Viola caipira, also known as viola sertaneja or viola cabocla, is a stringed musical instrument and one of the regional variants of the Brazilian viola. It is popular mainly in the interior of Brazil, being one of the symbols of Brazilian popular music and mainly of the root-sertaneja music.
It has its origin in the Portuguese violas, originating from Arab instruments such as the lute . However, the violass are direct descendants of the Latin viola, which, in turn, has a Persian Arabic origin. First, the Portuguese violas arrived in Brazil and, together with other instruments, started to be used by the Jesuits in the catechesis of the natives, called “indigenous”. Later, they began to build violas with noble woods of the earth, which there has always been in great quantity in Brazil. Then, Europeans, Creoles, mestizos, caboclos, cafuzos, mamelucos, etc, started to build the instruments here. Among them the viola, which was already very popular at that time.
There are several denominations for the instrument, depending on the local culture, used mainly in cities in the countryside: viola de pinho, viola caipira, viola sertaneja, viola de arame, viola nordestina, viola cabocla, viola cantadeira, viola de dez cordas, viola chorosa, viola de queluz, viola serena, viola brasileira, among others.
The viola caipira has characteristics very similar to the viola. Both in shape and arrangement of the strings and acoustics, but it is a little smaller.
One characteristic that distinguishes the viola from other instruments is that the viola’s bridge uses loose strings a lot, which results in a strong and undistorted sound, if well tuned. Then, the notes get even stronger timbre because this is an instrument that requires the use of reed, fingernail or mainly long nails, since all strings are made of steel and some are very thin and hard.
The arrangement of the viola’s strings varies reasonably, although there are always five orders, these generally consisting of ten strings arranged in five pairs. Therefore, in general, the two sharpest pairs are tuned in unison, while the other pairs are tuned on the same note, but with a difference of heights of one octave. In any case, each order is always played with all the strings simultaneously, as if it were a single string.
There are dozens of possible tunings for this instrument, being used according to the violeiro’s preference. Some are more frequent and widespread, while others are strictly local. Still, some regions have several tunings, while others have a clearer predominance of one of them. In the Urucuia Valley, for example, predominates the Rio Abaixo with diversity of names, while in the Triangle Mineiro predominates the Boiadeira and among the northeastern repentistas there is homogeneity of Paraguaçu. But the tunings carry both variable names and synonyms with other tunings, which confuses research and counting.
The viola is the symbol of the original caipira music, popularly known as moda de viola or root music.
In Brazil, it is a traditional instrument. Well, songs sung on its strings have crossed decades and generations and are still present in our day to day Brazilian culture.
In Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and part of Paraná and Tocantins, among others, the viola has a prominent place in music, where the tradition of viola fashion is passed down from generation to generation.
The viola is an instrument with an unusual potential. For example, the deceased musician and instrumentalist Renato Andrade proved this in the midst of studies in which he succeeded in imitating instruments such as: Concert Harp, Paraguayan Harp, Portuguese Viola, Napolitano Mandolin, Russian Balalaica, and as he always said: “also imitate the viola!
The viola is present in several Brazilian manifestations, such as Catira, Fandango, Folia de Reis, and others, throughout Brazil.
There are also several legends and stories about the tradition of violeiros.
There are several legends and stories about viola tuning. For example, that the name of the tuning Cebolão would be the fact that the women cry, thrilled to hear the music, as if they were cutting onions.
The tuning Rio Abaixo would originate in the legend that the Devil used to go down the rivers playing viola in this tuning and, with it, seducing the girls and carrying them down the river. The violinist who uses this tuning is said, eventually, to be bewitched or to have made a pact with the devil.
It is believed that the art of playing the viola is a gift from God, and whoever did not receive it at birth will never be a prominent viola player. But the legend says that even the person not contemplated with this gift can acquire the skill of a good viola player. However, one of the options would be a magic involving a poisonous coral snake and it is known as the sympathy of the coral snake. But also, another way would be to pray at the tomb of some ancient violeiro on Friday of the passion. Then, there is still the possibility of the violeiro making a pact with the Devil to learn to play the viola.
Researcher Antônio Candido says that in the region of Serra do Caparaó, as in others, the Devil is considered the greatest violator of all. So such myth explains the amount of stories, all over Brazil, of violeiros who would have made a pact with the Devil to play well. However, the violeiro who makes this kind of pact does not go to hell since everyone in “heaven” wants violeiro there.
A characteristic of violeiros typical of the Northeast is the duels of players. Therefore, every good viola player asserts himself as the best in the region. If another violeiro contradicts him, the duel is begun.
In certain regions, by tradition, the violas carry little rattlesnakes made of rattlesnake rattles, because according to the legend, they have protection power for the viola and for the viola player. According to the violeiro of old, the power of the rattlesnake comes to break the strings and even the instrument of the opposing violeiro.