Meet  Valmir Coutinho Lima – Valmir das Biribas

If you would like to learn more about the creation of the berimbau instument, read the interview with Valmir Lima. He shares many secrets for the berimbau and the process of creation that you will hear from nowhere else.

B-C: What is your name?

Valmir1-1Valmir: Valmir Coutinho Lima

B-C: What do you do, Valmir?

Valmir: I am an artisan, and I work primarily with berimbaus.

B-C: How long have you been doing that?

Valmir: For 22 years.

B-C: Where do you get the beriba wood?

Valmir: I gather it on the Bahian coast.

B-C: Is there a particular time or season when it is best to gather biriba?

Valmir: I gather it when there is no moon.

B-C: Is there a specific kind of biriba, or will anything work?

Valmir: You can make a berimbau from any type of biriba, but there are different kinds like beriba roxa, beriba branca, and beriba cabeluda. There are also other types of wood that make a good berimbau, such as pau-d’arco and candurú.

B-C: Any of these will make a good berimbau?

Valmir: Yes.

B-C: How long do you have to let the beriba dry out before making it into a berimbau?

Valmir: Six months. To make a good berimbau, it must dry for six months.

B-C: In the shade or in the sun?

Valmir2Valmir: In the shade, without sun and without rain.

B-C: And where do the cabaças come from?

Valmir: The cabaças come from the interior of Bahia. From the countryside.

B-C: How can you recognize a good cabaça?

Valmir: The first thing is the shell, a shell that is neither too thick nor too thin. Secondly, the bottom of the cabaca can’t be indented. It has to be a perfect cabaça so that it doesn’t damage the sound of the berimbau.

B-C: Can you explain more about the bottom of the cabaça?

Valmir: Ideally, the cabaça should touch the berimbau at a single point.

B-C: What things should a person take into account when choosing or buying an already-prepared cabaça?

Valmir: They should look inside it, see how well it is cleaned, examine the holes (for the string), and make sure that the bottom is not indented.

B-C: Tell me about caxixis. How do you choose a good one?

Valmir: First, it has to be made of good cipó (straw). A good sound will depend on having neither too few nor too many seeds inside, and seeds of the right size. The caxixi should also be the correct size and shape, and the handle should neither be too large nor too small.

B-C: Is cipó the only thing a caxixi can be made of, or are there other materials?

Valmir: There are other materials out there, but they won’t work for a caxixi. Cipó is the best. There is also piaçava that is used, but it gives an inferior sound.

B-C: What about these soft caxixis that are sold around here?

Valmir: Those are no good.

B-C: What are they made of?

Valmir: They’re made of another type of cipó called trinca-trinca, or imbê. There are various types of cipó.

B-C: And what kind do you use?

Valmir: It’s called vime, or junco. Those are the two best types of cipó to make a caxixi.

B-C: Lately we’ve seen berimbaus being made thinner. Why is this?

Valmir: I think that the thinner berimbaus are more geared towards gringos, you know? The foreigners can’t string the normal berimbaus, which have a thicker bow. So they (the re-sellers) are being pickier in this sense because they are selling many berimbaus to foreigners. With a thinner berimbau, the gringo can string it without breaking the biriba, and without using much strength. And there are still some who can’t even string those. So that’s the reason.

B-C: How long does one of these thinner berimbaus last?

Valmir: If you know how to treat the biriba well from the beginning, it can last a long time. If you know how to string and unstring it right, how to bend it the right amount. If you don’t know, or if you bend it more one day, less on another day, etc, then it will last no longer than 1-3 weeks.

B-C: Wow.

Valmir3Valmir: Yeah.

B-C: And what about a good berimbau, with a thicker bow?

Valmir: A good berimbau also depends on its owner, because there’s no point in someone buying a good berimbau if they don’t know how to care for it. If they don’t care for it well, it won’t last long.

B-C: And if the person knows how to care for it well?

Valmir: Then it can last 30 years.

B-C: Really?

Valmir: Yeah.

B-C: So what are some tips for stringing and unstringing a berimbau?

Valmir: One essential precaution is not to string it too much the first time. Because as time passes, it will need to be strung more and more. If you string it for the first time wider than one palm-length, then you’ve already ruined it, and you won’t have a berimbau for very long. It has to be strung just a little bit, the width of just 4-5 fingers, because it will already give a good sound. Whether it’s a gunga, medio, or viola, it will give the best sound if it’s not strung tight like a bow and arrow. After time, you unstring it and string it again, and then it will tend to get tired of that particular curvature. So it will ask for a little more. Then you string it a little more. And that’s how you get a berimbau to last 30, 35, even 40 years. It depends on the person. After you unstring it, leave it in the shade, lying down, there’s no need to leave your berimbau standing up.

You can read the rest of the interview here: