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  • The Berimbau: Soul of Brazilian Music
  • Marcus Brasileiro
Eric A. Galm. The Berimbau: Soul of Brazilian Music. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2010. 229 pp.

This book represents the first in-depth study to analyze Brazilian culture through the symbolic importance of a musical instrument: the berimbau. It is exactly this unique approach that makes this work an important contribution to the field. One of Galm's overarching objectives is to demonstrate how the berimbau crosses social classes and racial frontiers, in both a national and international context. According to Galm, beyond its musical richness, within the Brazilian social context, the berimbau transforms itself into a metaphor to express concepts such as tradition, blackness, and nationalism. In this sense, the book advocates that scholars should look beyond the berimbau as a static object inside of the capoeira context and pay attention to its historical development in different contexts. And this is exactly what this book does. The author explores the symbolic meaning the berimbau has acquired and how this instrument functions in different musical genres and social contexts.

The insertion of the berimbau into Brazilian culture, argues Galm, can illuminate sociological aspects of the Brazilian experience. Because of the sociological concerns and the musical technicalities that are described at length throughout the book, this study can be very helpful to musicologists and anthropologists alike who are interested in the analysis of popular phenomena that have become global phenomena. The book investigates the meanings that the berimbau acquires when it is reinterpreted in different contexts. For example, the book explores the musical and symbolic change that occurs when the berimbau moves from the traditional capoeira context to be part of mainstream musical performances. This dislocation of meaning is discussed, taking into consideration issues of "race" relations, class structure, and nationalism.

According to Galm, as a musical instrument the berimbau is representative of an African tradition that is being incorporated and modified in different musical genres in Brazil and around the world. The book aims to do a historical reconstruction of the insertion of the berimbau into those contexts, constructing a synthesis of historical and ethnographical information. The [End Page 238] trajectory of the berimbau reveals its transformation from an icon of black identity and resistance to its incorporation as a symbol of nationalism. The book addresses the presence of the berimbau through three main perspectives: First is an analysis of the association between the berimbau and capoeira and its symbolism of Afro-Brazilian resistance. Second is an examination of the relationship between the berimbau and the creation of a Brazilian national identity beginning in the 1930s. Included is a discussion of different treatments given to the instrument by musicians such as Baden Powell and Gilberto Gil during the 1960s. Galm also highlights the polemical debates of these treatments in regard to issues of black identity and cultural "authenticity." Finally, the book discusses the berimbau as a physical and symbolic commodity in a globalized world.

These three perspectives open a discussion of the presence of African culture in Brazil and how this heritage has been incorporated into society. Galm offers a way to mediate between African heritage and European heritage in cultures dealing with the legacy of slavery. In discussing this historical legacy, Galm informs us that during the colonial and imperial periods in Brazil, slaves and their descendents used the berimbau to relieve the monotony of work and to accompany songs used to relive the hardship of the workload. For the landlords and slaveholders, African musical instruments functioned as a strategy to call attention to local commodities for sale in public markets. After the abolition of slavery in 1888, the berimbau became less visible. Social pressure to distance Brazil from the legacy of slavery suppressed forms of cultural expression of African origin. The resurrection of the berimbau started at the beginning of the twentieth century with its association with capoeira. Both the berimbau and capoeira were revived as symbols of Afro-Brazilian resistance. During the 1950s and 1960s, the berimbau lost its regional status, departing from Bahia and assuming the status of a national instrument. During the 1970s, together with capoeira the berimbau started the process of becoming...


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pp. 238-240
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