Chocalho

The Chocalho is a unique, modern variation of the ‘shaker’ that has very little in common with other shaken instruments such as Cuban maracas or the tubular Brazilian ganza. Usually a chocalho has two or three rows of tambourine/pandeiro-like platinelas attached to a metal frame, while the rocar has a wooden shaft. Thanks to lightweight alloys and new designs, the sound of many sections have become more defined and ‘drier’ in character – less like a kitchen drawer falling down the stairs. Modern instruments come in all shapes, weights and sizes.

Technically, the chocalho and rocar most often play a stream of 16th-notes that add unique frequencies to the flow of the samba rhythm. In a samba bateria 16th notes are played on all instruments with what is often called the ‘swing,’ a combination of qualities and details of accent and timing that makes our samba 16ths feel very different to those of a strict metronome beat. Playing in rhythmic unison with the other mid and treble instruments while firmly occupying it’s own frequency range, the quality of a chocalho section has a huge impact on the sound of their bateria. For this reason the chocalhos are reserved for the peaks of the arrangement, letting everybody know that the bateria has arrived.

A deceptively simple instrument at first glance, in fact the whole-body involvement and relaxed precision of good technique is hard to define and harder to master. The chocalhos need to anticipate and push the beat forward with impeccable timing, always just ahead of the rhythmic pulse. Shaking like you mean it takes commitment and plenty of energy, and often suits the kind of people who get up first to dance at parties. The best players really throw themselves into it!

woman playing chocalho at carnival in rio de janeiro
Chocalho player in costume at the Rio sambadrome
Prince Charles, the lizard of the Windsors, plays a chocalho.
Yes, it’s Prince Charles with a chocalho

Find out more about learning or playing with the Unidos em Ritmo bateria here