The 1# Definite Guide to Brazilian Rhythms.

So what are Brazilian Rhythms? 

The rhythms that, even when based or created around rhythms present in other cultures, acquired enough distinctive elements to become unique to Brazilian culture

Lélia Gonzales, a renowned Brazilian writer, and sociologist defined Brazilian identity as Latin-Amefrican.

The rhythms in Brazilian music can be found to replicate this identity, sharing the diverse cultural roots present in the various regions of the country.

Brazil is a vast oral library of rhythms. Brazil is not only the most biodiverse country in the world, but may as well be one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. Rhythms are influenced by African, Indigenous, and European influences, with the first two representing the core of most of the rhythms that were constituted in Brazil. Brazilian rhythms are as plentiful as the trees and rivers flowing in its beautiful lands. 

To talk about rhythms in Brazil without talking about Traditional Indigenous cultures, Candomblé and African culture in Brazil is a dishonor to the memory of those who formed Brazilian Culture. Much of the knowledge in Traditional cultures is oral, and it is hard for those who don’t have first-hand experience, to understand the history and the qualities of Brazilian music and rhythms.

The origin of Brazilian Rhythms 

Many of the Brazilian rhythms that gained worldwide popularity and fame, were fostered on terreiros. Terreiros can mean the physical place where Candomblé happens, the sacred places of Afro-Brazilian spirituality. They are key to understanding the root of Afro-Brazilian Culture and African influence in Brazilian culture.

The first rhythm that comes to mind is Samba and its numerous variations. Samba is not, and never was a single and cohesive element, and even the oldest references cite a handful of variations. But, the first variations were found in communities that were based in Candomblé, especially in Bahia, the oldest region in Brazil. These were the Samba de Roda, and Samba Chula, the original forms of Samba developed in the African mix present in Bahia.

Want to learn more about Samba History and Origins?

Native Samba Guide

Much of the rhythmic knowledge that gives Brazilian music its edge is found within Candomblé’s musicality. However, there are other strong influences, such as traditional Indigenous music. which has also contributed to many rhythms and cultural roots, in a similar fashion as African music. These cultures are the key to understanding the foundations of Brazilian music and rhythm

Brazilian Rhythms on Terreiro

“Pai Adauto” Candomblé Master in Front of Terreiro

Source: Opanije Archives

Brazilian Rhythms are rich in harmony, compounded patterns, and history. They reflect the centuries of cultural interplay in Brazilian culture and the cultures that were responsible for its roots. To dive into Brazilian rhythms is to understand the cultural process of Colonization and the resistance of several cultures.


Brazil is made up of thousands of cultural hotspots, rhythms, and musical languages, not solid blocks. 


Samba is a name that can represent dozens of different manifestations, culturally independent and autonomous. As such, many of the rhythms present in Brazil are subject to the influence of different cultural backgrounds. These rhythms can be present in many different ways in the same city, being even more unique when talking about the whole country.

Atabaque Drum Brazilian Rhythm and Music

Looking for Drums?

Shop Here!

African and Afro-Brazilian Rhythms

There are African rhythms that are shared between Brazil and Africa. Being part of the African Diaspora means that African culture is alive within Brazil, in several direct and indirect forms. A direct example is the “Alujá” Rhythm, one that is played both in Nigeria and Brazil, albeit using different instruments and rhythmic variations. One indirect example is Samba, a rhythm that is not found within Africa but screams the African influence in Brazilian culture. 

In the centuries since Africans arrived in Brazil, memory has played many roles in adapting and preserving culture and rhythms. Even while divided, the African people in Brazil united and used their oral knowledge to preserve the memory of their ancestors. Candomblé is a prime example of how many rhythms, cultural lessons, and meanings in Africa are also present in Brazil.

An example of African culture within Brazil, modified by time and memory, but preserved in meaning is the quantity of African-named rhythms played in Brazil, for example:

Yoruba root Candomblé (KETU Branch) Rhythms:

    • Vasse
    • Daró
    • Ginká
    • Ijexá
    • Alujá
    • Agabí
    • Igbi
    • Avaninha
    • Ramunha
    • Agueré 
    • Savalú
    • Ilú
    • Sassanha
  • OPANIJE – The rhythm which gives name to our site, dedicated to Obaluaye.

Want to know more About Candomblé? Check our:

Candomblé Guide!

Brazilian Traditional Art Sculpture


These rhythms are also present in Yoruba Culture, and while they can be observed to be played differently, they share core elements. Ketu is a Brazilian Branch of Candomblé, called in Brazil a Candomblé Nation, portraying the sense that Brazil has many Nations within. Ketu is also a city in Lagos, Nigeria, and an ancient Region in Benin, also part of Yoruban Tradition. 

Brazil and Africa share profound relations, however, Brazil is formed by the impact of several cultures. Even when only speaking of Afro-Brazilian ancestry, there are several Branches of African cults, religions, and rhythms. These branches represent several ethnic influences in Brazilian culture and can be understood as macro-cultural in essence.

The main branches of Candomblé:

  • Ketu – A Ioruba Tradition
  • Jejê – A Daomé Tradition
  • Angola – A Bantu Tradition
  • Other  Branches: Batuque (Bantu), Nagô (Ioruba), Tambor de Crioulo (Mina and Fon)

Traditional Brazilian percussion is the key to understanding where all other Afro-Brazilian Rhythms flourished. African-based religious cultures are where Afro-Brazilian rhythms initiated their course. These were not, however, separated, as in colonial Brazil it was common to mix different ethnic identities to avoid Slave organization.

Get your Brazilian Groove on!

We offer a percussion course that features direct contact with a Master Teacher!

You can start learning with traditional style teachings: no theory or textbooks!

Learn by oral teaching methods: Discover a new way to understand Rhythm!

To Observe and listen are the basic principle upon which our teachers, and their teacher, and so on for several generations, learned, and so can you!

You can also check out our Shop, to find Atabaques, Pandeiros, Agogôs, Caxixis, and many other Brazilian instruments, each one made by master craftsmen such as Mestre Dinho, from Pelourinho in Salvador.

Free Trial on our Course

Instrument Shop

The encounter of cultures was the source of Afro-Brazilian culture.

More Candomblé Rhythms found in Brazil’s culture:

  • Congo de Ouro
  • Congo
  • Barravento
  • Cabila 
  • Bravun
  • Adarrun
  • Paó
  • Sató
  • Batá
  • Tambor de Criolo
Terreiro Rhythms - Symbolic door

Cultural crossroads

African cultural crossroads were the foundations of Samba, and all other Brazilian-made Rhythms. Building upon the diversity of traditions present, and the exchanging of pre-existing rhythms, Brazilian rhythm was born. Brazilian rhythms, especially in the early moments of colonization when Salvador was Capital, part of a common background, where they co-existed with Candomblé, the work chants and rhythms, and the play or entertainment.

Early Brazilian Rhythms:

  • Samba de Roda (sometimes called Samba Rural)
  • Samba de Chula or Samba de Viola
  • Samba de Cabula 
  • Lundu
  • Early Maracatu (Now known as Rural Maracatu)
  • Maculelê and Capoeira Rhythms (São Bento Grande, Angola, Iúna, Cavalaria and many more)
  • Maxixe
  • Cateretê or Catira
  • Carimbó
  • Jongo
  • Batuque

These rhythms have mixed influences, and are part of the Colonial period. They can be understood as part of the rituals, music and dance themes that were part of the African descendant population of Brazil. These rhythms can be found everywhere in Brazilian territory, however, they are especially prevalent in Bahia and the Northeastern Regions, the older regions in Brazil.

To get a more profound historical and cultural account of what is Samba, you can check out our post on Samba history and Development.

These early rhythms, while also played in urban centers, are based on creations from rural and medium-sized settlements. These settlements, such as Santo-Amaro and Cachueira in Bahia and Zona da Mata in Pernambuco, were home to many of these Brazilian percussion creations. The workforce of Brazil, the enslaved African and African Descendants, were concentrated in these regions, where the sugarcane plantations were the main export.

A characteristic aspect of these rhythms, as well as the Candomblé culture, is that they were hidden. All forms of African religiousness and culture were viewed as a form of rebellion. Men and women had to hide their cultural roots, and display Christian idols and names. After slavery was abolished in Brazil, the police still persecuted Afro-descendants and their culture.

Native Indigenous, and the North – The Amazon Region

In northern Brazil, the indigenous population is very expressive, and one of the basic rhythms created was the Carimbó. Carimbó originated in the Pará region, a mix between the Tupinambá indigenous people and Afro-Brazilian culture that arrived from north-eastern Brazil. Carimbó is the name of an Indigenous Drum, which literally means “hollow wood”. This tradition is one of the main rhythms in the North, all over the Amazon region.  

Other variants of Northern Rhythms:

  • Marabaixo (Amapá)
  • Marujada or retumbão (Acre, Pará and Amazon)
  • Dança do Siría (Acre, Pará and Amazon)
  • Toadas (Acre, Pará and Amazon)
Amazon Carimbo Rhythm

Carimbó Group – Sereia do Mar

Carimbó has been cited as the “Samba de Roda do Marajó”, Marajó being a region in the Pará StateMestre Verequete and Pìnduca were some of the musicians that established Carimbó in Brazil. There are several variations of the carimbó rhythm, such as the Siría dance, which uses the same instruments. Carimbó was cited by Pinduca, who is considered by many King of Carimbó,  in perhaps the most iconic Carimbó song, Sinha Pureza, the Sirimbó, a mixture of Carimbó and Siría.

Carimbó changed significantly since the arrival of western instruments such as the guitar, electric bass, and so on, but the traditional manifestation such as pictured above is called rope and wood or root carimbó. The traditional chants are call and response, there are several unique percussive elements and polyrhythms, and many of the traditional lyrics are about nature and the Amazon region. 

Another very important expression in the Northeast and North Regions is the Bumba Meu Boi tradition. Also called Boi-Bumbá, it’s a traditional rhythm based on the toadas”, which are short verses, sung with harmonics and percussive elements. There are hundreds of groups that rehearse the whole year to play the dance, theatrics, and musical elements of this tradition, very popular in the Maranhão and Amazon states. The rhythm employs unique percussion instruments, and there is a traditional decorative Bull which is made by the groups to accompany the procession, as the Bull is the center of this tradition, Boi meaning Bull in Portuguese. 

Contemporary Brazilian Rhythms, and Brazilian music in the present

Most of the modern Brazilian rhythms draw upon Traditional rhythms as a rhythmic base, with key elements being maintained. These elements can be seen, for example, in the basic cell of Samba de Roda, which is present in dozens of different rhythmic variations of Samba.

While there is a multitude of rhythms derived from Samba that went through a creative approach to the traditional elements, there are core elements left untouched.

One example of a core element is the dual bass coming from the upbeat to the downbeat. The dual bass sound, in a 4/4 timing, is the key to Samba dance and has been maintained in most forms of Samba. Traditionally it was the Atabaque drum that was responsible for this part of the rhythm. In modern arrangements, the bass element has shifted from the traditional atabaques for the Surdos, a Brazilian drum with strong bass, utilized in many forms of samba to keep the bass punch strong amidst other instruments.


If you’re looking to learn more about the instruments talked about here, please head on to our:

Brazilian Instruments Guide

Clave is also a key element in the Brazilian Rhythms. 

What is Clave?

Clave is a percussive element that is very common both in Brazilian and Cuban, African, and Afro-Diasporic Traditions.

It is a singular element that does not depend on head or ‘1’ count, and can be inserted in many moments of the rhythm. The clave is a common denominator that permeates these rhythms, even when some other percussive element has been detached. It can be played as a cowbell, Agogô, or Gân, or be inserted in the drum patterns. 

Brazilian Traditional Instrument

Brazilian Agogô or Gân, and Shekere or Xequerê

The claves rhythms are played in the circular fashion of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous music, which permeates the Brazilian rhythmic construction.

Bahian musicians introduced the congas and the Timbal, which changed playing styles. The Timbal is played in a similar fashion to the African Djembe, with dry tones and slaps, and became a staple in Brazilian music and percussion. The congas also established themselves as strong substitutes for the Traditional Atabaques, because of the Industrial production fueled by Latin music success in the world, and became a synonym to Atabaque in many regions of Brazil.

Polyrhythms, bass accentuation, and percussive harmony are some of the elements that shaped Brazilian music. They are present in all the numerous rhythms that can be found in the cultural foundations and constitute the basis upon which new rhythms were founded. Micro-Pause and rhythmic subtleties are the key to the swing that gives Brazilian music its danceability, making it impossible not to groove to the rhythm.

What is Percussive Harmony? 

Percussive Harmony is the harmony made by the different tones present in the drums. They do not follow western notation and are tuned by ear to match traditional tones. For example, in Candomblé, there are three Atabaque drums and an Agogô, and they constituted a pitch scale, from treble to bass: Agogô or Gân (highest pitch), Drum, Pi or Rumpi Drum, and Rum drum (lowest pitch). 

Agogo Brazilian Instruments

That’s why it is impossible to make a musical notation for many Brazilian rhythms, as the cadencies are impossible to express in the western form: They must be felt through the body, almost imperceptibly changing each element, while the whole becomes another unity.

With the cultural exchanges with other countries growing, as artists traveled and brought back discs, new African and Latin influences came to Brazilian musicians. This inspired a change in traditional spheres, and now artists started to develop more rhythmic variations based on elements of other regions. Merengue is an example of a foreign rhythm that had Afro-Brazilian percussive elements introduced to it, and became a leading rhythm in Carnaval, especially for Groups like Timbalada.

Modern Brazilian rhythms: 

Below is a list of the most popular rhythms that evolved in different regions, each being influenced by a branch of the different roots present in Brazil, being influenced by African, Indigenous, Latin, and European cultures:

(Grouped by Similarity)


  • Bossa Nova
  • Pagode
  • Partido Alto
  • Samba Enredo
  • Samba de Gafieira 
  • Samba de Terreiro
  • Samba de coco
  • Samba Duro
  • Samba Afro
  • Samba-Reggae
  • Axé music (Also understood as a collection of Afro-Brazilian rhythms used in Bahian Carnival)
  • Merengue (Brazilian Merengue)
  • Lambada
  • Forró
  • Baião
  • Xote 
  • Xaxado
  • Brazilian Funk
  • Brega and posteriorly Brega-Funk

These are the most popular rhythms of the last fifty years in Brazil, all incorporating the traditional aspects of Brazilian rhythms. Some have stronger connections to traditional ways of playing, with Atabaques, and the traditional Brazilian drum, Agogô or Gân, the core clave element. Others have received different influences, and have altogether different interpretations, reflecting on Brazilian diversity.

Samba de coco and Samba Duro are examples of rhythms that have stayed faithful to traditional forms. While these are common urban forms of Brazilian rhythm, they were developed in regions where traditional culture was very strong. While Samba de Roda was created on the Reconcavo, in Salvador it became Samba Duro, preserving many elements from the traditional instance. Samba de Coco is considered to have been created in the Arco Verde region in the rural  Pernambuco, however, in Recife and João Pessoa, the traditional Influences were very much kept for Samba de coco. From the instruments to the call and response chants and percussive polyrhythms and harmonies, they are examples of how tradition is deep in Brazilian imagination. 

Samba Fama and Kissukila are examples of a traditional and a contemporary Samba Duro. These are good examples of how traditional music has been shaped by multiregionalism. Both Samba Fama and Kissukila pay homage to Samba de Roda Traditions and are absolutely faithful rhythmically. While Samba Fama entitled itself the Samba de Roda Academy, Kissukila played Samba Duro with added percussive elements, as they were a band from a period of cultural interchange. Kissukila presented rhythms from various regions in Brazil such as Maracatu, Carimbó, and Latin influences such as Merengue.

Kissukila Brazilian Samba Duro

Caribbean music was a strong influence on Brazilians, especially Bahian  Music. In cities like Salvador, Maceió, Belém, and São Luis, it’s very common to hear Jamaican roots reggae, and there are many Brazilian reggae bands.

Through this interaction, a Rhythm called Samba-Reggae was born, which incorporated the bass and guitar elements of reggae within percussive instruments. Olodum was the percussion group responsible for popularizing this rhythm, and it became an international success, and the main course for Carnival, especially Bahian Carnival.

Forró and its Variations are a northeastern tradition that incorporates Andalusian, Iberic, Indigenous, and African influences. There are many unique instruments in some cultural expressions, such as the accordion, the Rabec, a traditional cousin of the violin, and the Pifano, an indigenous flute. and unique percussive elements such as the Zabumba drum and a metal instrument called Triangulo.

There are many traditional Groups that have incredibly unique sounds, such as the Banda de Pífanos de Caruaru, from Ceará, and the Banda’s Cabaçal’s, such as the Banda Cabaçal Irmãos Aniceto. These groups explore their unique influences and are known for the musicality of the Cariri Region in Ceará, and many outlying states that incorporated the Rythm.

It was made popular nationwide with Luiz Gonzaga, who sang Forró and its main variations: Baião, Xote and Xaxado. Differing from Afro-Brazilian traditions, which are danced in groups, individually, or in a circle, Forró is danced in couples, and became a staple rhythm in Brazil, with simple but addictive melodies, as is the case in most Brazilian music. 

Lambada is an example of one of the most diverse rhythms which became popular in Brazil. Coming from Carimbó, Cumbia, Merengue, Samba, Maxixe, and Forró, it rose to fame because of its danceable rhythm. Many artists from various regions produced songs based on this rhythm, and it became an influence for many recent rhythms, such as Sertanejo and carnival songs present in the  Axé Music genre. 

Lambada da delicia Album Brazilian Lambada

Lambada being Danced by Couples on Gêronimo Santana Album, “Lambada da Delícia”

Bossa Nova is an example of a rhythm that has brought much from Jazz into the Brazilian mix. It is known internationally because of Jazzists who approached it, gaining notoriety. Regionally, however, it is much less popular. Bossa Nova in Brazil became synonymous with the elite and ruling classes, not being considered the “people’s” genre, because of the places where it was shared and played. 

Many variations of Samba came from Bahia and were changed in Rio de Janeiro. Rio’s Samba is rhythmically different from Salvador’s, as they bifurcated influences long ago. The African improvisation methods exist in both but are more systemized in particular moments in Rio’s Samba. In Salvador’s Rhythms, improvisation is present throughout the whole piece, and also the percussion groups also have rehearsed call and response, Timbalada’s conventions are prime examples. The Timbal and Bacurinha (new instrument based in Repique) in Salvador and Repique in Rio are some of the main improvisation instruments, although there are times when each instrument is given a moment to improvise.

Brazilian Funk or Funk Carioca (Funk native from Rio) is one of the rhythms from Rio that has taken over and changed Brazilian Music. It’s not typically performed with drums, with synthesizers being used to mimic the percussion parts. While not being played with drums, it draws heavily on Congo and Maculelê rhythms, and many of its variations are called Macumba or Macumbinha, a reference to a Brazilian nickname for Afro-Brazilian religions. It gained popularity because of the artists who were from Favelas – Brazilians Slums -, and sang about reality and resonated with the Brazilian people. Brazilian Funk changed severely after its economic and mediatic success, and the letters shifted to materialistic references.

Get your Brazilian Groove on!

We offer a percussion course that features direct contact with a Master Teacher!

You can start learning with traditional style teachings: no theory or textbooks!

Learn by oral teaching methods: Discover a new way to understand Rhythm!

To Observe and listen are the basic principle upon which our teachers, and their teacher, and so on for several generations, learned, and so can you!

You can also check out our Shop, to find Atabaques, Pandeiros, Agogôs, Caxixis, and many other Brazilian instruments, each one made by master craftsmen such as Mestre Dinho, from Pelourinho in Salvador.

Free Trial on our Course

Instrument Shop

Browse Our Shop

Instrument Shop

Check our Resources

Learning Center

    Our Percussion Course is a subscription model that provides a unique opportunity for percussion students to learn directly from Master Teachers from Traditional communities.

    Get feedback directly from the teachers, and connect to the culture’s own keepers.

    This online course offers invaluable and previously unavailable content, based on the traditional arts with life experience passed down through generations.

Learn to Play!


    Our musical instruments represent special experiences, allowing you to explore the vibrant sounds, colors, and culture of the instrument itself.

    Our instruments aren’t mass-produced in a factory, but rather imbued with cultural weight and history.

    Made by Master Craftsmen in Brazil

Get you Instrument!


    Get your Afro-Diasporic and Afro-Brazilian information directly from the source.

    Learn about the Origins of Samba

    What are Traditional Arts

    What is Samba and Candomblé, and much more!


Get your readings!