Defined at the time by director Carlos Diegues as a "black fable about freedom", Ganga Zumba is based on the homonymous book by João Felício dos Santos, a historical novel about the grandson of Zumbi dos Palmares, one of the first and main black leaders of the slavery period in Brazil. Diegues' first feature film [he had already participated with a short film in Cinco Vezes Favela], the film is an intense historical reconstruction of the period in the 17th century when Africans arrived in Brazil in slave ships and were forced to work in the fields for white masters. The story focuses on the bloody escape of Ganga Zumba from the sugarcane fields where he toiled to Quilombo dos Palmares, the runaway slave settlement where he hoped to find freedom and fulfill his destiny as a Banto king. Along the way he faces the violence of plantation owners and their henchmen, together with servant Dandara, his future queen. The samba composer Cartola and actor Antônio Pitanga, who plays the main role, participated in the film, along with the Filhos de Gandhy afoxé music group, who reproduce the typical African and Afro-Brazilian rituals from the colonial period.


Directed by Carlos Diegues
Produced by Copacabana Filmes
Screenwriting by Carlos Diegues

Music by Moacir Santos
Direct sound by L. C. Saldanha; and A. Jabor
Foley by Geraldo José
Participation of the folkloric group Filhos de Gandhy in Axexê and Candomblé rituals
Moacir Santos' compositions sung by Nara Leão


"Coisa nº 5 / Nanã" – released in the albums Coisas [1965] and The Maestro [1972], respectively.

"Coisa nº 4" – released in the album Coisas [1965]

"Mother Iracema" – released in the album The Maestro [1972]

"Coisa nº 9" – released in the album Coisas [1965]


"I believe that the music of Ganga Zumba is the best work I've done up to now. Not only because I was in a stage of musical maturity, but also because of the identification I felt with the film's theme and spirit. Additionally, it was a major project, just what I'd been wishing to do for a long time" [Moacir Santos].

Ganga Zumba's soundtrack can be considered as one of the most important works Santos created for film for various reasons. The main one is that the music served as a "pre-Coisas laboratory" where the composer was able to test melodies and sounds that would be consolidated in his seminal 1965 album.

The film score's macrostructure is cohesive and well thought out. Several recurrent themes are used to designate similar "environments", structures and/or narratives. Used as leitmotivs, these themes define, for example: the great procession to Palmares, the escape from the plantation owners, the development of the main character, the stormy love affair between the main characters, and other scenes. The themes that are repeated usually are reworked according to the scene, ranging from a change in instrumentation to a total compositional transformation,  leaving  only  some  basic  musical  material  to  identify  the  related  passages [motive, melodic profile, harmonic progression, etc.].

Additionally, musical insertions can be heard inside the scenes, played by the characters. The Filhos de Gandhy group from Bahia was responsible for a substantial part of this music. The opening credits refer to "the participation of the folklore group Filhos de Gandhi [sic] in Axexê and Candomblé rituals". The diegetic music is presented in the film basically in three manners: in rituals involving various characters; in the character Cipriana's solo songs; and in the percussion heard from afar as an audible sign of war.

The importance of the Afro-Brazilian sounds in Moacir Santos' work is very clear as it permeates all stages of his career. The fact that he worked in Ganga Zumba might have driven even further this recurrent use, considering that the film's score is part of the first half of Santos' career as an auteur composer.  To  achieve  this musical quality, the composer made use of some characteristic composition processes, such as:

  • The rhythmic writing presents in a very evident manner various passages with juxtaposition of metrics in binary and ternary subdivisions. The result of this juxtaposition is very important for adding an African accent to both the accompaniments and the melodies.
  • The frequent use of rhythmic or rhythmic-melodic ostinatos, especially in the accompaniment. The resulting sound is essentially cyclical, often used in modal passages and without a clear tonic-dominant direction.
  • Most of the film's musical insertions were composed in a non-tonal manner, using modal procedures to structure the harmonic progressions.
  • The arrangement is also very important to define the Afro-Brazilian sound, and the showcasing of percussion is a main factor. The use of ethnic instruments, such as atabaques and xequerês, provide direct aural and cultural references.

It is possible to note that a major part of the rhythmic patterns composed by Moacir Santos derives from more traditional concepts, such as the drumming by the Filhos de Gandhy in the film, but always with a high degree of inventiveness. Despite using recognizable rhythmic phrases from Afro-Brazilian cultural traditions, such as Candomblé, Santos created new rhythms in unexpected and/or uncommon metrics in order to define his own esthetic concept in the compositions.

Seen as a whole, Santos' comprehensive work becomes clear, with its attention to small details so that each musical aspect can be identified as an integral and indivisible part of the audiovisual project.

© 2015 Moacir Santos Film Scores |  all rights reserved  |  designed by LPG



Commercially released in Brazil in March 1964, directed by Carlos Diegues