About the Triangle


The reasons why the triangle is widely used in Latin-American cities quite distant from one another – alongside the fact that the instrument does not figure in the documentation of similar practices in Portugal, Spain, and France with their songs, ratchets, and roulette wheels – still remains as something to be clarified. Here, I present data that emerged from my contact with the chegadinho vendors in Fortaleza. These figures are a result of my investigation into how they use the triangle in their urban routes, trying to understand how this sound-centered territorialization emerges. An important element of my observations was how they value the instrument they play in their practice.


The old producers and sellers of Fortaleza, from whom those who now walk the city learned their crafts, used to make their own triangles or ordered the instrument from any blacksmith in town. It was a simple process; there was no secret: they just bent any iron that sounded good into the form of a triangle. Some vendors, now self-employed, mentioned that they gained access to triangles by asked it as a favor from acquaintances who worked in construction sites. “There were some meticulous guys who shined the hell out of them! Everything looked like stainless steel, see?,” says the son of an old employer. Despite efforts to take good care of the triangles, it was common for the instrument to break after a while, due to the weaker quality of the material or the intensity and frequency of its use; it is not uncommon to find sellers who own more than one triangle and more than one drum.


The triangle gets worn out in three or four years. It breaks, wears out. But it lightens up people's moods. The noise is annoying, but the will to sell is exciting. There are days when the guys come back home without selling everything. There are days when the whole can is empty in just a single one-block walk. The trade is full of mysteries. (Raimundo, pastry cook and seller)[8]


There is a reciprocal surprise for chegadinho lovers: they never know when the sound of a vendor's triangle will burst through the afternoon or evening ambiance.

Among vendors there were those who had already had some familiarity with music, having had prior experiences playing in popular parties and celebrations, such as forrós and reisados,[9] before setting off solo around the city streets with the triangle. They will often be seen and heard playing at forró parties, since it is common for them to receive invitations to perform in formal venues when they are heard on the streets.


   Question: Could you play before?

Answer: No. I learned from old employers. Actually I haven't really learned anything. Back in the inlands, where I'm from, we used to play. There's this uncle who played forrozim pé-de-serra,[10] so I had already banged on the triangle when I was there. So when I came here, I came ... how can I say it ... ? It was the only thing that wasn't difficult for me in relation to the chegadinho; that's it. The hardest thing for me about the chegadinho was actually preparing it: it is very hot. (Francisco, pastry cook and seller)


That is not the case of other street vendors. Some of them had never played the triangle before. They learned it in order to properly perform their function as a chegadinho seller. Some cannot even confirm that they actually know how to play something: they simply “bang on the triangle.” “People call me to play some forró at the bars, and I just can't. I can only make some noise,” admits José, a 45-year-old seller. There is no official demand for musical knowledge or skills for the craft. “The triangle is a way to draw attention. You're just walking by, you hear something, and you'll definitely want to check out what's happening. At that time, we used to take a look just to see what it was. As simple as that. Drawing attention: that's what the triangle is for,” explains the son of an old maker of chegadinhos. Since the ability to play the instrument was not a pre-requisite to join the activity, sometimes it was learned through the necessity of the performances on the streets in order to sell. However, there are those who insist on displaying their mastery of the triangle. They perform several rhythms and laugh at the lack of proficiency of some fellow vendors. Whoever listens to the sound made by 62-year-old Miguel is not likely to imagine that he plays the triangle with only a single hand, moving it along with the beater, which travels among his five fingers, emulating a bell and clapper.


I conducted my interviews individually – group interviews were rare – so I did not witness any triangle battles among them. However, a few comments made by the interviewed vendors, as well as journalists José Paulo de Araújo and Tarcísio Matos in the late 1980s, cause me to believe that small-scale contests may actually be a part of the universe of pranks among chegadinho sellers when they gather to collect the biscuits before a workday. The existence of this form of competition would make sense, as skill with the triangle is usually considered as an aspect leading to success in sales.


You gotta know how to play. If you can't play, you don't sell anything. You know what I mean? (Jorge, seller)


If you just walk with the chegadinha, carrying only the drum without making any noise ... people simply don't listen. Only if you make the noise: the triangle. It's some kind of science, you see? You can only sell if you play. If you don't play, you don't sell. (Sebastião, seller)


If I don't have the triangle with me, how can I sell anything? […] How am I supposed to sell the chegadinha without [the triangle] ... do I clap hands? No way! (Francisco, pastry cook and seller)


Nevertheless, not all triangle performances of chegadinho vendors are made with the exclusive objective of selling. For many of these sellers the triangle is a way of having fun and providing entertainment as they walk. “I find it very entertaining. Hours go by really fast. We just keep on playing. I get so carried away that I just walk if I'm playing and whistling,” says Sebastião who, at the time of our conversation, told me he had already been working for thirty-two years in the business. As expressed by Raimundo, pastry cook and seller, “there are two things that amuse the chegadinho seller: the triangle and some five bucks here and there.”


The triangle is also used as an instrument of self-defense, especially as vendors face derision on the streets. When they feel intimidated, they evoke a festive side, relieving tension by creating or strengthening bonds through music. These men, after years of having walked with the triangle, have mastered efficient ways of communicating their message as well as feeling comfortable in their occupation.


The songs made by at least two street vendors, who identify themselves as composers as well, reflect such resourcefulness and their desire to express it. These rhymes, composed to be performed on the streets, talk about the lives of the people who sell the chegadinhos: who these sellers are, what they desire, where they walk, whom they meet, how people see them, and what they think of the chegadinho.


Chegadinha, chegadinha, chegadinha

Is made of gum, sugar and flour

I walked down the streets selling chegadinho

I sell it to everyone, including my neighbor

My customer she told me chegadinha is delicious

I walked in the military base selling chegadinha

I sell it to soldiers and navy sergeants

I hopped on the bus to sell chegadinha

The ticket collector, he told me it's crispy

I sold it at schools, hospitals, and reformatories

Chegadinha is just how I like it

I walked downtown and even inside the train

Nobody ain't got nothing on chegadinha[11]

One day, a vendor who composes songs took the bus. There was a lady who began to observe his triangle and his drum – she thought the latter was also a musical instrument. She then asked him if he was a musician. “No, ma'am. I am not,” he told her. Even though he was capable of playing an instrument and composing songs, in that moment he reverted to a conventional dissociation between chegadinho sellers and professional musicians, despite the triangle being a common instrument in both occupations.


This is a perception possibly due to the fact that playing the triangle is so firmly tied to this everyday practice (de Certeau 2009) that the part (playing the instrument) is understood as inextricable from the whole (the itinerant sale of chegadinhos). This metonymy emerges, for instance, when the very words that name the biscuit – chegadinho, chegadinha, or chegadim – are sometimes used to indicate other elements of the craft by vendors or consumers. One of the street vendors was addressed with the onomatopoeia that evokes the sound of the triangle: “people know me better as ‘ding-a-ling’ than as chegadim, because of the noise.”


In turn, another vendor introduces himself directly as Chegadinho, as he is frequently referred to or addressed by the name of the product he sells in the places where he walks. Similarly, another vendor affirmed that the one who sells the chegadinha is a chegadinho. In accordance with what he says, chegadinha, the feminine form of the word, would be the name of the biscuit. It is important to highlight that all of these words are derived from the Portuguese verb chegar, which means “to arrive.” Chegadinho is the masculine participle: “that which has arrived.” Added to all these forms, there is the diminutive ending -inho (which can denote affection): that little thing – or nice person – that has just arrived.


Yet there is another version of what the chegadinho could actually be, a fourth possibility, proposed by another seller:


As far as I know, the chegadinha is the triangle. We keep on playing it, and people come to ask what it is called. Then we present the material, which is the chegadinho. But the chegadim, as it is called, is the triangle. We keep on playing, people come and buy the product. That’s the chegadinha. (Francisco, pastry cook and seller)


The seller, in the quote above, conceives the idea of the chegadinho as something or someone that arrives. Where to? To the ears and to the place, a meeting place, where the target receiver is: the city dweller. There is a state of vacancy filled by the presence of the chegadinho vendor and of everything that comes along with him. This presence takes shape as an event with an established duration, extended in time and space. It begins long before the vendor is seen along the sidewalk and finishes long after he vanishes around the corner. This event is not only announced by the sound of the triangle, it also exists in the form of sound. Its existence is founded upon this sonic emission, if we understand the listener's awareness as the very purpose of the existence of sound (as a part) and of the sales process (the practice as the whole, as the mixture of its main elements).