Experience and meaning in music performance

The Open University


Project summary


Entrainment Network

Entrainment in Congado




Congado – Musical expression

Moçambique conducts the crown. Congo does not wander.
Captain Antônio Maria da Silva
(Arturos’ Community – Contagem/ MG)

Congado constitutes a context of extremely rich and complex musical experience. The non-stop music performed by the various groups creates an aura of sound, which frames and defines ritual space-time. Thus, the music establishes a connection between the devotees and the realm of saints and ancestors. The many chants and rhythms fill houses, chapels and churches, and run through the paths in the communities, as well as neighboring streets and squares. It is therefore by means of the music that the ritual obligations are fulfilled, and both spiritual interaction and most social relations occur. The sound constructions and the processes by which they are performed thus present a complex network of meanings, with which the congadeiros build or translate ritual instances. Moreover, this promotes a network of verbal and non-verbal communication, both within the group, and between different groups.

The long musical flows are facilitated by a number of lead singers and percussionists who take turns in performing the key roles in the group. The groups start each ritual instance in their community chapel. Little by little, the participants begin to tune in and synchronize with each other, dissolving individualities and harmonizing around shared feelings. The sounds and dance movements imbue the bodies with new vibrations, transforming inner and outer energies.

Short call and response chants, intensively repeated, together with cyclically repeated rhythmic patterns played on percussion instruments characterize the vast majority of the each group’s music. The chants will allow improvisation, through which the captains – the leaders of the groups – praise the saints, pay homage to the ancestors, express their feelings, convey messages and comment on momentary circumstances. On special occasions, certain chants are preceded by what is known today as embaixada: a metrically more flexible song, whose melodic contour emphasizes a narrative’s intonation, being performed without accompanying instruments. The drums roll at the end of each stanza sung by the lead singer, together with collective performance of a sustained chord by the chorus.

Each type of group is identified by a set of distinctive rhythmic patterns that cannot be played by any other group. In the Belo Horizonte region, Congo plays five patterns, Moçambique plays two, and Candombe, just one. Throughout performances, these patterns are submitted to some degree of variation, according to the context and the group’s function. These variations are called repiques. They are longer and more frequent for the Congo’s caixas (cylindrical drums), while shorter and less frequent in Moçambique – the group that ‘pulls the crowns’ – and they do not occur in Candombe’s ritual. The repiques often arise, for example, in between the performances of the lead singer and the choir or vice-versa, thus establishing a dialogue between caixas and voices. For the congadeiros, this promotes joy and motivation, very important to musical firmness (firmeza). It is this firmness that signals the union and spiritual strength of the group which, symbolically, is interpreted as a rosary.

Within a given group, the rhythmic behavior follows from each ritual context. Thus, repiques are more frequent in the streets, during retinues, than in more solemn moments, such as those within churches and chapels, where steadiness in performance is required.

Once we consider all components characterizing each group – chants, bodily movements, pacing, tones, rhythmic variety, repique possibilities, etc. – Congo is the group with the most flexibility, followed by Moçambique, while Candombe’s ritual presents the narrowest range of possibilities. Candombe thus represents a convergence point of the energies, expressed by the non-varying repetition of its sole rhythmic pattern. The much wider range of spatial movements and much greater sonorous and visual density of Congo, on the other hand, are compatible with the role it plays, as the front line group. Congo, therefore, projects itself in many directions to protect Moçambique and the royal court, which follow it along the paths.

Congo captain José Bonifácio da Luz (Zé Bengala), from Arturos’ Community, summarizes the above characteristics of the groups, using the image of a tree, when he states that “Candombe represents the roots, the ancestors; Moçambique is the trunk, and Congo spreads out as the branches, moving wherever the wind will take it.”

Arturos’ Congo at the May Festival - 14th May 2006, Contagem, Minas Gerais

Arturos’ Congo at the May Festival - 14th May 2006, Contagem, Minas Gerais

  The British Academy