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Also known as:

Bass drum or bass drum

Northeastern rhythms of forró:

Baião, xaxado and xote


Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 09/06/2022

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - Specialist in Scientific Documentation

Popularly known as a bombo or bumbo, the zabumba is a cylindrical-shaped percussion instrument with membranes on both sides, normally played vertically or inclined, hanging by a strap on the musician’s shoulder.


Made with wooden planks, glued in alternating gains, or with metal, in the form of cylindrical boxes, zabumba is actually a flattened double drum. The upper part is played with a padded drumstick, also known as maçaneta and the lower part, with a thinner drumstick called bacalhau. The drumhead or skins can be made with leather or nylon.


The upper skin is accompanied by a muffler, which removes the harmonic overtones from the notes emitted by vibration, which varies depending on the size of the instrument. The greater the depth, the easier the emission of bass notes; and the larger the diameter, the easier the emission of harmonics.


With their left hand, the zabumbeiro lifts the drum and hits the skin hard. The sound that comes out is low and muffled za…bumba resembling the name of the instrument.


Filled with compressed air, the only thing keeping the instrument from bursting are the holes that exist in its side, which, in addition to assisting with resonance, function as an escape valve.


In the past, zabumba was made with tree trunks. Today, it can be found in stores with modern amplification features and is also widely used in urban forrós, in addition to animating festivals and fairs throughout the Northeastern Brazil.


Composed of five parts – hoop, skins, lug, hook claws, and shell – the zabumba is characteristic of the Northeastern rhythms of the forró, such as baião, xaxado, and xote. It is best known as the instrument of the pé-de-serra trios – composed by a zabumba, an accordion, and a triangle—much appreciated in the June festivals of the Northeast. They are also used in maracatus, sambas, pastoris, fifer bands, coco, and zabumba oxen from Maranhão, where in some cases two padded drumsticks are used.


In Spain and Portugal zabumba is the instrument known as cuíca in Brazil.


The term zabumba also designates a type of instrumental formation characteristic of the Brazilian Northeast, composed by the zabumba, snare drum, and fife or harmonica. In the Northeast it is also known as Musga (music) do Mato, Musga de Matuto, Banda cabaçal, Cabaçal, Música de Couro, Banda de negro, Música de fife. In Alagoas, it is known as Esquenta Mulher.


Caruaru, in Pernambuco, is the land of great zabumbeiros such as Macário Ganhador, Negro Vicente, Mestre Gato, Vitalino. According to the researcher from Caruaruense Nelson Barbalho:


[…] The genuine zabumba originates from Black people and traditionally consists of two, three fifes, a snare drum, and the bombo (or zabumba). Other components are a distortion of the set, a sophistication to modernize the band, taking away its primitive innocence and its characteristics as well. Esquenta Mulher, which maintains its original purity, is a crude set, with crude instruments of popular manufacture—the fife is made of bamboo, the holes poked with fire; the snare drums and the bombo are hollowed wood, covered with sheepskin. The musgos (musicians) zabumbeiros never wear the same costumes as each other during the shows of Esquenta Mulher—one wears a hat and tie, another wears a jacket and apragatas (espadrilles), a third wears in flip-flops, cotton shirt and powder and flour pants, another one appears with bare feet and hair loose in the wind, all raw and authentic. […] The name Esquenta Mulher [Women Heater] is attributed to the uproar, to the agitation that the songs of zabumba provoke in the countryside, regarding females. Every woman gets hot, willing to dance, listening to a good zabumba, oxente sinhô! […]


The word zabumba, in popular language, can also mean bad luck or negative events in a person’s life.



Recife, April 30, 2010.


sources consulted

BARBALHO, Nelson. Zabumba. Recife: IJNPS, Centro de Estudos Folclóricos, 1977. (Folclore, 29).


BRASIL: sons e instrumentos populares. São Paulo: Instituto Itaú Cultural, 1997.


INSTRUMENTOS  musicais brasileiros. [S. l.]: Projeto Cultural Rhodia, 1988.


SOUTO MAIOR, Mário; LÓSSIO, Rúbia. Dicionário de folclore para estudantes. Recife: Fundaj, Ed. Massangana, 2004.


ZABUMBA. Disponível em: Acesso em: 23 abr. 2010.

how to quote this text

GASPAR, Lúcia. Zabumba. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2010. Available from: Access on: Month. day, year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2009.)