“Tava lá na beira do Mar,
Quando Curio chegou
Com um pandeiro e atabaque,
Berimbau e agogô…”
—Tava Lá Na Beira Do Mar
The agogô is an instrument originating from the Yoruba people of West Africa whose art dates back to at least 5th century BC. The name agogô means bell in Yoruba. It has been used in traditional Yoruba music for centuries even up to today. There it is usually accompanied by various drums in ceremonies and festivals. The Yorubas of West Africa have been involved with bronze and iron casting for centuries and it is from this era that the agogô was born. The blacksmiths created sculptures from iron, through hand-beating, welding, and casting. Also, Ogun (a god still honored today in Brazilian Candomblé) is honored as the god of iron. This iron-casting period has been dated back to at least the 12th century as the Yoruba kingdom was one of the most advanced civilizations of the medieval period. This was several hundred years before the arrival of the first European explorers.
The Yoruba ethnic group (also known as the Nago) made up a large chunk of the slaves brought to Brazil. The agogô serves almost the same purpose in Brazil as it does in Africa. It’s no surprise that it’s used in Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé but it is also used in Samba and in fact is seen as one of the original Samba instruments along with the drums. The agogô has undergone minor changes in the modern world but still has the same basic construction.
There is a variation of the agogô that developed in Brazil commonly referred to as agogô de castanha. It uses wood and shells from Brazilian chestnuts. This might have developed because the slaves in the new world did not have ready access to the materials for iron or bronze casting.
Role in Capoeira
The agogô lands 4th in the modern capoeira bateria. It is largely completely absent in today’s capoeira Regional and is mostly seen in capoeira Angola. Its role is to keep the tempo along with the atabaque. Although the agogô may be seen as dispensable in capoeira, it is still however a major part of Maculelê and Samba de Roda.
Anatomy of the Agogô
The agogo is made of two iron bells and is played with a metal or wooden stick.
- Bells: This is the striking surface of the agogô. Each bell produces a different tone.
- Handle: This is the end of the agogô that is held by the player.
- Stick: In modern capoeira this is usually a made of wood and is used to produce the sound by striking the bells.
Types of Agogôs
There are two distinct types of agogos that can be found in capoeira. One is made of metal and the other made of wood. Either is acceptable.
- Agogô de Castanha: Agogô made of wood and two different sizes of a thick Brazilian chestnuts.
- Metal Agogô: Agogô made of metal.
How to Play
The agogô is fairly easy to play. There are just two tones created by striking either the smaller or larger bell.
Where to Get an Agogô
The agogô is fairly easy to find in most music stores and it sold by a lot of online retailers. This is due to it popularity in various world music genres.
ALMEIDA, Bira. Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form, ISBN: 9780938190295
CAPOEIRA, Nestor. The Little Capoeira Book, ISBN: 9781556434402; Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game, ISBN: 9781556434044