Experience and meaning in music performance

The Open University


Project summary


Entrainment Network

Entrainment in Congado




Congado – Musical entrainment

If they [the groups] play the same thing, only one meaning is achieved.
Captain Mario Bras da Luz, patriarch of Arturos’ Community

During the most public days of a Congado Feast in the Belo Horizonte region, a typical soundscape is formed by the simultaneous performance of various chants and rhythms by the many participant groups, who perform the necessary rituals through music and dance. Each type of group – Congo, Moçambique, etc. – has distinctive general features, according to its function defined by the founding myth and its role in the feast, as host or guest. Besides, each brotherhood or community carries a particular history according to its own ancestors. This entails that each group shares a set of private meanings derived from the joint experience of its members. Thus, during these simultaneous performances, each group fulfils its obligations through songs, dance, gestures, texts and its own specific styles, which represent both its role and its identity. Because of these characteristics, the groups in Belo Horizonte never play, together, one and the same musical piece.

The co-existence of many different musical flows for long periods of time makes Congado a very interesting context for the observation and analysis of musical entrainment, both within one group and between distinct groups.

Spiritual strength is assessed by the firmness of the binding among the participants in each group. The image of the rosary and its linked beads metaphorically expresses this binding. The quality of the performance thus becomes an index of the spiritual strength of the group, since collective production of the same song and the sharing of one and the same temporal organization stress the feeling of union and firmness of the rosary’s links.
During the long musical flows, performances adapt to each ritual event. The groups vary their musical behaviour within the permitted range of tempo, density, rhythmic and choreographic changes, according to the needs and possibilities of place and time. Thus, transition periods between chants and/or rhythms, besides other circumstantial interference, may represent moments of disturbance of the musical flow. Therefore, they require extra attention from the congadeiros so that musical cohesion is reestablished as soon as possible.

The greatest challenge to the firmness of a performance, however, is proximity to other groups and their music. Besides playing different rhythms and singing different chants, the groups also make a special effort for their tempo not to meet, since the speed of the musical flow represents the general emotional state of the group from moment to moment. This speed should thus alter solely according to the group’s internal decisions, and should not be disturbed by external influences.

It is known from the concept of entrainment, nevertheless, that two or more independent rhythmic processes close in periodicity tend to synchronize when they interact. Not only are the groups constantly near each other during the Festival, but also there are occasions when two groups must interact as they perform particular ritual acts together, each group sustaining, however, its own songs. Especially at these moments of closer interaction, intense concentration is called for so that the groups keep the links of their musical rosaries firm. The tendency towards synchronization is perceived by the congadeiros. This tendency is thus seen as a challenge and opportunity to reaffirm the spiritual power of each group during the rituals.

Arturos’ Moçambique - August 1997, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais

Arturos’ Moçambique - August 1997, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais (photo: Tereza Marinho)


  The British Academy