Bahia Glossary
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Here are some terms to help you understand Bahian culture.

Samba/Music || Carnival Bands & Characters || Culinary || Religious/Cultural || Other Terms

Bahia is a state on the central east coast of Brazil. The renowned Carnaval celebration has a distinctly different style from the ostentatious parades in Rio.


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Samba/Music Terms || Top

alfaia: a bass drum, similar to a surdo, used in maracatu and forró music around Recife. Alfaias are wooden barrel drums with two cowhide heads and rope tuning. They are played with two thick, contoured wooden sticks.

afoxê (a-fo-shey): an Afro-Brazilian gourd instrument covered with a net of seeds. The sound is made by agitating the net to create friction against the gourd.

agogô (ah-go-go): Afro-Brazilian double bells struck with a stick.

atabaque: (a-ta-ba-kay): cylindrical drum with one head.

axé: A style of Brazilian pop music from Bahia since about 1985. It incorporates rock or jazz with Brazilian and Caribbean rhythms, including samba and reggae. Surdos are often used in the percussion. Literally means "happy and peaceful" music.

baião (bye-yow): popular rhythm from north-eastern Brazil.

barravento (bah ha ven tu): a rhythm and dance from the Afro Brazilian religious tradition Candomble' de Angola. It is an up tempo 12 beat rhythm played on 3 hand drums and a bell that is used to put a dancer in trance. The name means 'wind comes down', perhaps in reference to how it feels to go into trance. Songs accompanying this rhythm are sung in Brazilian Angolan language.

batucada ( ba/tu/ka/da): a style of parade music made famous by the Escolas de Samba of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Instrumentation includes large bass drums, snare drums, tenor drums, bells, tamborines, shakers, friction drums and small high pitched stick drums which play the rhythmic designs of the music. Batucada sometimes is played by ensembles of up to 400 percussionists who, together with singers and guitarists, provide the music for allegorical plays with up to 1500 dancers who parade through the streets at Carnaval time. Songs accompanied by Batucada are sung in Portuguese.

beater: A drum mallet.

bendir (ben/dir): Middle Eastern frame drum.

berimbau (bee-rim-bau): a Brazilian instrument of African origin which looks like a bow and arrow with a gourd attached for resonance. The arrow is the stick which strikes the metal string of the bow - a stone is held in the left hand against the string and the right hand holds both the stick and a shaker (caxixi). This instrument is traditionally played to accompany the Afro-Brazilian marital art/dance form capoeira.

bloco afro: An organization of people centered around the performance of afro-based Brazilian rhythms and celebration of black or African culture. Often extends out into a community largely of African descendants. Most often associated with Bahia.

bumba-meu-boi: a traditional dance and pageant in northeastern Brazil, in which the townsfolk take part.

calf-skin head: A drumhead made of natural animal hide from a calf. Thinner than cowhide.

caxixi (ka-she-she): small basket shaker.

centrador: The third part, cutting, or counter rhythm in samba. Also known as "cortador" or "cutter."

clave: a two-measure rhythmic pattern, consisting of five notes, which is the rhythmic basis of much Afro-Cuban, Antillian, and Brazilian music. There are various clave rhythms for different kinds of Cuban, Brazilian, and West African Music.

claves: a pair of hardwood, cylindrical sticks which can be used to play clave rhythms.

coco (ko/ko): a popular round dance originating from Alagoas (Nordeste).

conga: the most important hand-drum in latin music. Usually about 30"/75cm high, the complete set of congas contains three drums with different diameter: Quinto, conga and tumba. The quinto may be left away. If not, the quinto (and sometimes a "super quinto") is used for soloing or variations.

corte ("cutting"): A counter rhythm to accentuate the marking surdos. Sometimes echos the agogô or repinique part.

cuíca (or Guica): A small to medium sized drum with a thin rod attached to the drum skin on the inside. The rod is rubbed with a wet flap to create a variety of squeaking sounds. It is predominantly used to play syncopated rhythms in sambas.

damping: restraining the pitch, loudness, and/or duration of a drum beat.

didgeridoo (didge/er/ee/do): Aboriginal Australian wind instrument made from Eucalyptus tree branches which have been hollowed out by termites. They are usually painted with motifs of mythological origin.

dobra: lead or fill part in samba-reggae and other bloco afro rhythms.

embolada (em/bow/la/da): a form of comic and satiric spoken rhythmic improvisation.

frêvo (frey/voh): A carnaval dance from Recife, Pernambuco. Musically the frêvo is in the form of a march but is distinguished by its characteristic fast syncopation.

fundo: Marcação part in samba-reggae and other bloco afro rhythms.

ganzá (gan-zah): cylindrical shaker.

güiro: made from a dried, hollowed gourd, into which grooved ridges are carved on the surface. The sound is produced by scraping these ridges with a stick.

high marcação: the higher-pitched of the two marking beats of a samba. This is independent of the marcação segunda which is the first beat of the 2/4 rhythm.

jongo (jong/go): a form of samba in the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo.

kalimba (ka/lim/ba): thumb piano.

kanjira (kan/jeer/ah): single-headed tambourine made of a wood frame and lizard skin from south India.

khalal (ka/lal): A small square double-headed Moroccan frame drum.

kora (kor/ah): West African harp.

low marcação: the lower-pitched of the two marking beats of a samba. This is independent of the marcação primeira which is the second beat of the 2/4 rhythm.

maculelê: is a folk dance in which long sticks are held in the hands and beaten by the dancers.

maracanã: a very large surdo, usually 26" or larger, named after a stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

marcação (or marcão/marcador): 1) A surdo drum playing a marking beat in samba 2) The marking beat pattern of a samba 3) A time-marking part of a samba rhythm.

martelo: a kind of drone beat in certain bloco afro ensembles. The drum often has a napa head and plays all four marcação beats.

mouth harp: small slitted bamboo instrument held between the teeth and struck with the finger. Played in the same manner as the metal, lyre-shaped, Jew's harp.

Napa (Nappa): sometimes called "Napa leather." This is a drum head with two layers, the inner one of thin Mylar, the outer of a thick vinyl/cloth combination called Naugahyde. There is no actual leather in a napa drumhead.

nay (neigh): an Arab oblique flute.

nconfi (nn/con/fi): A 5-stringed lyre of Congolese origin.

palmas (palm/ahs): rhythmic clapping of the hands.

pandeiro (pan-day-rro): Brazilian medium-sized tambourine with jingles.

pipa (pee/pa): a lute shaped Chinese stringed instrument.

qaraqeb (kare/ah/keb): Moroccan metal castanets.

reco-reco (heku-heku): Brazilian cylindrical scraper.

reposta: ("answering") the first beat of a 2/4 samba rhythm. Also, marcação segunda. Answers the corte.

samba (san-ba): Popular dance and rhythm all over Brazil. The term originates from semba, an African word for navel. Traditionally a circle is made with a solo dancer in the centre. In the samba's rhythm there is a syncopated note which is the cue for the soloist to touch with her navel, the navel of the chosen person to replace her in the circle.

samba reggae: a hybrid of samba, reggae, and West African rhythms. Mestre Neguinho do Samba of the Salvadoran group, Olodum, is credited with developing this style.

sambista: Any performer of samba music or dance. Can also refer specifically refer to female dancers.

sintir (sin/teer): Moroccan three-stringed, camel skin faced lute. The body is hollowed out from a single piece of wood. It produces a percussive sound as the right hand taps on the skin face while simultaneously playing the strings.

surdão: a large surdo. Also called surdo terremoto ("earthquake") or surdo treme terra ("earth tremors").

surdo (suer-du): Brazilian bass drum; referred to as the heart beat of the samba. The Bahia-style drum is of shallower construction than a Rio-style surdo. The head diameter is generally greater than the depth of the shell.

tamborim (tan-boo-reen): Brazilian small metal tambourine with no jingles.

tamburello (tan-boo-reh-low): large southern Italian tambourine with jingles.

tammora (ta-mo-rra): large southern Italian frame drum.

tarantella (ta-ran-tel-la): dance from southern Italy.

timbalada: a large standing drum played with the hands, as is common in the Caribbean and Africa.

tirante: Portuguese name for a tuning rod.

triangulo (tree-an-goo-lu): metal triangle viola.

trios elétricos (or electric trios): bands (not necessarily three-piece) perched atop 20-ft. high platforms, which are mounted on flat-bed trailer trucks, complete with powerful sound systems that can be heard many blocks away.

tuning rods: six to sixteen steel rods that connect the top head of a surdo drum to the bottom one. Nuts on one end allow the two drum heads to be tuned simultaneously.

vatapá: a Bahian dish made of manioc meal, mixed with shellfish or meat, and highly seasoned.

violã caipira (vee-ola-kai-peera): a ten string (five double string) guitar originally brought to Brazil by the Jesuits. Viola caipira translates as country mans guitar. It is popular for folk music in both north and south Brazil.

violão (vee-o-loun): acoustic guitar.

virada: lead or fill part in samba-reggae and other bloco afro rhythms.


Carnival Bands & Characters || Top


The bands are carried on the top of semi-trucks (or Trios Electricos, as Brasilians refer to them). The semi trucks have speakers stacked 10 feet high, with a stage on top where the band plays. The Trio Electrico drives at a snails pace and takes more than six hours to go less than six kilometers. These parties, which first came up in the 1970s after the new high-tech sophistication of trucks, are now among the main attractions of Salvador’s Carnaval.

The music groups are referred to as Blocos. A Bloco normally consists of a Trio Electrico, another semi-truck with bathrooms and first aid, a number of bars on wheels and three to five thousand people.

Afoxés: carnival groupings that feature elements associated with Candomblé rites. Their members wear African-inspired dresses and parade by singing and dancing on the ‘ijexá’ rhythm. Their Nagô-language songs salute and praise orixás. Afoxês, which first came up in 1885, are the oldest Carnival-participating group. Their parading rhythm tempo is kept by percussion instruments, which can be as colorful as the atabaques, agogôs and xequerês.

Afro: “Black is beautiful”-like exaltation characterizes the Afro groupings, distinguishing them from the Trio crowds. Most members of such carnival parties are Afro descendants who parade and dance wearing costumes of an African tradition. Enlivened by percussionists, these troupes bring to the Avenue a rhythmic, musical and picturesque show, which appeals to attentive, stunned eyes from everywhere. Afro bands, which first came up in the 1970s, are firmly driven to affirm black culture and black identity.

alternative: From Thursday through Saturday a number of ‘alternative’ groups parade by, pulled by trios elétricos. This kind of casual crowd first came up in 1994, with the enlargement of the itineraries. Each one of the ‘alternatives’ concentrates thousands of frolickers, most of them quite young. Two things distinguish marginal from more traditional groupings: they parade on different days, and their ‘abadá’ gowns are much cheaper. Of course, the main attractions on such alternative routes are customary Bahia bands.

batucadas: these groups date from the 1930s, when the first batucadas and escolas de samba came up. Some of use not only percussion but also wind instruments in their parade, and therefore form a secondary category named “percussion & wind groups.” Their members feature typical shirts, straw hats and bandanas.

Colombina: main character of the Commedia dell'Arte. Harlequin's lover and Pierrot's companion. Flirting, joyful, futile, pretty, sly, seducing and voluble. Wore white silk or satin, a short skirt and a little cap.

Harlequin: Character of the old Italian comedy ( Commedia dell'Arte ) with a multicolored costume, generally made of lozenges, who was in charge of entertaining the audience during intervals with jokes and buffooneries. Was later incorporated as one of the characters in the comedies' peripetia, becoming one of their most important characters. Columbine's lover. Farceur, buffoon, fanfaron, brawler, lover, cynic.

Indians: These groups, originally inspired by American Indians, used to parade to the sound of a percussion "bateria," with its members dressed up as tribal icons. They came up in the 1960s, influenced by Western pictures. Nowadays, such groups go through a renovation process whereby some of them introduce ’trios elétricos’ and ‘abadás’ to their parading.

According to Greco-Roman Mythology -- Son of Slumber and the Night, he was only busy examining the actions of gods and men, and even happened to reprehend them. Considered as
Download the god of Graciosity, he had a very jocund nature. He was represented with a mask in one hand and in the other one a ridiculous figure to make it clear that he removes the mask from men's vices and laughs at their foolishness.
He was elected judge of the works of Neptune, Vulcan and Minerva: he deemed no one perfect. He vituperated Neptune because, composing a bull, he didn't give it horns. He criticized the man forged by Vulcan because he hadn't given him a window in the heart to see his secrets and thoughts. He censured the house Minerva edified because he couldn't move it from one place to another.
According to Art History -- An actor performing in the popular farces of old theater. Originated from the buffoons charged to entertain the Portuguese masters and lords who lived art the royal court and the noble residences with mimics and popular farces.

Pierrot: A character also originated from the Commedia dell'Arte. Ingenuous and sentimental. He wore very ample trousers and jacket, adorned with pompons and with a large ruffled collar.

transvestite: these groups possess a similar structure to that of the percussion groups. Formed by men dressed up as women, these groups feature frolickers full of stamina that give Carnival a touch of irreverence.

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Culinary Terms || Top



abará: a dish of beans mixed with pepper and dendê palm oil.

acarajé: a cake of cooked beans fried in dendê palm oil.

aipim: a sweet variety of cassava that is boiled or fried, as a side dish, as well as for making sweets.

capeta: a cocktail served in Porto Seguro that’s a mixture of honey, lemon juice, and guaraná powder (a tropical fruit from the Amazon) with cachaça, the national aguardente made from sugar cane.

carimã: is a by-product of cassava that is used to make sweets.

caruru: an amaranth used in cookery, as well as a feast prepared by practicers of Candombé and Spiritists in October.

dendê: fruit of the African palm tree from which oil is extracted to season food. Also used to temper steel.

farinha: is cassava flour used to accompany Bahian dishes.

feijão: are black beans, the most common Brazilian food staple used in the preparation of numerous dishes.

moqueca: is a seafood dish cooked in the inevitable palm-oil based sauce mixed with olive oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes, bell peppers, parsley and coriander.

pimenta malagueta: bush red pepper used in Bahian dishes.

quindim: a delicious small cake made from coconut, mixed with egg yolks, butter and sugar, which literally melts in one’s mouth.



Religious/Cultural Terms || Top



2nd of July: On July 2, 1823, almost a year after Brazil's Proclamation of Independence (September 7, 1822), Brazilian troops marched into Salvador, following the retreat by night of the Portuguese on the previous day.

Afoxés: groups of Candomblé worshipers that participated in Salvador’s Carnival celebrations.

afoxé (a-fo-sheh): originally a Yoruba word meaning to divine. In Brazil afoxé came to be associated with a Candomblé religious procession and rhythm performed during carnival in Salvador, Bahia.

Baianas: high-fashion food vendors in flowing lacy getups of Sudanese origin. A glitzier adaptation of this outfit gave Carmen Miranda her Hollywood persona. They offer trays of coconut sweets and freshly made acarajé, doughy bean-cake snacks stuffed with caruru hot sauce or pasty vatapá.

Candomblé (can/dom/bley): religion practiced by the Afro-Brazilian Jeje-Nagô of Bahia.

capoeira (ka/po/where/ah): Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance form.

Chapada Diamantina: a region in central Bahia on a high plateau where diamantines, as well as gold and diamonds were mined.

Festa do Senhor Bom Jesus dos Navegantes: Festival in Salvador on the Morning of January 1. A procession with ships from the old port at the marketplace Mercado Modelo via the Bay of Baía de Todos os Santos to the church Igreja e Hospício da Boa Viagem, where a fair with eating and dancing and performances of all kinds takes place.

Gnawa (now/ah): a sufi brotherhood in Southern Morocco. The followers are of western Sudanese origin. Dancing and music (a mixture of secular black African and sacred Islamic songs) are involved in the Gnawa trance ritual.

Iemanjá: the goddess of the sea in Candomblé.

Lavagem: a washing of church steps that is part of many Bahian folk feasts, such as the one held annually at the Bonfim Church in Salvador.

nagô-yoruba (na/go/your/oo/ba): a people and language from the West African coast; the language is still in limited use in Brazil today in Afro-Brazilian religious rituals such as Candomblé.

orixá (or/ee/shah): Divinity of the Yoruba pantheon. Candomblé saint.

Queima-de-judas: is a folk rite practiced on Saturday before Easter Sunday, where a stuffed cloth doll representing Judas is hung from a tree or high stake and burned.

Reisados: public merrymaking in celebration of Epiphany (Jan. 6).

terreiros: locales where Candomblé (Voodoo) rites are practiced.



Other Terms || Top



balangandãs: are ornamental silver buckles with amulets and trinkets attached.

Boa Viagem: Good Journey.

Bonfim: Good Death.

carrancas: gargoyle woodcarvings for riverboat sterns that are used to scare away bad spirits.

figas: are amulets of a clinched fist with the thumb clasped between the fore and middle fingers.

fulêjo (fu/lay/jo): small billy goat in the Nordeste dialect.

Mercado Modelo (Model Market): located in Salvador’s lower city, where Brazilian and South American handicrafts are on sale. Also site of the first customs house in Brazil.

mico-leão da cara dourada: golden lion-faced monkey. An endangered species, it is found in the Una wildlife reservation, across from Comandatuba Island on the Cocoa Coast.

patuás: amulets used to decorate balangandãs.

quarado (kuar/ah/doh): metal sheet used in Brazil to bleach clothes in the sun.

senzala (sen/za/la): A group of houses for slaves in the fazenda grande (plantations, colonial farms) in Brazil.

sertão (sir/tao): country side




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