Tambor de crioula is an oral tradition of Afro-Brazilian origins which includes dancing, singing and percussion with drums. Although it is more common in Carnival and festa junina (a June festivity in the northeast region), it is generally performed in plazas, terreiros or associated with events with no specific location or pre-established schedule.
Different groups have a wide range of reasons for dancing tambor de crioula; for example, to fulfill a promise to Saint Benedict, a birthday party, the birth or baptism of a child, a celebration for winning a soccer match, a bumba-meu-boi killing, or a preto velho party.Tambor de crioula belongs to the same category of performance-musical rituals of African origins as samba de roda, jongo and coco, with overlapping traits such as polyrhythmic drums, syncopated rhythms, choreographic movements and umbigada ("belly-bumping").
The tambor de crioula dance is performed by women who, dressed in round, patterned skirts, present an unstructured, varied choreography. One at a time, each dancer performs the steps and moves in front of the tambozeiros, while the others carry out smaller movements, waiting for the punga so they can go to the center and dancer in front of the drums.
The instruments used for this dance are three drums, one small, one mid-sized, and one large, made from mangrove, pau d'arco or angelim trunks. A pair of matracas mark the beat on the body of the largest drum, which is called a roncador or rufador. The smallest is called a crivador or pererengue, and the mid-sized drum is called a meião or chamador.
The lyrics of this tradition are more important than the melodies, but they are hard for beginners to understand because they are pronounced with a heavy regional accent and include local terms used by Creole communities, such as Beiro bera má, which means to run along the edge of the sea (in Portuguese: correu na beira do mar), or Poierô, which means to kick up dust (in Portuguese: levantou a poeira).
Tambor de crioula is present in most cities of Maranhão and was recognized as intangible Brazilian heritage in 2007.