One of the coolest aspects of Brazilian music is the sheer variety of sounds and instruments that are unfamiliar to the untrained ear.
Every Brazilian song affords the opportunity to learn about a new instrument. Whether it is the agogô, berimbau, cavaquinho, pandeiro, ganzá, repinique; there is always a Brazilian instrument to capture the imagination.
As of now, the Brazilian instrument that has my attention is the cuíca.
Have you ever listened to a Brazilian song and thought, “What the hell is that squeaky howler monkey sound going on in there?”
I heard it from the get go. A high-pitched sound ubiquitous in a variety Brazilian genres, from samba and MPB, jazz and reggae.
What is that thing?
A Brazilian howler monkey?
A guitar with heavy effects?
A huge Brazilian man massaging the windpipe of a toucan?
It turns out, it is the cuíca: a friction drum that produces a wide variety of pitches by changing the tension on the head of the drum. It also turns out, the name cuíca comes from a small species of Brazilian opossum, so my monkey toucan guesses weren’t so far off.
At first, the cuíca may sound a little out of place because you’ve never heard it before. But just like the unfamiliarity of the Brazilian language, if you give the cuíca some time I guarantee it will grow on you.
It begins to sound melodic and serves the perfect compliment to the batucadas of samba. Nowadays, Brazilian music seems like it is missing a little something when there is not a cuíca chiming in the background.
Below, I’ve included some resources to further your Brazilian cuíca-dade.
Songs with Cuíca, Instrument of the Gods—A great Facebook page that gives weekly songs with cuíca. Aptly titled, Cuíca, Instrument of the Gods. I couldn’t agree more.
Meu Instrumento, Cuíca–Part of a great video series called “Meu Instrumento,” in which Brazilians talk about their instruments. This video features Osvaldinho da Cuíca, one of the modern masters of the instrument. It is all in Portuguese, so a great way to get some language practice as well!
Have you ever heard of the cuíca? Any other Brazilian instruments you are particularly interested in?