brazilian rhythms - shouldn't prove much of a problem either. Most types of wood block provide broadly the right kind of sound, but if you can't put your finger on one (so to speak), the claves can be used instead (and frequently are in Brazil itself). Sadly, the same flexibility cannot be applied to the cuica (pronounced coo-ee-kah) which produces a sound somewhat akin to a wet finger being rubbed on a sheet of glass. Like the reco-reco, there is no real substitute for this instrument (although those with samplers might like to try their luck with a window and a well lubricated digit), however, as it is only used in one of this month's examples, it's probably not worth losing any sleep over.

The cabasa will (hopefully) be familiar to most people: it has been included in the sonic array of drum machines for quite a few years now. If, however, you do not have access to the instrument you might try using a combination of shakers and maracas to produce a sound which, when installed within the overall mix, should provide acceptable enough results. And speaking of maracas, I can't imagine anyone requiring a description of their sound from me, or that of the bongos or triangle come to think of it, so I'll move swiftly on to the atabaque (pronounced ah-tah-bak-ee) which turns out to be the Brazilian version of the Cuban conga. In its more low-key role here, only one drum is required and we can just about get away with using accented and unaccented notes (unlike the open, closed, slapped and accented notes which occur in Cuban rhythms).

Before looking at this month's examples it's probably worth mentioning that, in common with most Latin American music, Brazilian rhythms should really be played and written in 2/4 but, as with last month's article, I'll be presenting them here in 4/4 to make them more compatible with Anglo-American music forms. If you decide to modify or add to any of this month's examples, however, I would recommend that you keep your mental metronome ticking on beats 1 and 3.

Also like last month, I've included a couple of bass/snare drum additions for most of the patterns - just to placate those who cannot live without the thud-n-blat to anchor things down. They will almost certainly rob each rhythm of whatever authenticity I have managed to preserve, but what the hell - this is beatbox programming. Having said that, given the overlap of instruments this creates, some care should be given to the choice of bass and snare drum sounds if the underlying rhythm is to at least be heard.

Reflecting its importance within Brazilian music, the first two examples this month are of samba patterns. Notwithstanding my earlier comment on the absence of any defined traditional and modern styles in the rhythms of Brazil, the two examples here - samba Batucada and samba Moderno - highlight the evolution of samba rhythms for different social occasions. The first example, Batucada, closely approximates the style of samba played at the Rio carnival. Fairly open in its interpretation, it can (and often does) involve most members of the Brazilian percussion family in a strident, full-blooded rhythm perfectly suited to a street situation. See Patterns 1, 1a and 1b.

As indicated earlier, the surdo part which would be played on a single drum (though, of course, there might well be many such drums in a samba orchestra), is composed here of three different parts. The low tom is used as a replacement for the open surdo and should therefore be fairly clean-sounding without too high a click or noise component. The mid and high toms are intended to recreate the effect of a player using his hand to muffle the drum, and should, if possible, be of fairly short duration. Incidentally, I had considerable success using a tight bass drum for the mid and high parts, with a tuning interval of about three semitones between the two. This works because a well-damped bass drum often sounds higher pitched than an undamped floor tom-tom, and the sounds are much shorter. In fact, this could well represent the best starting point on a number of machines.

As in past months, it isn't possible to go into too much detail as to relative instrument levels - that has to be left to your discretion. But obviously, an instrument like the caixa (the snare drum) playing consecutive quavers throughout the pattern needs to be held at a much lower level than, say, the chocalho. A lot depends on which frequencies overlap and which don't, and this, of course, depends on the tuning for each instrument. Experimentation is once again, the order of the day.

Needless to say, there's nothing to stop you adding further instruments, should you wish: whistles, for example (the MT32 has two of them), can be used to give the pattern a much more authentic samba flavour and can be improvised more or less at random. And, as I said earlier, if you find yourself absolutely stumped for a particular sound, there's nothing to stop you swapping it for another instrument altogether.

The second example is known as samba Moderno, and is generally a rather more sophisticated form of samba intended for the dancefloor.

Though broadly similar in structure to the Batucada, it is considerably slower paced and provides space for less robust instruments such as the cabasa and triangle. See Patterns 2, 2a and 2b.

The bongos also make an appearance and can be brought well to the fore, volume-wise. The high bongo figure at the beginning of bar two can be dispensed with if you wish, but this would be the ideal instrument to develop further as the rhythm progresses. Try to pitch the atabaque (the conga drum) so that it doesn't intrude too much on the bongos, and likewise, make sure the cowbell doesn't obliterate the triangle where the two coincide.

For many people, the Bossa Nova (literally: new rhythm) epitomises the more sophisticated aspects of Latin music, particularly where it crosses over into jazz. Despite this, few people realise it was a deliberate creation by a handful of the "cooler" musicians and poets during the late fifties and early sixties, led by Joao Gilberto, Antonio Jobim and Joao Donato. In essence it was a reaction to the more conservative elements of Brazilian music, which, by that time had gained wide acceptance in the US, but had become somewhat watered down in the process.

As a fairly recent creation, the rhythm was developed for the conventional drum kit more or less from the outset, and this, of course, makes it much easier for us to cope with as a rhythm program. Though it can be accompanied by most percussion instruments, its subtlety and gentle, lilting feel is particularly suited to the triangle, maracas and cabasa which are featured here. See Pattern 3.

The characteristic side stick provides much of the variation introduced into the rhythm, and I have included four patterns here as a starting point for this process. If you wish, you can replace the closed hi-hat with a ride cymbal, providing it isn't too overpowering, and by doing this you should provide more space for the maracas which can easily be lost alongside the hi-hat.

Remember: the key element of the Bossa Nova is its laid-back feel, a tempo of 160bpm represents an absolute maximum, and no instrument should be allowed to dominate the proceedings.

In contrast to the Bossa Nova, the Baion (or Baiao) is one of the oldest rhythms in Brazil and was originally used in folk-music in the north-eastern part of the country. Since then it has been adopted by every kind of ensemble from large carnival orchestras to smaller dance bands. In its form here, it is characterised by a relatively simple surdo part and the pairing of the chocalho and the cabasa. See Patterns 4, 4a and 4b.

Tempo is non-critical, and the figures provided are only a rough guideline. Likewise, the instrumentation - with the exception of the surdo and the triangle - may be regarded as a starting point and freely expanded (or limited) should you wish.

Finally we come to the last example for this month, the Maracatu. A relation of the Baion, the rhythm is not widely known outside Brazil in its traditional form, but still enjoys considerable popularity on its native soil. The ago-go provides the main area of interest (outside the surdo), and should be maintained throughout the rhythm. Tempo is medium to fast, but still fairly flexible, and once again it is perfectly OK to substitute instruments should you feel the urge to experiment.

And that's about it as far as Brazilian rhythm is concerned -though there are many more examples and variations I could have included, space has once more got the better of us. Next month we'll be looking at Latin-related rhythmic forms including Salsa and Calypso and hopefully a few hybrids. See you then.

Series - "On The Beat"

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 (Viewing) | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 | Part 31 | Part 32 | Part 33 | Part 34 | Part 35

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Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Apr 1990

Feature by Nigel Lord

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