In capoeira, music sets the rhythm, the style of play, and the energy of a game. In its most traditional setting, there are three main styles of song that weave together the structure of the capoeira roda. The roda represents the most strict and traditional format for capoeira and is ideally suited for an introduction and discussion of the music.
Though we may consider the music traditional, because it has been passed orally from one to the next until the early - mid 20th century when songs and rhythms began to be notated and recorded, there is no record of to what extent and exactly how the music has evolved over time. Capoeira's Brazilian heritage plays a heavy role in the way capoeira is perceived by its practitioners and understood at a subconscious level. It is a common feature of many Brazilian ethnic groups, for instance, as well as others throughout the world, that music is not so much a form of personal entertainment as it is a medium to bring about group cohesion and dynamic. Music in the context of capoeira is used to create a sacred space through both the physical act of forming a circle (the roda) and an aural space that is believed to connect to the spirit world.
This deeper religious significance exists more as a social memory to most capoeira groups, but is generally understood as evidenced in the use of ngoma drums (the atabaques of Yoruba candomblé), the berimbau whose earlier forms were used in rituals in Africa and the diaspora in speaking with ancestors, the ever-present term axé which signifies life force, the invocation of both Afro-Brazilian and Catholic spirituality, and certain semi-ritualized movements used in Capoeira Angola that bring "spiritual protection".
The instruments are:up to 3 berimbausup to 2 pandeiros1 agogô1 reco-reco (notched wooden tube similar to a guiro)1 atabaque or congaNot every roda will contain all these instruments. Mestre Bimba, for instance, preferred only one berimbau and two pandeiros in his rodas, but there will always be at least one berimbau in any roda.
The berimbaus preside over the roda, their rhythmic combinations suggesting variations in movement style between the two players in the roda. Some capoeira groups insist that among the three berimbaus, the lowest-toned (called a gunga or berraboi) is the lead instrument, while other groups follow the lead of the middle (medio or viola) berimbau.
The roda begins and ends at the discretion of the lead berimbau player, who may determine who plays next, can stop games, set the tempo of the music, and calm the players if they get too rough. There appears to be agreement that the treble-most berimbau (viola or violinha) is an accompaniment instrument, freely improvising based on rhythms of the middle instrument.