Maracat˙ is a term common to two distinct performance genres found in Pernambuco state in northeastern Brazil: maracat˙ našŃo and maracat˙ rural.
Maracat˙ našŃo (also known as maracat˙ de baque virado) is an Afro-Brazilian performance genre. The term refers not only to the performance, but to the performing groups themselves (often simply shortened to našŃo (pl. naš§es)).
Maracat˙ našŃo’s origins lie in the investiture ceremonies of the Reis do Congo (Kings of Congo), who were slaves that occupied leadership roles within the slave community. When slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1850, the institution of the Kings of Congo ceased to exist. Nonetheless, naš§es continued to choose symbolic leaders and evoke coronation ceremonies for those leaders. Although a maracat˙ performance is secular, traditional naš§es are grouped around candomblÚ (Afro-Brazilian religion) terreiros (bases) and the principles of candomblÚ infuse their activities.
Traditional naš§es perform by parading with a drumming group of 80-100, a singer and chorus, and a coterie of dancers and stock characters including a queen. Dancers and stock characters dress and behave to imitate the Portuguese royal court of the Baroque period.
The musical ensemble consists of alfaia (a large wooden rope-tuned drum), gonguŕ (a metal cowbell), tarol (a shallow snare drum), caixa-da-guerra (another type of snare drum), abŕ (a gourd shaker enveloped in beads), and mineiro (a metal cylindrical shaker). Song form is call and response between a solo singer and a female chorus.
Today there are around 20 naš§es operating in the cities of Recife and Olinda. Although one or two have an unbroken line of activity going back to the 1800’s, most have been set up in recent decades. Each year they perform during the Carnival period in Recife and Olinda. Maracat˙ NašŃo Pernambuco, while not a traditional maracat˙, was primarily responsible for introducing maracat˙ to overseas audiences in the 1990's.
Maracat˙ rural is also known as maracat˙ de baque solto, maracat˙ de orquestra, and maracat˙ de trombone. It is rooted in the Pernambucan interior and evolved in the early 20th century as a fusion of pre-existing forms of Carnival revelry. It is considered to be Afro-indigenous in origin. Its members, typically sugarcane workers, are involved with the native-influenced catimbˇ religion. Maracat˙ rural has a high participation rate with dozens of groups operating all over the state.