Music is integral to capoeira. It sets the tempo and style of game that is to be played within the roda. Typically the music is formed by instruments and singing. Rhythm, controlled by a typical instrument called berimbau, differ from very slow to very fast, depending on the style of the roda.
The berimbau is the leading instrument, determining the tempo and style of the music and game played. Two low pitch berimbaus (called gunga and médio) form the base and a high pitch berimbau (called viola) makes variations and improvisations. The other instruments must follow the berimbaus rhythm, free to vary and improvise.
As the capoeiristas change their playing style significantly following the toque of the berimbau, which sets the game’s speed, style and aggressiveness, it is truly the music that drives a capoeira game.
Many of the songs are sung in a call and response format while others are in the form of a narrative. Capoeiristas sing about a wide variety of subjects. Some songs are about history or stories of famous capoeiristas. Other songs attempt to inspire players to play better. Some songs are about what is going on within the roda. Sometimes the songs are about life or love lost. Others have lighthearted and playful lyrics.
There are four basic kinds of songs in capoeira, the Ladaínha, Chula, Corrido and Quadra.
The Ladaínha is a narrative solo sung only at the beginning of a roda, often by a mestre (master) or most respected capoeirista present. The solo is followed by a louvação, a call and response pattern that usually thanks God and one’s master, among other things. Each call is usually repeated word-for-word by the responders.
The Chula is a song where the singer part is much bigger than the chorus response, usually eight singer verses for one chorus response, but the proportion may vary.
The Corrido is a song where the singer part and the chorus response are equal, normally two verses by two responses.
The Quadra is a song where the same verse is repeated four times, either three singer verses followed by one chorus response, or one verse and one response.
Capoeira songs can talk about virtually anything, being it about a historical fact, a famous capoeirista, trivial life facts, hidden messages for players, anything. Improvisation is very important also, while singing a song the main singer can change the music’s lyrics, telling something that’s happening in or outside the roda.