Project Title: The Berimbau: A Symbol of Enduring Angolan Cultural Heritage
Student: Quenton Stokes-Brown ’17
Mentor: Dr. Nicholas Crane
Taken to Brazil as slaves through the Transatlantic slave trade, various groups of people from the present-day nation of Angola brought with them a variety of cultural traditions that incorporated dance and music. Among these traditions were several forms of dance known as body games, which incorporated dance and combat movements. In Brazil, these body games would merge and become the artform known as Capoeira, a martial art that incorporates elements of dance and music. In addition to these body games, a unique musical bow instrument called the Mbulumbumba also endured through the slave trade. This instrument originated from the Mumuila people in southern Angola and is the predecessor to the Berimbau (an Afro-Brazilian musical bow), which is used to direct the movements of Capoeira performers through a series and complex rhythms called toques.
Throughout centuries of turmoil due to the Transatlantic slave trade, European colonization, and wars for independence, many native cultures of Angola were destroyed or heavily diminished. The performance of musical bows fell victim to the these forces and these once popular instruments are now sparsely used. Now that Capoeira has been globalized, so has the use and performance of the Berimbau. This unique instrument is inextricably linked to Angola, and has traversed social and racial boundaries in a global context. The complexity of its construction and playing technique negates common representations of African music as simple, and its classification as a musical bow reveals the diversity and variety of African instruments.
In this presentation, I will demonstrate the musical complexities of the Berimbau and discuss its importance to the preservation of Angolan cultural heritage and similar musical bow instruments across southern Africa. I will perform specific toques on the Berimbau and use a digital presentation to display various images, rhythmic patterns, and brief video excerpts.