Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Not Our Usual Fare -- Alfaia Drums from Brazil

What is an Alfaia?

Alfaias are bass drums from Pernambuco, a State on the Northeast of Brazil, where they are used in maracatu, mangue, and related music forms.

Well-known regional artists such as Chico Science & Nacão Zumbi and Mestre Ambrosio use them in their performances and recordings. They are also known as surdos de cordas (rope surdos), and are included in the class of bass drums called bombos, which includes surdo drums and zabumbas as well. The largest alfaias are called alfaia marcacao up to 20".

Medium-sized drums are called alfaia "de vira" up to 16" and 18". These drums are similar to surdos and may be an ancestor of their popular urban cousins. The first feature one notices that sets them apart from surdos is the rope tuning. The two cow leather - or goat hide heads are clamped to the wooden body with thick wooden hoops. The hoops are threaded with rope which is used for tensioning the heads.

Alfaias are played with distinctly-shaped fat wooden drumsticks; sometimes the stick in the dominant hand is a little larger than the one used in the weak hand. Their construction is similar to 19th Century US and European military drums, bombos, and other Latin American wooden bass drums.

They often have a rustic, natural look, but I also have seen them in many brilliant colors. Alfaias are very famous in Brazil and it getting popular around the world. We have made instruments that have been sold not only to maracatu groups but also to musicians in Europe, Americas and Asia.

Alfaia Construction Alfaias are made of wood with leather heads. The heads are held in place with wooden rings called counter hoops. This is the same basic construction as the bass drum in drum kits. The rings are tensioned against the drum shell by ropes. The shell itself is of wood.

The two cow- or goathide heads are clamped to the wooden body with thick wooden hoops threaded with rope which is used for tensioning the heads. Alfaias are played with distinctly-shaped fat wooden drumsticks.

They are usually between 16", 18” and 20" in diameter. Playing an Alfaia Traditionally strapped over the shoulder, alfaias are played with a distinctive technique. Because it is worn opposite the players dominant hand, the drum is in an awkward position for the weak hand. Players hold the weak-hand drumstick inverted to get the proper attack on the head. In some mangue bands, such as Nacão Zumbi, the alfaia-players wear the drums strapped around the waist, much like surdos in Bahia.

Alfaia 18" marquetry technique protected by clear varnish finish and baquetas (drumsticks), hand made by Mestre Ruy Pessoa. Drums come in Imbuya and Marfim wood made using marquetry technique (Gustavo Pessoa 415-375-1699 San Francisco, California)
See eBay #230224548342.

Their website is under development at http://www.oficinadobarulho.com/. These drums are available in Brazil and just starting to become available outside of Brazil.

1 comment:

  1. Alfaias are available in the US from Bola Percussion.

    I bought several alfaias in Brazil and one from Bola.

    Bola's instrument cost more, but was worth every penny, which was clear once I opened the drums up and looked at how the shells were made - night and day!

    His drums are not heavy, but are solid, and show the mark of a craftsman.


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