RECIFE , Pernambuco , Brazil


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maracatu, Pernambco Maracatu, in the form that it is known today, has its origins in the old institution of the Black Kings, already well known in France and Spain in the 15th. century and in Portugal as from the 16th. century. In Pernambuco, voyagers were documenting the presence of the court of the black kings from as far back as September 10th. of 1666, as confirmed by the testomonies of Souchou de Rennefort, in Histoire des Indes Orientales, published in Paris in 1688. Documents relating the coronations of the Congo and Angolan sovereigns in the church of Our Lady of the Black Men's Rosary, in the district of Saint Anthony, in Recife, go back to 1674, as confirmed in a collection of documents entitled: Collected documents for the history of slavery.

The orchestra of a nation maracatu almost always comprises a deep, bass drum, a tarol (a kind of trombone) two war drums and nine bongos. It is also possible to find a ganzá (a large maraca), and the number of bongos can vary depending on the size, and financial possibilities of the group. On reaching a musical climax, for some time after, the beat remains with a single beat, increasing violently with each new beat. All at once, the queen's whistle (the queen being responsible for the group) is heard over the beat, warning everybody that the music is coming to an end. Everybody pays very close attention for the second whistle, which will come at the exact finishing moment of the music - the very last note. Suddenly, and with total precision, the whole group halts at the same moment . There is a mute beat - the beat stops".

Preserving the entity of the nation, processions of maracatu de baque virado (maracatus with a double beat, as explained above, which only use percussion instruments of African origin) continue to parade through the streets of Recife during carnival, as well as the preceding months leading up to it. The most well-known are : Nação do Elefante (1800) (The Elephant Nation) , Nação do Leão Coroado (1863) (The Crowned Lion Nation), Nação da Estrela Brilhante (1910) (The Shining Star Nation), Nação do Indiano (1949) (The Indian Nation), Nação Porto Rico (1915) (The Porto Rico Nation), Nação Cambinda Estrela (1953) (The Cambinda3 Star Nation). There are also numerous other groups that have appeared more recently, in order to preserve the African traditions of their ancestors.

Maracatu Baque Solto

To organize and evolve a baque solto maracatu is certainly not an easy task. Just by stopping and taking a closer look, it is easy to see how complicated and painstaking this work is. Everything has to be put into order, so that by the time carnival arrives everything is ready for the parades. You will see that it is an arduous mission for the few people who take on this work. In fact, they could be considered true missionaries to the cause of culture, as they roll up their sleeves and go into battle, in search of various forms of support, including financial. Everything to make their parades a success - to make their 'toy'the best.

The parades and presentations are lively and agitated, and as the group evolves its presentation it becomes even more so. The first figures to appear at the head of the parade are the dirty characters : Mateus, Catirina or catita (a small marsupial), the mule, babau (a popular folklore character) and the hunter, who have tremendous fun drawing attention to themselves. After this, come the spear-carrying caboclos, in two columns, being led and encouraged by the caboclo master. Each column obeys the command of the front caboclo, who conduces the movements ordered by the master.

The first impression we have from a baque solto maracatu in action is that of a warrior dance - tense, frentic. Katarina Real describes - "the whole group of rural maracatu, which stays in a tight circle, advances quickly to the accelerated rhythms of the 'group of three' - it sees to be a spinning-top of colors. The spear-carrying caboclos run in an outside circle, while the baianas (the bouquet ladies) dance in a circle on the inside. In the very middle of this, there is the standard bearer, the doll, and the feathered caboclos".

In terms of costume, it is certainly important to highlight the spear-carrying caboclos and the feathered caboclos. The costumes are both dazzlingly beautiful and typical elements of this particular carnival group. The spear-carrying caboclos wear trousers of printed cotton, over which they wear fringed loose breeches. They wear football socks kept up with the use of a thick elastic band. They wear a brightly colored shirt with long sleeves, over which they put the highly coloured mantle. The mantle is made of velvet and lined with poplin, and decorated with small, coloured glass stones and sequins. They also carry a small bag, from which they hang 4 or 5 cow-bells. These bags are similar to those used in the past by shepherds, and are made of imitation fur to resemble fleece, of which they were originally made.

Read more: Group based in London which plays maracatu and other Brazilian rythms.

Source: Website of the city of Recife.