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Fife Bands (Banda de Pífanos)

The fife is the band leader. It is similar instrument to the flute, made of Brazilian bamboo, a type of wood found in the forests of southern Pernambuco.

Fife Bands (Banda de Pífanos)

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Last update: 09/05/2017

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

It is an instrumental ensemble of percussion and wind, and one of the oldest, most characteristic and important of Brazilian folklore. Historically, the fife dates back to the early Christians who with it had a way to pay homage to the Virgin Mary at Christmas festivals. In northeast Brazilian tradition, fife bands are a creation of half-breed Brazilians, who with their creativity and musical intuition adapted the instrument and gave it the typical form for which it is known in Brazilian folklore.

For all of the northeast Brazil region and in the states of Minas Gerais and Goiás there are various names used for this type of ensemble: Banda de Pífanos (Fife Band), Banda de Pife (Fife Band), Música de Pife (Fife Music), Zabumba, Cabaçal, Esquenta-Mulher (Woman Warmer), Banda de Negro (Black Band), Terno (Suit), Banda de Couro (Leather Band) (Goiás), Musga do Mato, Pipiruí ( Minas Gerais).

As well as its various names, its composition also has subtle differences, but its basic instruments are two fifes, a tom-tom, a snare drum and a bass drum.

In Pernambuco, the band is made up of two fifes, a snare, a tom-tom, a bass drum and a local deep-sounding drum called ‘zabumba’.

In Alagoas, as well as the basic instruments, a pair of cymbals and in some groups a triangle and even a maraca are added to enrich the sound.

In Ceará, a triangle and cymbals are also added and in Sergipe there are a triangle and a shaker.

In Goiás, the Leather Band, as it called, is made up of bass drum, snare and viola.

The fife is the band leader. It is similar instrument to the flute, made of Brazilian bamboo, a type of wood found commonly found in the forests of southern Pernambuco. It comes in three sizes: 65cm to 70cm, called Régua Inteiro (Full Measure); 50cm, or Três Quartos (Three Quarter); and 40cm, or Régua Pequena (Small Measure). The sound of the fife changes according to its size. Each fife has seven holes, six for the fingers and one for the lips (breath). The secret, as much in the fife’s production as its execution, is passed from father to son.

The band members are, mostly, rural agricultural and maintenance workers, working for hire or cultivating their own small piece of land. They get together before each performance and go through their repertoire. They don’t have any formal musical training and play by ear. Among the most common pieces performed are: Asa Branca (White Wing), Valsa (Waltz), Mulher Rendeira (Lace-making Woman), A Briga do Cachorro com a Onça (The Dog and Jaguar’s Fight), Sabiá (Thrush), Guriatã de Coqueiro (Purple-throated Euphonia in the Coconut Tree), A Ema Gemeu no Pé do Juremá (The Moaning Emu at the foot of the Jurema Tree), among others. There are various fife bands in northeast Brazil, but one of the most well-known is from Caruaru, founded by the Biano brothers, Sebastião and Benedito, in 1924, who even played for Lampião in Tacaratu, when the outlaw went to pay a spiritual debt.

Recife, 15 July 2003.
Updated on August 21, 2009.
Updated on may 2, 2017.

sources consulted

BANDA de Pífanos. [Foto neste texto]. Disponível em: <>Acesso em: 5 mai. 2017.

LIMA, Claudia. História junina. Recife: Prefeitura, Secretaria de Turismo, 1997. Edição especial. p. 25.

ROCHA, José Maria Tenório. As bandas de pífanos do Nordeste do Brasil. A Tribuna Piracicabana, Piracicaba, SP, 4 out. 1991. Edição regional. p.4.

SOUTO MAIOR, Mário. Banda de pífanos. Patrimônio Cultural de Pernambuco, Recife, ano 3, ago. 1985.

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Fife Bands. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.