Maracatu Naçao Celta is the maracatu wing of maSamba Samba School and was created in 2001.
Members of MaSamba have had a long interest/obsession with maracatu rhythms, but quickly realised that it would be very difficult to rehearse maracatu as part of a standard weekly samba rehearsal, and that the group would have to become somewhat independent.
MaSamba’sinvolvement with Maracatu peaked in 2007, when we used the vehicle of the St.Patrick’s Festival in Dublin to present a full maracatu court with drummers andsingers to an audience of over 500,000 people. This presentation was augmented by genuine costumes produced in Olinda and genuine maracatu instruments manufactured in Recife.
Maracatu Naçoa Celta play a style called maracatu baque virado (maracatu of the turned beat) which is a traditional rhythm from the North-Eastern state of Pernambuco.
Maracatu’s origins lie in a ritual or ceremony dating back to slave times known as the ‘Coronation of the Kings of the Congo’. The ‘Kings of the Congo’ were slaves who held leadership roles within the slave community, and was supported by the plantation owners as a method of ensuring control of the often rebellious slave populations. While these ceremonies were created to serve the plantation owners, it is said that the maracatu naçoes subverted this ritual and that, while secular, that most if not all maracatu naçoes are based around Candomblé houses or temples, and that many elements of maracatu are secular representations of candomblé practices and beliefs.
To give the ceremonies an air of authenticity, plantation owners donated their old clothes to the maracatu naçaos (nations), which explains the use of Louis XV style clothes in a ceremony celebrating African nobility.
The Format of a Maracatu
With the abolition of slavery, the ceremony ceased to exist, but the naçoes continued to choose symbolic leaders and to parade through the streets. A standard parade will consist of a drumming corps of anything up to 100 drummers, accompanied by a lead singer and chorus. These performers supply the musical accompaniment for the royal court, a group of performers including a king and queen, ladies in waiting, pages, indians, etc.
The chief ladies in waiting carry a doll called a calunga, which has huge spiritual significance to to the maracatu group, and represents tribal deities or past members of the naçao. The doll is usually made of wax or wood, and will be dressed in a similar baroque style to the royal court.
The other standard props are a highly decorated umbela (umbrella) which is carried over the king and queen, and a stylised banner, proclaiming the name of the maracatu naçao, and often the year it was founded.
Musically, the maracatu appears deceptively simple, being played on a limited number of instruments:
The Alfaia or Bombo is a bass drum, made of wood with natural hide heads and tuned with ropes, similar to a European military side drum. Some groups use two or three different tunings of alfaia, each of which will have a different role in the music.
The Caixa de Guerre (snare drum) is derived from the military snare drum and is usually 14” in diameter.
The Gongué is a very large cowbell, made of iron. Often the gongué will have an extended handle to allow it to be balanced against the thigh, to spread the considerable weight.
The Abé or Xequere is a gourd shaker covered with a net of beads or cowrie shells.
The Mineiro is a cylindrical metal shaker, similar to a large ganza.
The Agogo is a double bell with two tones. Not all maracatu groups use agogos.
More recently, the timba has been incorporated into the instrumentation of some maracatu naçoes, for example Maracatu Porto Rico.