World Music Instrument: The Berimbau

We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of musical instruments that students in World Music in the Schools enjoy working with . . .

The berimbau (bee-rim-bau) is a single string percussion instrument, described as a musical bow with African origins. It is the main instrument used to produce the complex rhythms in Brazilian music that accompanies capoeira, a Brazilian martial art. The berimbau consists of a flexible wooden bow called the biriba or verga, a steel string called the arame, and a gourd called cabaça. The berimbau is played with the help of a small, thin stick called the baqueta or vareta, a metal or stone disk called dobrao or pedra, and a caxixi (shaker).

Every part of the berimbau plays a role in the production of the music and rhythm:

Biriba (verga) — The berimbau takes its name from this wooden rod, which is known as the backbone of the instrument. It can be made of many different kinds of wood, but the Brazilian species Eschweilera ovata (Cambess.), of the family Lecythidaceae is considered to be the best material for this part of the instrument.

Arame — Made from a piano string or salvaged from an automobile tire, this steel string has to be strong enough to withstand the tension of the biriba, as well as the battering of the baqueta. Its vibration produces the sound of the berimbau.

Berimbau illustration

Cabaça — Made from a hollowed-out and dried gourd, the cabaça is used to amplify the sound of the arame.

Baqueta — This beater is made from wood, and is used to strike the arame and produce sound.

Dobrão — Usually a coin or flat metal disk, the dobrão is used to vary the sound of the berimbau. When touched against the metal string it produces a higher pitch, and when pulled away from the string the pitch becomes lower. As an alternative to the coin, some players use a small flat stone (pedra).

Caxixi — A small percussion instrument, which consists of a closed basket containing seeds, which is shaken to produce a rhythmic sound. When played with the berimbau, it is held by a loop handle in the same hand as the baqueta, so that it shakes when the baqueta strikes the arame. It is believed that the caxixi summons good spirits, and wards against evil ones.

Berimbau closeupTo assemble the berimbau, the arame is attached to both ends of the biriba and pulled taught, which bends the beriba into its characteristic bow shape. The cabaça is attached to one end of the berimbau with a lace, which also helps the musician support the berimbau with their pinky finger while playing.

There are three sizes of berimbau, often played in an ensemble, and each contributing a different aspect to the music:

Gunga — This instrument has the largest cabaça (gourd) and the most flexible verga, and it produces the lowest pitch.

Médio — This berimbau uses a smaller gourd, with a tone and pitch between that of the gunga and the viola.

Viola — With the smallest gourd, and a less flexible verga, this instrument produces the highest pitch, and is used to add rhythmic fills between the steady rhythm shared by the other berimbaus in the ensemble.

— Claudia Lyra, World Music in the Schools Teaching Artist and artistic director of the Brazilian ensemble Nós de Chita

You can view Claudia demonstrating the berimbau on the Center for World Music’s YouTube Channel.

Natasha Kozaily, Nomad and Creative Tour de Force

Natasha Kozaily grew up on the small island of Grand Cayman in the Caribbean Sea, 180 miles south of Cuba and 195 miles west of Jamaica. Her parents being from opposite sides of the globe (her mother, a native Islander of Cayman, and her father, a Lebanese far from home) resulted in Natasha’s deep love and curiosity for the world around which can be seen throughout her music, teaching, art, and life.

This fall, Natasha will join the Center’s World Music in the Schools roster of teaching artists with a full semester program teaching Caymanian song and folklore at the San Diego French American School.

A nomad and creative tour de force, Natasha embraces the arts in all its forms. Lover of the stage and theater, she honed her craft at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City where she graduated in 2007. She studied classical piano from the age of seven, and graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Cardiff University in Wales, specializing in Ethnomusicology. Her undergraduate ethnomusicology thesis entitled “An Island’s Story: Told through the music of Julia Hydes” is celebrated and treasured as the first and only in-depth writing on Caymanian folk musician and drummer, Miss Julia Hydes. In 2014, Natasha was honored in celebration of Cayman’s National Heroes Day with The Emerging Pioneer Award for her significant contribution to the culture and heritage of the Cayman Islands.

After graduating, Natasha moved to San Diego, California where she now writes, records and performs music under the moniker NATULA. When Natasha is not touring she enjoys sharing the gift of music with others, teaching private piano, ukulele, and voice to students of all ages at Prodigy School of Arts in the Bird Rock neighborhood of La Jolla. She also teaches various workshops on Caymanian Folk Music and Songwriting to kids and adults in San Diego and abroad. She believes that music is not only a wonderful tool for self-expression, but also a key to understanding ourselves and humanity in this beautifully diverse world we all belong to.

Pak Djoko Solo Festival

Djoko Walujo, Revered Teacher of Javanese Gamelan

Djoko Walujo Wimboprasetyo, respectfully addressed by his professional colleagues and his adoring students as Pak Djoko (“Father Djoko”), is one of the most highly regarded senior performers of Javanese classical music. An esteemed artist, court musician, and composer, he is one of the most sought-after instructors of Javanese orchestral music in the world. Pak Djoko is a distinguished grand master of the Javanese gamelan—an orchestra of some twenty musicians that varies in size, instrumentation, musical style, and social function. Typically, however, a Javanese gamelan includes tuned bronze gongs, gong-chimes, single- and multi-octave xylophone-like metal instruments, drums, flutes, bowed and plucked stringed instruments, wooden xylophones, and both male and female singers.

Pak Djoko at CCA

For more than two decades, Pak Djoko has directed Javanese gamelan ensembles at the California Institute of the Arts, at the Los Angeles Consulate General of Indonesia, at UCLA, at UC Riverside, at San Diego State University, and at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego.

As a dynamic teacher of university students as well as K-12 children, Pak Djoko recognizes that gamelan is an excellent tool for music education. Indeed, anyone can learn to play gamelan, since no previous knowledge or experience is required, one learns and plays by ear, without written notation, and the simple playing techniques of the various instruments makes the musical experience almost instantly accessible to children and adults of all levels alike.

Pak Djoko studied gamelan music in Java from an early age, under the tutelage of many well-known and distinguished gamelan teachers, including such luminaries as Raden Lurah Dhamowijoyo, Raden Ngabehi Prawira Pangrawit, Raden Mas Handoyo Kusuma, Bapak Harjaswara, Bapak Sunardi Wisnubrata, Bapak Promono, and Bapak Hadi Sumarta. He continued his studies in music at the Indonesian Arts Institute, Yogyakarta, and also in Indonesian law at the University of Gajah Mada. From 1975 until 1992, he served as professor of music at the Indonesian Arts Institute, after which he accepted the position of visiting artist at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. Significantly, Pak Djoko’s most distinguished teacher, K. R. T. Wasitodiningrat, a revered senior Javanese gamelan teacher residing in the United States, selected Pak Djoko to be his successor as the Javanese gamelan teacher at the California Institute of the Arts.

Pak Djoko has performed widely, composed award-winning music for Javanese dance-dramas and shadow-puppet plays, or wayang kulit. He has received awards from the Javanese Ministry of Education, the Governor of the Special Region of Yogyakarta, Radio Republic of Indonesia, and the Governor of Central Java.

Canyon Crest GamelanAs the musical director of the Javanese gamelan ensemble at San Diego State University since 1992, and at Canyon Crest Academy since 2010, Pak Djoko has been the revered teacher of many students in San Diego. For the past five years, he has served as distinguished teaching artist for the Center for World Music’s World Music in the Schools program, which is partially supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council. He has also served as artistic director of the Center for World Music’s gamelan festivals at Canyon Crest Academy and Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla.

At his home in Yogyakarta, Central Java, Pak Djoko hosts musical soirées—in support of local Javanese musicians as well as for American university students studying gamelan in Java or traveling to Java in search of deep cultural immersion.

—Lewis Peterman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, School of Music and Dance, San Diego State University

Setar

World Music Instrument: The Setar

We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of musical instruments that students in World Music in the Schools enjoy working with . . .

The setar is a Persian (Iranian) stringed instrument with a small, pear-shaped soundbox and four metal strings. Its name means “three strings.” A fourth drone string was added about 150 years ago by the mystic Moshtagh Ali Shah. This modification gave the delicate instrument a “bigger” sound and more complex tuning possibilities. The resonating box of the setar is attached to a long neck that has twenty-five gut frets. The soundbox is made from mulberry wood, while the neck is made from walnut. The instrument has a melodic range of just over twenty scale degrees. Although it is traditionally played with the nail of the right index finger, in the past three decades two distinguished master performers, Mohammad-Reza Lotfi and Hossein Alizadeh, have introduced new techniques to give setar playing a whole new life.

Today the setar is generally considered the supreme instrument for performing Persian classical music. However, it was almost forgotten during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries owing to the increased popularity of the tar, a similar but larger instrument with a fuller sound. The tar is a double-chambered string instrument that has three sets of double strings with the same fretting on its neck as the smaller, more delicate setar.

In 1984, a pivotal recording of a setar solo performed by the master Mohammad-Reza Lotfi brought the smaller instrument to the attention of a whole new generation of Persian classical music enthusiasts. Indeed, Lotfi’s historic album, in memory of the great musician Darvish Khan, enticed many young instrument makers and musicians to fall in love with the sound of the setar, and thus a new generation of setar makers and players has recently emerged.

—Kourosh Taghavi, World Music in the Schools Teaching Artist

See the setar in action on YouTube: Lotfi Taknavazi Setar Niavaran Concert.