Experience and meaning in music performance

The Open University


Project summary


Entrainment Network

Entrainment in Congado




Congado – From historical reference to current rituals

The massive presence of African slaves in Brazil since early Portuguese colonization gave birth to a range of cultural Afro-brazilian practices. One of these is Our Lady of the Rosary’s Reign, popularly known as Congado, a religious tradition in many corners of Brazil. To this day, especially in the state of Minas Gerais, Congado moves hundreds of communities, predominantly black and poor, located in villages and country towns as well as in the outskirts of the big cities. It is a particular form of popular Catholicism, which includes contents inherited from African religious expressions mainly connected to Bantu cultures. It reveals trans-cultural restructuring, a consequence of a history of contacts and conflicts between Europeans and Africans beginning in the 15th century in Africa, and later established in the bosom of the Brazilian brotherhoods by the rules of slavery.

In colonial times, social organization in Minas Gerais was tightly linked to Catholic brotherhoods. Each brotherhood had a patron saint, who was worshiped in yearly feasts. The religious practices of the Black population, gathered around Our Lady of the Rosary’s brotherhoods, were heavily repressed. Even within the practices of the official religion, however, the slaves rebuilt their traditions, by including their music, dance and the coronation ceremony of kings and queens in Rosary feasts. Thus, they created a specific context of social and spiritual interaction, which was not fully apprehended by the oppressive eyes and ears of political and religious power holders.

With music and dance, Congado’s participants – congadeiros – honour Catholic deities, especially Our Lady of the Rosary and the Black saints, while paying tribute and fulfilling obligations to their ancestors. This conception and spiritual attitude is dressed in deep pain and respect due to the enslaved condition of their ancestors. The rosary’s prayer is conducted by the ngoma – an African drum. Both rosary and ngoma are core symbols of Congado, and have their original meanings recreated and blended. They constitute the main objects for individual and group communication with the realm of the saints and ancestors.

Different kinds of groups celebrate Congado in Minas Gerais, each one having its proper functional, ritual and aesthetic characteristics. They are Candombe, Congo, Moçambique, Vilão, Catopês, Marujos, and Caboclos. During the Festival, the groups guide and protect the royalty. Kings and queens are still the main authorities in the ceremonies, representing the devotional saints. In Belo Horizonte, capital of the state, Congo, Moçambique and Candombe prevail. They may come as separate entities, but they often belong together to present day brotherhoods performing complementary functions, which are established by a founding myth. According to the myth, an image of Our Lady of the Rosary appeared in the sea and was successfully recovered by black slaves, represented in the Belo Horizonte versions by the three groups mentioned above. This is how the myth installs a hierarchy and a functional complementarity among the groups. Congo starts ahead in the processions, opening and cleaning the way with its faster music and dance, while Moçambique follows behind, conducting kings and queens with slower chants. Candombe, the most important, may appear as a group taking part in public performances, like the others. However, in many communities it is an indoor private ritual that is performed in order to open and close the Congado Festival.

Each community promotes its annual Festival. The ceremonies are conducted with non-stop music produced by the many participant groups – hosts and guests – playing and singing different songs and rhythms simultaneously during the three or four days of the Festival. Masses, processions, corteges, dinner feasts, fulfillment of vows, coronation of kings and queens and the raising of flagpoles are all stages the congadeiros must go through during the Festival, accomplished by means of their chants and dances.

Chapel, Arturos Community - 14th May 2006, Minas Gerais

Chapel, Arturos Community - 14th May 2006, Minas Gerais


  The British Academy