Also:       puita      

Contextual Associations

The cuica is a single-head friction membranophone of Brazil. Pictured here are two metal-shelled cuica manufactured by the Latin Percussion company (located in the United States) in the fashion of the highly idiosyncratic Brazilian instrument used in both rural and urban dance ensembles. Arguably one of its most prominent contemporary contexts of usage is in the percussion ensembles (bateria) of Samba schools (escolas de samba), which are a featured element of Carnival celebrations throughout Brazil. But its distinctive sound can be argued to index Brazil-ness and as a result it is frequently orchestrated into the percussion accompaniment of Brazilian popular music artists and western jazz artists who wish to season their sound with a taste of Brazil. Although manufactured in the U.S., a number of Brazilian companies make similar high-tech models of the cuica.


The shell of the first cuica pictured in the gallery is cylindrical and made of plated sheet metal. Its single mammal-skin membrane is stretched over a flesh hoop slightly wider in diameter than that of the opening in the shell it covers. The drumhead is further tensioned with a heavy metal collar of a slightly smaller diameter than the flesh hoop. This collar has eight piers located around its circumference that accept the top ends of threaded tension rods, which in turn pass through piers on a similar band (a counterhoop) that rests against a ridge in the shell a few inches above the open end of the drum shell. This counter hoop is further secured to the shell with rivets. By turning the bolts at the lower ends of the rods with a key, the amount and evenness of pressure on the membrane can be controlled. In the middle of the drumhead, through a process that involves moistening the membrane before it is attached to its flesh hoop, a nipple is created into which the bulbous head of a bamboo stick is inserted (see the two detail photos). A length of thread is used to secure the bulb in the nipple.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds the rim of the drumhead with one hand while the other hand manipulates the stick inside the drum shell. With a moistened hand or cloth, the player slides his hand up and down the length of the stick. This rubbing action creates vibration, which the drumhead then amplifies. The pushing and pulling motion also varies the tension placed on the drumhead at any given moment, as does varying amounts of pressure applied directly to the drumhead by the player's other hand. These actions produce pitch variations and inflections that might be described as "grunting, groaning, and squeaking noises" (McGowan and Pessanha, p. 243).


The origins of the cuica are disputed. Various sources trace it to Bantu (Angolan) slaves, to Spain (where similar drums have been played for centuries), and to Muslim traders (who could conceivably have introduced the instrument to both Spain and the African Bantu). In Brazil, its strongest association is with Afro-Brazilians, and more than one source suggests that its African precursor is the Angolan-Congo kwita. The literature is not forthcoming with detailed information about the design of and materials used for the Brazilian cuica prior to the industrialized version of the instrument pictured here. 

Bibliographic Citations

McGowan, Chris, and Ricardo Pessanha. 2009. The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Schechter, John M. 1984. "Cuíca [puíta]." NGDMI v.1: 527.


Instrument Information


Continent: Americas

Region: South America

Nation: Brazil

Formation: Afro-Brazilian

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

231.11 membranophone--friction drum with fixed stick: the stick cannot be moved; the stick alone is subjected to friction by rubbing

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - cylindrical

Number and function of membranes: one, for sounding

Membrane design: framed with rigid flesh hoop

Membrane attachment: counterhoop, lapped over framed membrane hoop, connected by lacing or tension rods to counterhoop encircling shell

Membrane tension control: rotating screw rods or bolts

Sounding for membranophone: friction

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


11.3 in. height 9 in. diameter 9.6 in. diameter of tension collar 9.9 in. diameter of flesh hoop

Primary Materials

metal - sheet
membrane - mammal skin


Latin Percussion



Entry Author

Roger Vetter