Oxente Brings the Beats of Brazil to the Bull City

Monday, September 23, 2019

Story by Laura Casteel

If you’ve walked through downtown Durham on a Monday evening this summer, you might have heard the beating of drums.

The community drumming group Oxente (pronounced oh-SHEN-chee) formed in early 2019. Their outdoor rehearsals in Durham Central Park are  open to the public, as is the group itself—anyone can join Oxente, regardless of musical background, and members describe it as feeling like a family. They perform samba reggae, an Afro-Brazilian genre inspired by the American civil rights movement and the music of Bob Marley. The intricate rhythm patterns are created by four types of drums:

  • Surdo: A heavy bass drum and the “heartbeat” of the rhythm. One drum is played on the first and third beats of a measure, the other on the second and fourth.
  • Dobra: A smaller version of the surdo played between the four beats.
  • Repique: A high-pitched drum that keeps the “clave,” the rhythm pattern that cues the start and end of each measure.
  • Snare: The drum that “sews” the other drums together, played on mostly eighth and sixteenth notes. 

“When they play all the rhythms together, it’s incredibly beautiful,” says Caique Vidal, a multi-instrumentalist and educator who leads Oxente in addition to his band, Batuque. 

“I see in Durham, especially in the community I’m around, a desire to learn, a desire to fight for better, for change, and a desire to include all…Oxente is part of that.”

Vidal grew up in the historic center of Salvador, a city in the Brazilian state of Bahia and the birthplace of samba reggae. Today, he strives to bring the openness and accessibility of his musical upbringing to North Carolina, by investing in local talent and encouraging the use of public spaces for the arts. In early September 2019, Oxente hosted Durham’s first-ever Brazilian Day festival in the Central Park district, which featured a variety of local artists.

Vidal believes that Oxente’s commitment to inclusivity, education, and authenticity embodies the spirit of its home city. “Durham is a perfect place for Oxente to thrive,” he says. “I see in Durham, especially in the community I’m around, a desire to learn, a desire to fight for better, for change, and a desire to include all…Oxente is part of that.”