After two years of playing Rio samba, we are returning to maracatu – an ancient carnival art from north-east Brazil.

Sol Samba's maracatu dancers at Notting Hill Carnival 2010
Sol Samba’s maracatu dancers at Notting Hill Carnival 2010

An ancient Afro-Brazilian carnival tradition

Maracatu is an ancient carnival tradition from the north-east of Brazil. Maracatu has its roots in the sugar fazendas and slave estates of Pernambuco state, where black African slaves formed religious brotherhoods to preserve African culture and heritage. Each year the crowning of the slave King and Queen was celebrated with music and dance.

This rich cultural ceremony – first recorded in 1674 – has been preserved through the centuries by the maracatu naçãos – literally “maracatu nations”, which form the colourful parades of drums, dancers and costumed kings and queens of today’s world famous Recife carnival.

Sacred rhythms

Each maracatu nação plays a set of sacred rhythms distinct to that group which have been handed down the generations. The oldest nação, Maracatu Nação Leao Coroado (Nation of the Crowned Lion), was formed in 1863 and exists to this day under the religious and musical direction of Mestre Afonso Aguiar – only the 4th director since the group first played.

Infectious dancing

But maracatu is also a hugely popular secular music – there are over 65 registered maractu carnival groups – and many, many more during carnival, where every street corner rings to the thunderous sound of Pernambucanos playing, singing and dancing maracatu.

Sol Samba and maracatu

Sol Samba is proud to play maracatu and bring this rich carnival tradition to the UK. In 2010, Sol Samba had the honour to host* the musical directors of three of the most historic, respected naçãos: Mestre Afonso from Maracatu Nação Leao Coroado (Nation of the Crowned Lion); Mestre Gilmar from Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante de Igarassu (Shining Star of Igarassu Nation); and Mestre Arlindo from Maracatu Nação Cambinda Africano (Cambinda Africano Nation). We are a secular maracatu group: we play traditional maracatu songs in respectful homage to the naçãos, and we add our own breaks and character to play an exciting, thunderous carnival music you can’t stay still to.


The instruments usually forming a Maracadu band are: alfaia (a large wooden rope-tuned drum), gonguê (a metal cowbell), tarol (a shallow snare drum), xequerê or agbê (a gourd shaker enveloped in a net of beads), and ganzá or mineiro (a metal cylindrical shaker filled with metal shot or small dried seeds). To read more about the instruments, click here.


Sol play maracatu on May Morning in Oxford, 1 May 2011

Sol play maracatu on May Morning in Oxford, 1 May 2010

* We thank Mariana Pinho of Gandaia Arts for facilitating this fantastic opportunity.