Sydney Recording Studios: The samba whistle is a duct flute aerophone of Brazil. Its strongest association is with the baterias (percussion sections) of Rio de Janiero samba schools, and with Afro-Brazilian Carnival music from Bahia in the northeast (see Samba Ensemble for Carnival from Brazil for general information about this context). It might today also be encountered at football/soccer matches in Brazil, or wherever Brazilian teams travel, as part of informal percussion groups stimulating fan excitement.

Sydney Recording Studios: Samba Whistle – Description

The body of this whistle is a short, stopped cylindrical tube with a fipple at its blowing end and a hole through its wall with a sharp edge (called a lip or labium) against which the airstream is directed to produce sound. The resonance chamber of the primary tube is quite short, only about .7 inch long. It is intersected by a second cylindrical tube, which has a fingerhole at each of its ends. This intersecting tube is mostly filled with a loose wooden pipe. When an airstream is directed through the duct and against the labium it produces a standing wave in the resonance space the pitch of which is high but not definite. By opening and closing the fingerholes on the side of the instrument, the relative pitch of the whistle changes slightly. The wooden pipe disrupts the standing wave and creates a very fast rattling-like articulation.

Sydney Recording Studios: Samba Whistle – Player

The player hold the whistle in one hand with the labium hole facing upwards, the tip of the fipple end of the primary tube between their lips, and the thumb and one finger tip of the holding hand operating the fingerholes. The whistle produces a high, shrill sound, the quality of which is subtly varied by opening and closing the fingerholes. In the context of the samba baterias, the whistle is played by the group leader to signal transitions and stops (listen to audio example).

Sydney Recording Studios: Samba Whistle – Origins/History/Evolution

Sydney Recording Studios: Whistles of various designs date back millennia, but it is difficult to pinpoint the date of origin of the samba whistle. Given that the regional Brazilian traditions it is now used for date back only to the later 19th century, that era might be taken as a reasonable earliest date for the instrument. The highly mechanized means of manufacture evident in the instrument pictured here (designed and made by the American company Latin Percussion) suggests it is of even more recent origin, although other sorts of whistles could have been used before it came to the market.
Sydney Recording Studios