Percussion, percussion, percussion …
The instruments we play are mainly those of the Brazilian baterias that play in carnival parades.
This is the big bass drum. Surdo in Portuguese means “deaf” or “deaf man”. Surdos are the markers and timekeepers of the bateria. We usually have three of these tuned to different pitches. In Rio the low surdo is called Maracasao, the mid surdo is called Resposta and the high surdo is called Contra surdo or Repinique surdo. The beat is held together by the Maracasao and Resposta and the Contra surdo gives it an extra swing. Surdos are a modern, urban version of older styles of bass drum.
The repinique or repique is a metal-shelled drum tuned to a high pitch and is often the loudest part of the bateria. The word repinique comes from the verb “to call”, so it is the calling drum. We play it with one hand and one stick in the style of Rio batucada or with two thin sticks in the style of the Bahia reggae bands. It can produce wonderful crackling rim shots which frighten pigeons miles away.
Caixa / Snare
The word “Caixa” really means a type of box, but in Brazilian percussion it is the word for a double-headed snare drum. These are in the part of the band which holds the basic rhythm together, accenting the clave or producing cross rhythms with the rest of the band. In Brazil they are played at angles which would surprise some English players, even under the armpit or on the shoulder.
This is the small hand-held single headed drum, tuned to a very high pitch and often played very fast with a clave or cross rhythm, or with a turn in the Virado in samba. Tamborims produce the really exciting crackle in our pieces and are used for long complex solos. They can also be played as a more subtle instrument, changing the tone by pressing a finger on the back of the drum head.
We play a variety of bells; the agogo is the Brazilian double bell which became very popular in the 1950s bossa bands and is based on west African double iron bells. We also play the Ghanaian double iron bell the gankogui, and Cuban cow bells, campanas, depending on the piece.
Chocalhos and ganzas
These are metal shakers which give the “cricket in the background” sound. The chocalho is a heavy metal structure with rows of jingles - good for people who want to develop strong biceps - and the ganza is a metal tube containing beans, rice or gravel. These look easy to play but in fact are very difficult to play well and are a good substitute for weight training.
The timba is the high-pitched hand drum from Bahia and pernambuco, played like a conga or atabaque. It is another leading drum which can be used for long crackling solos. Technique used to play timba is similar to djembe technique.
The cuica is the instrument that produces weird honking sounds like a cow giving birth or a demented gibbon. The sound is produced by rubbing a wet cloth along a stick fixed to the middle of the drum head and the pitch can be altered by pressing on the drum head close to the stick.
We also play congas with our bateria when we play on stage. We play Brazilian and Cuban rhythms on congas in nearly all our pieces, and have a few excellent conga players in the band
This is a whistle with three holes which vary the pitch so that you can play tunes. It is used for calling and leading. We have plastic apitos, mainly because the wooden ones are not loud enough to complete with the rest of the band.