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September 27 2011

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Reposted fromcherryza2cztery cherryza2cztery

July 07 2009

Devagar, Devagar…


…Capoeira de Angola é devagar!

historyCapoeira2

The aim of this post is to highlight an important, but often overseen aspect of Capoeira Angola. I myself do oversee it far too often and while I was thinking about it the idea came up to make a blogpost out of it. The aspect of Capoeira Angola I want to point at this time is “playing slowly”.

The speed of your game

Most people do know that Capoeira Angola is generally played in a slower pace than Capoeira Regional. In fact, some people think that Capoeira Angola is just the slower version of Capoeira Regional. I wont go into that one, because most of the fans and players of Capoeira know that it’s not right anyway. Some people also know that Capoeira Angola games are highly variable in terms of speed. A game can switch from slow to fast to slow in less than ten seconds. That Capoeira Angola is always slow is a common misunderstanding which usually leads to some unpleasant surprises. But, and that’s what this post is about, it is still an important attribute.

Why?

There is many different reasons why Capoeira Angola is played in a slow base rhythm. I will just count the most common (and obvious) of these:

  • Endurance: As a typical game in Capoeira Angola goes into the minutes and can easily go on for more than 10 minutes a high pace is not recommendable. In comparison, games in some Regional rodas are incredibly short, sometimes it’s a matter of a few seconds until you get bought out. This short timespan forces you to get into a game as fast as possible. If a game in a Regional roda would take 10 minutes retaining its speed, most people would drop unconscious ;)
  • Safety: A Roda is not always a safe place. In Capoeira Angola your space is petty limited. It is almost impossible to be not enangered when a person in a two-meter-diameter-roda does make a fast kick. For the safety of you and your partner it is recommandable to slow down the game, even if it gets faster in between. And even if you dont care much about the other person you are playing with the rule applies “what goes around, comes around”. Play fast and you will get a fast response. Thus, it is sometimes just smarter to play at a slower pace.
  • Aesthetics: Players of Capoeira do regularly state that Capoeira Angola is much more expressive and playful than Regional or Contemporean Capoeira. This would not be possible in a high speed game. The higher the speed of the game the more people (especially beginners and not-so-advanced players) concentrate on not getting hit, hitting the other person and maybe even performing a good game. And the first things dropped would be the playfulness and the individual expressions you can do in a roda. Thus, a too fast game which keeps on staying too fast is often seen as an “ugly game” Angola roda, more because of the lack of grace and mandinga than because of the speed.
  • Precision: Here I will quote my first teacher. During training he liked to tell us “I have you rather doing the movements 3 times right than 30 times wrong”. He used to say this when the students sped up in training and started being sloppy with the movements. This does easily apply to a game. The faster a game is the less time you have for precise movements, the sloppier you get. That can lead to accidents involving you and/or your partner. Or, it can just lead to the movements looking short, uncomplete, ugly. Having time during the game does give you the chance to do your movements right, precise and with grace.
  • Health: It is indeed healthier to play slow than to play a fast paced game. This does count for the individual game as well as on the long term. Why? The faster the game the higher is the danger that you dont listen exactly what your body tells you. An Au you might go into might be started wrong and risking your back or your limbs. In a fast game the chance to correct this fault is lower than in a slow game. For example: in an Angola game which was a tad too fast a friend of mine did almost cripple himself doing an Au malandro (I think some people call it an Au batido). He had so much speed that his upper arm moved forwards while his hand was planted and his upper body falling backwards – to make it short: for a split of a second his elbow was on the wrong side of the arm… In terms of longterm effects of fast playing wearing off of knees and wrists is one of the most prominent Capoeira illnesses. Jumps and rapid stressing these vulnerable body parts do have a bad effect in long term (although: I am talking here out of a mixture of experience and pure logics. I have no statistical or medical data for this. But it would be interesting if somebody would investigate this!)

Counting in the music

An obvious reason for playing slow in the Roda de Angola is that it otherwise wouldnt fit to the music. Most people know that a game is not an exact representation of the Berimbau’s rhythm played in the Roda (meaning, the steps and kicks dont come in the same rhythm as the berimbau is being beaten). But there is a linkage between the music and speed of the game. The players have to follow the music in this case. Thus, when they speed up and dont turn back to a slow pace while the music is slow the whole time, they will most possibly be called to the Pé do Berimbau and reminded of playing slowly. Or they will hear the song “Devagar, Devagar”. Here is the lyrics of this song (not exactly what I learned but nicely written down by Mathew Brigham (Espaguete) in his very good “Capoeira Song Compendium“)

Devagar, devagar                                              Slowly, Slowly
Devagar, devagarinho                                       Slowly, very slowly
Refrain: Devagar, devagar              Slowly, slowly
Cuidado com o seu pezinho                           Be careful with your foot
Capoeira de angola é devagar                     Capoeira Angola is played slowly
Esse jogo é devagar                                          This game is slowly
Eu falei devagar, devagarinho                    I said slowly, very slowly
Esse jogo bonito é devagar                           This pretty game is played slowly
Falei devagar, falei devagar                        I said slowly, very slowly

This song is sung to a slow rhythm, which makes it almost impossible to be ignored by the players. And if they do so, it usually results in being reminded specifically/personally, or just asked to stop that game.  So why does the music then have to be so slowly? Well, first of all, it’s a question of taste. Capoeira Angola music is slow to medium paced, with a lot of different nuances and a rich sound. This does come because a) the presence of 7 instruments incl. 3 differently pitched berimbaus gives a very rich acustical caleidoscope and b) the low speed of playing allows for wonderful variations (especially of the Berimbau Viola). I know, for a lot of modernist Capoeiristas it is too slow, but people wont understand that keeping a rich sound and keeping a slow pace is actually much harder than just beating the crap out of your berimbaus and drums. I speak out of experience that keeping the rhythm slow is harder than just playing a fast rhythm. And, as in Capoeira Angola slower games are preferred, the Bateria does control this by controlling the speed of the music.

How to achieve a slow game

Now, this is the most complicated part of this post. Because, to be sincere, I dont know a perfect recipe to keep your speed slow. I too get faster while playing and I guess I am not alone in this. I guess it is the same as with drumming. The natural tendency seems to be that you want to get faster. You might start with a slow rhythm (in playing or in music), but if you dont take care of it you will get faster. I want to point out that it is not bad to become faster. The player just has to know when to get back to “normal” speed again and when being fast helps, and especially when it doesnt.

Thus, the simple (and admittedly not very helpful) answer is: focus. Concentrate on te speed of your movements. Not too slow, but also not hastily. Before you can do that you have to get used to play in the Roda of course, and get secure. Thus it helps when you are not a pure beginner in Capoeira Angola. This doesnt mean that if you are a beginner you are free to play as fast as you wish. You can immediately start concentrating on playing slowly. But if you lose your focus on playing slow, dont worry, try harder next time. As a beginner you usually just dont have the peace of mind to play slowly yet. You get nervous, you get hasty. Being calm and relaxed is key here.

It also helps to be a bit mature. When you want to impress, show off, make fun of a your partner and have similar immature ideas about playing you usually dont go for the slow movements. But maturity is something you cannot train. That comes by itself, hopefully.

June 19 2009

6th Anniversary of the Capoeira Angola Center of the Netherlands


Hello people,

Capoeira Angola might not be big in the Capoeira scene of Holland, but thanks to a few people it is well represented and continues to serve the art and the community! To celebrate the 6th Anniversary of the Capoeira Angola center in Amsterdam, led by Totti Angola (senior student of mestre Joao Grande), everybody is invited to Amsterdam on the 5th of July, 2009. Everything else you can read on the flyer posted below:

6th Anniversary

Be there or be square (and thus, not a Roda ;) )

June 17 2009

Mestre Cobra Mansa


cobra

The masters series of this Blog isnt finished yet, although I dont know if I will ever be able to mention all masters who deserve being mentioned. This time I decided to write about one of the most famous Mestres of Capoeira Angola. Mestre Cobra Mansa is known both to Angoleiros and Regionalistas. He is known for his marvelous game and his passionate commitment to the artform. A friend of mine did once call him something like a “popstar” of Capoeira Angola. This is true in terms of him being a living legend and him being known beyond any borders of Capoeira. It is in so far not true as popstars today are more known to be adored more than they actually deserve. With Mestre Cobra Mansa it’s different. But let’s have a look at who this mestre is:

Cinézio Feliciano Peçanha

Mestre Cobra Mansa was born Cinézio Feliciano Peçanha in rio de Janeiro in 1960. He grew up in Duque de Caxias, which is a city close to Rio de Janeiro. As a kid he did earn some money as a street vendor, performing for the audience and doing acrobatic tricks for them. He started Capoeira in 1973 with a Mestre Josais da Silva (which I have not much heard of other that he has a school named after him (Associação de Capoeira Josias da Silva) but shortly after that he started to be a student of Mestre Moraes (I have two dates given for this, 1974 and 1976). Under his guidance he stayed till the early 90’s where out of “philosophical differences” they parted ways. During his time with mestre Moraes they both founded the Grupo Capoeira Angola Pelourinho (GCAP) and moved to Salvador da Bahia where they managed to convince Mestre Joao Grande to teach classes again. Prior to that he was also spending some time as photographer and as policeman.

FICA

FICAIn the 90’s mestre Cobra Mansa came to the US and founded the International Capoeira Angola Foundation (ICAF in English, FICA in Portuguese) in the year 1995 together with Mestre Valmir and Mestre Jurandir. FICA is now one of the most famous representatives of Capoeira Angola in the world, having opened up school worldwide. Especially in the US, but also in Mozambique, Russia, France, Hawaii, Costa Rica and, of course, Bahia amongst others. The size of this organization has led to some critics as far as I have heard. I couldnt get much information out of them, but it looks as if people are afraid of a monopolization of the Capoeira Angola in similar ways as it happened in Capoeira Regional, where Senzala, ABADA and Co. dominate the “market”. there is little one can argue against that kind of fear, but one can surely say that FICA doesnt see itself as unique or special. As far as I have had the pleasure to meet people from FICA they seemed not to be discriminating between them and “other” angoleiros and I have not heard of one occasion where it was different. So for me there is no reason to doubt on FICA’s positive impact on Capoeira Angola.

Busy Mestre…

There is actually two reasons why I think that mestre Cobra Mansa is one of the bigger mestres on the Angola scene. First, there is his style of playing, and second, there is his projects. Mestre Cobra Mansa seems to have no private life at all as he is constantly busy with building up stuff. And, interestingly, he is also moving on with the projects. So when one project is on its feet, he leaves it in trusted hands and starts another project. At least that’s what I think happens. I will shortly introduce three projects he has/had been going on besides building up GCAP and FICA.

a) Roda de Caxias: not many people know the Roda of Caxias, at least not many people in Europe know of it. I wont go into detail, but what you should know is that the Roda de Caxias is one of the most enduring Rodas in Rio, which survived repression during the time of the Brazilian dictatorship. There are many Mestres present in this Roda and Mestre Conra Mansa is mentioned as a co-founder of it. The mestre you should be looking for for this Roda is Mestre Russo, though. Here you can find more information (it’s a movie: O zelador, go get it, I watched it 4 times!)

b) Projecto Axé: well, Mestre Cobra Mansa is, as far as I see it, not a founder of the Projecto Axé, but works together with this movement to help hundreds of kids which are otherwise threatened by poverty and crime. The projecto Axé is part of the Black Movement in Brasil and tries to help on many different levels. Here is a site you can look that up.

c) Kilombo Tenonde: the Kilombo Tenonde project is the newest on Mestre Cobra Mansa’s list. Basically it consists of two components. One being a cultural center near Salvador, which is providing “communal and educational services” and the other being a farm near Valença, which is also serving as a platform for workshops, but also tries to sustain itself with organic farming and principles os sustainability. Here is the link for the website of Kilombo Tenonde.

…in the Roda

And last but not least one can start talking about him as a person in the Roda. His name, Cobra Mansa, can be translated as “tame snake”. This name was given him on basis of his agility and his cheerfulness while playing Capoeira “lauging all the time”. And he has kept this cheerfulness till today. What is amazing about him is that despite his cheerfulness in game he is not a softy when it comes to playing in the Roda. And he is no brute either. His playing style intermixes grace with malicia and fluidity with efficiency. I will leave it like that. If you wanna see more of him you just have to check youtube, where you find a lot of games of him.

Picture sourcehttp://neuroanthropology.net/2008/11/

More information:

- Wikipedia

- FICA-DC Blog

- FICA DC

- Kilombo Tenonde

- Projeto Axé

June 01 2009

Capoeira for a good cause


capoeira_kids_76dp

All Capoeiristas say over and over again that Capoeira is not only a martial art. We tend to look down on other martial artists in the knowledge that they just learn how to bash their heads while we get to learn movement, music and philosophy in one. Actually, that is unfair, cause other martial arts do also have underlying philosophies. Still there is clearly differences between Capoeira and most other martial arts. Some of these differences come out of the fact that capoeira did not evolve in temples or was invented by soldiers in some academy. Those who did practise Capoeira in the past, were usually underprivileged people like slaves, unemployed men, street thugs and such. Capoeira did grow and develop further on the streets (taking advantage of the rich culture of African rituals, dances and martial arts brought by Africans to Brazil – but for this story check out the posts under “African Roots“). Maybe because of this, because most of today’s teachers still know what poverty and oppression does with people, many Capoeira schools are involved in social projects, trying to give the people “o povo” what belongs to them: hope, perspective, movement.

“Capoeira Beyond Brazil”

I realized the importance of this topic when I was reading a book which was sent to me by Blue Snake Books. It is named “Capoeira Beyond Brazil” and is written by Aniefre Essien (Tartaruga), who is teaching Capoeira to at risk youth in Oakland, California since 1998.

cover

The people from Blue Snakes Books asked me to write a review about this book. As I never wrote a review before (except in school, but that doesnt count) I was very interested in doing so, especially when it was about a Capoeira Book I never had heard of before. So I sat down and read this book and I liked it. I wrote this review a long time ago, but due to many reasons I was not able to complete it well and it took months – till today – till I was able and willing to do so. In the meantime one of my favourite Capoeira Bloggers Mandingueira did already post a review about this book. That’s why I decided to take this review one little step further and give a glimpse on this topic, Capoeira and Social Engagement. So, better late than never, here’s the review:

“Capoeira Beyond Brazil” is a short book written in easily understandable language, in which “Tartaruga” manages to give a good overview about many aspects of Capoeira. The first chapters do mainly concentrate on the classical topics, like history, the game and the training, and is perfectly fit for the beginner to have a quick understanding about capoeira. The last chapters are interesting for both beginners and advanced Capoeiristas. Because as Capoeira is expanding and becoming a world-wide practised sport, art and lifestyle, new challenges come up which have to be faced.  Essien writes about a broad spectrum of topics, like commercialization of the art and it’s misuse by some teachers as a tool to oppress their students. Of course, there is so many topics, that Essien wasnt able to cover them all  in a satisfacting manner, but as capoeira players will read about these in his book, their awareness about the existence of these problems will -hopefully- increase.

Of the highest interest for me was his detailed description of the history and reality of the project ”Nosso Quilombo”. Essien’s dedicated work with children who grow up in a neighbourhood full of crime and violence and his success in this work is a good example for many Capoeira groups. Especially for those groups whose focus was, till now, the mere improvement of the teacher’s financial situation. Today Capoeira is still a force of change, and not only in Brazil, where the lives of many street children changed when they started practising this art, but also in the U.S., as this example shows us so nicely.

The strength of this book is that it is easy to understand and written from a personal point of view, enriched by Essien’s own experiences as student and teacher of Capoeira. It doesnt want to teach you as a Capoeirista, what to do, but tells merely what Essien thinks is right, explained using simpes examples out of his Capoeira life. Thus I can recommend this book, especially for beginners who just started with Capoeira and want to know why people make such a fuzz about it.

Capoeira and Society

Now, “Tartaruga” is, as you will see when you read the book, a Contemporean Capoeirista. This is a fact which I actually like a lot, because I have already heard a lot about social projects of Capoeira Angola groups, to a lesser extent I have heard about social projects of modern groups of Capoeira. It’s not that they dont exist, I guess even that you have also a lot of social projects of modern Capoeira groups. We just dont hear much of these.

Of course, some people say Capoeira is a martial art and a hundred years ago it was not connected to social projects but to tough guys who would beat each other’s brains out on a regular basis. Those who do argue like that dont see the changes of Capoeira during the time. As much as there is a difference between Capoeira in the times of slavery and Capoeira in times of the late 19th century street thugs, it also changed since it became legalized and en vogue in the last 60 years of its development. People of  “higher education” and of other social ranks started playing Capoeira. And for them Capoeira was not an obligatory school of survival or there favourite pass-time because they didnt have nothing to do. For them it started to be a hobby, which they can practise and then leave the training grounds and go home safely. The difference between these new Capoeiristas and the old guard is, that many new Capoeiristas are staying on safe financial and social  grounds and are thus able to help others. The modern Capoeirista can help the weak and poor much more than Capoeiristas of past times (at least in some parts). Now you cant force anybody to be charitable. Charity and egagement in social projects must be voluntary, so I wont start and discuss about “the duties of the ones which are better off than the poor”. What I want to point out though is that if somebody wants to do something charitable and does also train Capoeira, that he should realize that he actually has a powerful tool in his own hands. Capoeira as a visual, physical and musical art has so many facets and does attract people of so many different backgrounds that it is perfect for binding people, giving people some valve to get out the frustration with life, helping people express themselves in a way that they never experienced.

And if you say, you have no idea what to do, just check out the projects of every bigger master of Capoeira. Most of these masters do come from poor backgrounds. So their projects are more than just charity or social projects. They do comprehend the problems of “o povo”. And because most of them did find a way out of the misery via Capoeira, they feel obliged to give something back, again via Capoeira. So which projects are there? It’s impossible to give a good list of all projects. One of the good projects is obviously “Nosso Quilombo” from Tartaruga, but there are also the projects of  Mestre Moraes, Mestre Boa Gente, Mestre Russo, Mestre Janja, Mestre Cobra Mansa and Mestre Lua Rasta. And this is just the ones which came up in my mind spontaneously. Just check them out.

 

Axé!

Picture sources: http://www.bodysportbrazil.com/

May 28 2009

Angoleiro going online again!


Hello people! I havent being doing nothing about this blog for 3 months now.
During this time I had some new ideas and discarded some old ideas – and all that will express itself on this blog soon, I hope. So dont miss it when “Angoleiro” comes back to the blogosphere, trying to keep you updated about all the beautiful little details and stories around the art of Capoeira Angola.

Cheers,
Angoleiro

April 10 2009

Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian art form. A combination of music, movement and history, born of the struggle for liberation by African peoples brought to the new world. Within this beautiful endeavor students explore a range of possibilities through dance, acrobatics, instrumental and vocal music. Capoeira also proves itself a remarkable medium for the teaching of community building, social justice, and diaspora studies. It is a self-esteem and confidence builder which develops the connection between mind and body, allowing us to recognize our capacity to physically realize even abstract ideas.
ICAF New York

April 08 2009

February 17 2009

Open Roda in Amsterdam


Hello people,
yes, I am still alive. And these days there will be another post on this blog, but first things first:

Capoeira Angola Center of the Netherlands presents

Umoja (The spirit of togetherness)

A time to reflect on unity within our families, communities & nations.

Open Roda
Sunday 1 March 09
14.00 - 17.00

All styles are welcome…wear Capoeira clothes and sport shoes to play.

Bring a friend, fruits, juices & only positive energy!

Mercatorplein 17, Amsterdam
Tram 7 & 13 to Mercatorplein

For more information:
Phone: +31-64-881-4758 Email: capoeiraangolanl[at]gmail.com

check out the site of The Capoeira Angola Center of the Netherlands, too!

January 19 2009

Mestre Moraes


moraes

Now, as we have heard a lot about the old mestres, both dead and alive ones. After these I want to focus on some masters of the younger generations. When Mestre Pastinha, the Velha Guarda and the Joao’s were responsible for Capoeira Angola’s survival, then the younger mestres (and many more) were responsible for Capoeira Angola’s worldwide success since the 1980’s. One of the first names I have to mention here is Mestre Moraes.

The person

Mestre Moraes was born as Pedro Martinez Trindade in Ilha de Maré on the 9th of February, 1950. His father, who is nowadays blind, was a Capoeirista himself and did introduce him to Capoeira at the age of 7. He started to learn Capoeira Angola in Mestre Pastinha’s academy, but back then Mestre Pastinha was already getting blind and his students, Mestre Joao Grande and Mestre Joao Pequeno, were running the school. In 1970 he joined the marines and was sent to Rio de Janeiro. There he started training some students which are nowadays known as masters, like Mestre Braga and Mestre Cobra Mansa. In 1980 he founded the Grupo de Capoeira Angola Pelourinho, one of today’s most known Capoeira Angola groups. When he came back to Salvador in 1982, he did notice that Capoeira Angola was almost extinct, the old mestres losing ground against the new elite of modern Capoeiristas. So he started organising rodas and trainings and did fight for the recognition of Capoeira Angola as the traditional art form underlying Capoeira. In the mid-80’s he and his Contra-Mestre Cobra Mansa were able to convice Mestre Joao Grande to get back to Capoeira Angola, with which they managed to bring back some heavy history into Capoeira. Today, GCAP does still exist and is one of the most traditional schhols of Capoeira Angola. Mestre Moraes himself did study English and does work as a teacher of English and Portuguese at a public school - alongside him being the Mestre of GCAP of course.

Embranquecimento

moraesde25

Everybody who knows a bit about the modern history of Capoeira Angola knows that Mestre Moraes did have a major in the resurrection of Capoeira Angola in the 1980’s. But, most people consider the person Mestre Moraes as being a bit difficult at best, outright annoying and racist at worst. Now how did this happen? First of all, Mestre Moraes is a guy who doesnt shut up when others would. He also does talk out when nobody wants him to. For him, this is his way to express what he considers to be important for Capoeira. That it doesnt get ripped of its African roots, that it doesnt turn into a sport practised by anyone without recognizing the blood and sweat people went through because they practised African rituals on Brazilian soil. One of the main points of his critics is that since Mestre Bimba’s introduction of “Capoeira Regional” Capoeira did undergo several changes in its perception and philosophy. As it got accepted in Brazilian society and also promoted as “the only true Brazilian national sport”, people started to introduce all kinds of novelties into Capoeira. I will name only a few: a cord system, Capoeira competitions and the reglementation of Capoeira in the National Boxing Federation. Today one word does express these changes: “whitening” of capoeira, or the Portuguese word “embranquecimento”. But the worst thing was not what they did introduce, but what was being neglected and oppressed in those times. That was the traditional Capoeira, the old mestres, the street rodas and the Afrobrazilian rituals in Capoeira Angola. Besides being neglected, during the times of the dictatorship, traditional street rodas were disrupted by the police. Everything which wasnt suiting the state’s policy was oppressed. Dictatorship went on in Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Thus, exactly the time when Capoeira Regional grew in extremo and Capoeira Angola shrinked to almost extinction.

African Movements

By the end of the dictatorship Mestre Moraes arrived in Salvador and saw everything being on the downslope. Now I dont know him personally and in those times when he was struggling with ”the establishment” I was just being born. But I doubt that Capoeira Angola today would have been so strong if Mestre Moraes would just have sit back and opened up a small Capoeira Angola school in the Pelourinho neighborhood. His radical commitment to Afrobrazilian culture and the African values of traditional Capoeira was possibly the only response to the mainstream back then, which had a chance to survive. More than this. Capoeira Angola itself was so small back then that it was hardly possible to have its voice being noticed. This is the reason why the Angoleiros around Mestre Moraes established connections to Black Power movements like Ilê Aiyê and Olodum. Since then the connections between GCAP and black movements is pretty strong and pretty much stays like that. Surely, there are legitimate Capoeira Angola groups which are less radical in advocating African traditions in Capoeira Angola, but GCAP does have a strong influence in the whole Capoeira Angola scene - and is not only a legitimate, but also an important part of it. And Mestre Moraes, with all his radicality, is and stays one of the most important Mestres of Capoeira Angola.

And as it is with a lot of mestres, there is much more to tell about Mestre Moraes than his strong opinion about Embranquimento and Africanidade. He is, by the way, known for his excellent music. His first CD is a must in every Capoeiristas CD collection and his CD “brincando na roda” was nominated for the Grammy Award in 2004. In the field of music he did also codify the musical outfit of a Capoeira Angola bateria.

Other than that he is also known for his elaborate philosophy derived out of African spirituality. If you want an example of his philosopy just check the interview translated by Shayna McHugh on her Capoeira Connection site. Plus he is of course a very good player of Capoeira Angola and is known for his dominance in the Roda. And to finish this post, you can watch him play yourself, on the video below.

January 12 2009

Angoleiro in action


dsc01333

Hello everybody,

first of all, happy new year! Wish you all the best for 2009 and I am looking forward for a new year full of interesting discussions and and inspiring moments on this and all the other capoeira blogs.
The topic of today’s post is actually nothing world-changing or important in the history of Capoeira Angola, but something I promised months ago and am going to do now. In my post about my favourite Youtube-Clips I said once that I’d post a video once I find something substantial footage of one of my games. A few months ago I found something on Youtube and contacted the person who posted it. This person, Gabrielle, was very nice and did send me the original videos, which were taken with a cell phone camera. I did put them together and did put it back on Youtube.

As for the Roda where the videos were taken. The Roda took place in Amsterdam in the summer of 2008. It was a great day,  with beautiful weather (quite rare in Holland) and especially a nice Roda with Angoleiros and (mainly) modern Capoeiristas (actually the first person I am playing is an Angoleiro, the second a teacher of a local Regional group). I am the guy in black pants and with a white shirt who gets beaten up in the first part (OK, beaten up is a bit exaggerated, but I received one Cabecada, one Chapa and three kicks on my head, all in 2 minutes…).

Enjoy viewing!

December 26 2008

O Gavião é o Cobra Mansa


joaos

Picture source: www.aquelequeenxergalonge.blogspot.com

Eu tenho dois irmãos
Todos dois, chama João
Um joga pelo ar
Outro joga pelo chão
Se um é cobra mansa
Sei que o outro é gavião, camaradinho

This is the third post in the series about Masters of Capoeira Angola. In the last two ones I did mainly write about Masters who already passed away, but are still important for Capoeira Angola as it is today. There are a lot of Mestres living today who also have had a great impact on Capoeira Angola. And now to the two Mestres I am gonna post about today.

Mestre Joao Grande (born 15th of January 1933) and Mestre Joao Pequeno (born on the 27th of December 1917, so Happy Birthday by the way) are two Mestres of who you can say that a majority of today’s Angoleiros trace back their heritage to one of these. Both were students and afterwards contra-mestres of Mestre Pastinha and Mestre Pastinha himself said that they will be the great Capoeiristas of the future.  Today both Angoleiros are of high ages, but still active in terms of teaching and playing in the Roda.

Today these two Mestres are something like idols. They get invited regularly to Capoeira happenings all of the world and get doctorate titles from different universities. And really, every Angoleiro wants to meet one or both of these Mestres, if there is a possibility to do so.

Mestre Joao Pequeno

Mestre Joao Pequeno was born as Joao Pereira dos Santos in Araci, Bahia, on the 27th December 1917. As a young man he fled from the poor area he grew up in and started working in different trades. During his freetime he learned Capoeira from different friends, until he moved to Salvador da Bahia with 25. Here he met Mestre Barbosa and learned Capoeira with him until he joined Mestre Pastinha’s Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola. Soon afterwards Joao Pequeno did teach under the supervision of his Mestre and did take over lessons by 1960 when Mestre Pastinha was not longer able to. In Mestre Pastinha’s school he also got the name Cobra Mansa, and Joao Pequeno. Here he did teach a lot of different Mestres who are all still legends of Capoeira Angola, like Mestre Curio, Mestre Moraes and also Mestre Joao Grande. Other Mestres who trace their lineage directly back to him are Mestre Jogo de Dentro, Barba Branca and Mestre Pé de Cumbo. In 1982, when Mestre Pastinha died, Mestre Joao Pequeno continued to teach and is still teaching in the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola (CECA) - Academia de Joao Pequeno da Pastinha.

Mestre Joao Grande

Mestre Joao Grande

 Joao Oliveira dos Santos aka Mestre Joao Grande was born in Itagi, Bahia at the 15th January, 1933. In the little village he was born in he spent his childhood on the farm and on plantations. When he became adolescent he started working as a migrant worker until he reached Salvador at the age of 20. The first street roda he saw was a Roda with the Mestres Barbosa, Joao Pequeno and Mestre Cobrinha Verde participating. He got excited, asked what this was, got told that it was Capoeira and was sent to Mestre Joao Pequeno to show him Capoeira. Mestre Joao Pequeno brought him to Mestre Pastinha’s Academy and taught him Capoeira. Being the student of Mestre Pastinha, Mestre Joao Pequeno and also learning with Mestres like Mestre Cobrinha Verde, Mestre Joao Grande (who was also named Gaviao) grew in Capoeira in became Mestre by 1966. He was (and still is) a popular Capoeirista, who was used by Carybe for his studies on Capoeira, and who did go on folkloristic shows, travelling throughout the world, showing Capoeira, Maculéle´and Puxada de Rede with the group “Viva Bahia”. When Mestre Pastinha died, Mestre Joao Grande did quit playing Capoeira and did earn a living with folkloristic dances and as musician. His students Mestre Moraes and Mestre Cobrinha did convice him to come back to Capoeira in the mid 80’s. In 1989 he was invited by jelon Viera on a tour to the U.S. The following year he did make another tour to the U.S. and stayed. Here he teaches in the Capoeira Angola Center of Mestre Joao Grande and from here he travels around the world, still trying to keep up the tradition of Capoeira Angola. The most important mestre Mestre Joao Grande did make is Mestre Moraes, who has a major influence in the Capoeira Angola world.

The informations I did post here about Cobra Mansa and o Gaviao are publicly available and as these two Mestres are so popular, you will find a lot more information. I still hope to be able to meet these Mestres, not only because I want to learn from them (there are a lot more Mestres I’d like to learn from), but because these men are living history! And at the end of this post I will again put one of my favourite Youtube videos, showing Mestre Joao Pequeno and Mestre Joao Grande back in 1968, when they were only 51 and 35 years old.

December 16 2008

Surviving a Capoeira Angola Roda II: Space


roda

Some of those who know my blog might know the title of this post, at least its first part. Most things to know about surviving a capoeira angola roda were already posted in one of my first posts. Today’s post is about a certain aspect of a Capoeira Angola game. But this aspect is also something many people have to get used to. I hope this post will help in that process.

According to Mestre Moraes the aim of the Game of Capoeira Angola is movement itself. That is, maximizing your own and minimizing your opponents possibilities to move. One might say now “wait, that’s not the only purpose” and yes, that’s right. But, and that’s why I write about this topic, it comes up every now and then. With this post I will give you some hints, what to look for when you are in a Capoeira Angola Roda, but most importantly this information is for you so you dont panic when you feel cornered. Because, if you know what’s going on, you can start thinking about the way how to get out. And not panicking is a good step further on the way to a better game, no?

Geometry of a Roda

Ok, so now the big news, a Roda is a circle. At least almost a circle. On one side of the circle there is the Bateria. And the rest of the circle consists of people. The people observe your game, give energy by singing along and do define the boundaries of your game. These boundaries shouldnt be crossed.  Entrance to the Roda is defined by the edges of the bateria. And entrance into the game is defined by the spot in front of the Gunga. So far  most of these things are things you people already know. Some people who already have seen a Roda de Capoeira Angola will also be able to tell that in a Capoeira Angola Roda people are sitting or crouching in the circle. This helps keeping the circle tight and at one position. More important is that Capoeira Angola circles are usually smaller than circles of Capoeira Regional and Contemporeana. A diameter of about 2 meters or 1.50m (sometimes also only 1 meter) is a good size for a capoeia angola roda. The advantage of this size is that there is actually no space to keep out of reach. One step forward and you are close enough for an attack however the positions where before. This forces both players to play and react properly (on the otherside, usually you also have more time to do so, because too fast games are not liked much in capoeira angola). The knowledge about the dimensions of the Roda you are in is important. Also the knowledge that it’s a circle.

Movement

Capoeira has a lot to do with moving around. The Ginga and the Au are the first things you learn in Capoeira. And that is for a reason. There is only few things more boring than a game between two players who stay at their positions. It then resembles one of those 90’s computer games like “Mortal Combat” or “Street Fighter”, where player A is right and player B left. All the round kicks and turns and other movements of Capoeira do make less sense when you only have one direction to take care of (your front). So the first thing to know about the “Space Game” in Capoeira (Angola) is: you are mobile. As simple as it seems, some people panic and freeze at the spot. Although it might not be bad to stay at a spot sometimes, it definitely makes their game less fluent and thus, less attractive. The Roda being a circle does want you to move around each other.

Center vs. Edge

In a circle, and especially while playing Capoeira, there is only few preferred positions. (As a side remark, if you are playing outside, you can try to let your opponent face the sun over longer terms in the game. It’s not exactly fair, but well, life is a bitch! ;) )

The preferred position I am talking about is the center of the circle. In an ideal game between equal partners the game will be very balanced in terms of attack, defense and moving around the center. Most players do regard the center as ideal place in the roda for following reasons:

1. You can move in any direction, left, right, forward (to your partner) and backwards (away from your partner).

2. Your partner/opponent has less opportunities, because behind him there is the edge of the roda. So moving backwards is less of an option.

3. when you stay in the center most of the movements of your opponent will be left or right, which leads to him travelling around you. He is making more meters in the game than you are (because in the center you only have to turn around), which can, in a longer game, be extremely tiring.

On the other side it’s good to know that it’s not a shame to be on the edge. Yes, when you were forced to the edge it’s a sign that the other person did dominate you, but in Capoeira you get dominated once and the next day you dominate, and the other day nothing happens. As long as you dont panic on the edge the game is not lost. And the better you are the more opportunitues you will find to get away - or to gain dominance over the center.

The Art of Cornering

Cornering is a step further than just forcing somebody to stay on the edge of the Roda. Cornering is the art keep the other player close to the edge and to hinder him from moving sideways too, until he a) finds a way out, b) submits by standing still until you let him go or c) does make such a mistake that he could get a Rasteira, Cabecada or some other “finishing movement”. It’s not the nicest way to play with your partner (and some people might get annoyed or agressive because of such a game), because it is almost equivalent to a Rasteira. You stop the possibilities of your partner to move. On the other side, a Rasteira is usually much more spectacular than plain cornering, which is the reason why some people disregard cornering as bullying and playing unfair.

But cornering itself is an art because of two simple facts: a) the Roda is a circle and has no corners and b) touching is not much allowed in Capoeira Angola, so the most effective way to force a person into a corner - by strength - is not allowed. Cornering is something which needs skill, you have to learn it. Here are some tips how to corner (the best tip is to learn it at training):

1. Cornering by size: the bigger you make yourself the harder it gets for the other to get out. When your partner is on the edge and on the ground, standing up is an option (and a danger too, cause a Rasteira or Tesoura might end your attempt). You can also move and place your legs in the possible directions your partner might take, thus hindering him from his escape.

2. Cornering by speed/experience: When you are faster than your opponent you can just move into every direction he just wanted to move. This is not so easy, cause at a certain speed you will not be able to distinguish a feint from a real attempt to escape. And when you speed up your partner will speed up too. This will eventually spiral up to a speed where you will hear the Berimbau calling you cause you have been too fast. Experience helps more in this terms. This includes the ability to read the other player. When you know what he is gonna do then you dont have to be fast to be able to block that movement.

3. Cornering by psychology (or Mandinga): The best way to corner a person is making that person believe there is no way out. Either you scare that person by a sudden change in speed level or you distract him by a certain smile. Or you just look into a certain spot in a way that he thinks you gonna go there. Or you just dont look at him anymore (keeping an eye on him on the edge of your sight) which makes him nervous or at least ignorant about your motivation. These are only a few possibilities I can think of. And I guess that there are thousand others.

The Art of Escape

A good player does not only know how to corner somebody, but also how to get out of that. The ways to get out of there in a nice way are easily described, but all of them do need one premise: no panic. If you dont panic, and this accounts for the whole game, you cant do much wrong. Because if you panic, you will react instinctively, which can be wrong. Some of those reactions are letting yourself fall, run out of the roda, starting to grap the opponent, knocking him out, run against your partner, and stuff like that. All of them are ways do get you out, but with that you are killing the game. So which are the ways to get out of there?

1. Escaping by refusing: You can stop moving. OK, this is actually submitting yourself and giving up, accepting that the other person did corner you and that you are not able or willing to get out. At a certain point, your opponent will have to release you (otherwise the game will have to end). It’s not the best way to get out, but it’s far better than using brute force - or falling out of the Roda.

2. Escaping by fighting back: There are several movements which can help you get out of the corner. All of these are attacks which make your opponent back up or move another way. Those movements dont work always and with every opponent, but using them is often very secure and leaves you with more space at the end than before. These movements are: Tesoura, Cabecada and Chapa de Costas (amongst some other). All of these are simple movements, and that makes them so effective. On the other side, there is always the possibility to get a counter-attack, so dont think that they are optimum solutions.

3. Escaping by Blocking: A major part of cornering is hindering a person to go this way or that way. But this game can be played by both. This will eventually lead to a Remis situation, which wouldnt improve the dynamics of the game but would definitely improve your own situation.

4. Escaping by intelligence: finally, the best way to escape is also exactly the best way how to corner a person. By anticipating, by experience, by wit, by Malicia and Mandinga. If you are experienced and dominant enough you can make the opponent think you will definitely go there. Thus, if he tries to block that possibility he has to open up other possibilities.

Finally, you have to realize that this is only part of the game. It’s important and some of these hints are both smart in Capoeira Angola and Regional/Contemporeana. And, I know I repeat myself here, dont panic!

December 03 2008

Os Velhos Angoleiros


old-mestres

This is the second post in the “Mestre de Capoeira Angola” series on the Angoleiro Blog. While in the first post I concentrated on Mestre Pastinha for the reason that he is the most influential person of modern Capoeira Angola, I did not name all the other Mestres who were his contemporaries and who are also important for the development of Capoeira Angola in the 20th century. I will only give an overview of some of the most known and important mestres. Beforehand I also will have to say that there are a lot of Mestres out there which I will not mention although they deserve better. This is not because I disregard them intentionally, but because a) I dont know much about them b) I dont know nothing about them or c) that I forgot about them. So if one of you readers do see that I am missing out on some interesting/important old Mestre of Capoeira Angola (who was not Mestre Pastinha’s student or contemporary), please tell me - and maybe add some information about that mestre yourself, thus completing this post.

As I mentioned before Mestre Pastinha was not the only Mestre out there. He was one amongst many. Still, he was elected by other Mestres to save Capoeira Angola. This is the reason why most people do only know his name when they think of old Mestres of Capoeira Angola. With this post I’d like to introduce you to some of the other important names of Capoeira Angola.

Mestre Aberrê

Raimundo Agolo aka Mestre Aberrê is one of those Mestres most people dont know at all. He was actually Mestre Pastinhas student in those years, when Mestre Pastinha was not having an Academy. Mestre Aberrê was the mestre of Mestre Canjiquinha, who is another important personality of Capoeira Angola. But his achievement was more than this. Mestre Aberrê was the one who did invite Mestre Pastinha in 1941, when people needed a mestre to re-establish the traditional Capoeira, to teach Capoeira Angola.

Mestre Bimba

bimba

Manuel dos Reis Machado (1899-1974) aka Mestre Bimba is another important Mestre of Capoeira Angola. Now some people might be pretty surprised to see Mestre Bimba on this list.  I will dedicate a post to him another time, but I didnt want this list to be lacking him. Because although he might have changed so many things about traditional Capoeira that still many Angoleiros are opinionated about him, his mastery of Capoeira Angola is not questioned. And also his importance for Capoeira in general.

Mestre Caicara

caicara

Antonio Carlos Moraes (1924-1997) aka Mestre Caicara was a mestre representing the connection of Capoeira to the streets and to the criminal elements on them. In his time he was a leading figure in the street scene of the Pelourinho. He knew it all about the criminals, the gangs and the prostitutes of the streets there and he was the one to ask if you wanted to get around. But he was not only a central figure in the street politics of his neighborhood, he was also a Capoeira master with a hard and efficient style (quite different from the softer style of Mestre Pastinha) and he was a great singer whose CD is still recommended as a must-buy for every Capoeira CD collection (I myself dont have that CD, but I think I’ll try to get my greedy hands on it).

Mestre Canjiquinha

canjiquinha

Washington Bruno da Silva aka Mestre Canjiquinha (1925-1994) was a very important personality in Capoeira Angola. He liked to describe himself as “the Joy of Capoeira” and was known for his tolerance, his good humor and his demonstration skills. He was also one of the few Mestres who did deny that there was a difference between Capoeira Angola and Regional (for him it was just a matter of rhythm). In his demonstrations he did not only show Capoeira, but also other Afrobrazilian dances including the Maculele. He said that he was the first one to introduce Maculele into Capoeira shows. Besides that he was also acting in different Brazilian movies displaying Capoeira and he also left a number of highly skilled mestres (not every mestre did that) like Mestre Paulo dos Anjos, Mestre Brasília and Mestre Lua Rasta. If you want to read more of (and by) him, download his book translated by Shayna McHugh on her site Capoeira Connection.

Mestre Cobrinha Verde

cobrinha-verde

Rafael Alves Franca (ca.1910-1983) aka Mestre Cobrinha Verde grew up with Capoeira on the streets, played with thugs. He says that he was the cousin of Besouro Manganga himself and that Besouro was his first Mestre. Cobrinha Verdes roda was one of the most respected rodas alongside those of M Bimba, M Pastinha and M Waldemar. You can find more information of and by him in his book Capoeira e Mandingas, which you can also find on the Capoeira Connection site.

Mestre Leopolodina

leopoldina

Mestre Leopoldina (1933-2007) is one of the most popular Mestres who represented the “old guard” of Mestres when most of them had already died. Now he is dead himself, but does stay in the memories of both Angoleiros and Regionalistas as a good humored old master, representing the old style of Capoeira Carioca and the malicia and malandragem of traditional Capoeira. There is plenty of footage considering him, but the most recommendable thing to do is to check out the movie about him. “Mestre Leopoldina - a fina flor da malandragem“, a smart and interesting portrait of the old mestre and his life in Rio and in Capoeira.

Mestre Traira

traira

Joao Ramos do Nascimento (1925-1975) aka Mestre Traira is one of those mestres you hear least of. He does have a part in the movie Vadiacao (1954) and did record Capoeira rhythms together with Mestre Cobrinha Verde. Other than that he is known to have had an agile, fast game, which was “only comparable to Mestre Pastinha’s” as Jorge Amado describes. Although it is said that he didnt leave any pupils or followers there is at least one Mestre who did start Capoeira Angola with him (Mestre Barba Branca from Grupo Capoeira Angola Cabula).

Mestre Waldemar

Mestre Waldemar

Waldemar Rodrigues da Paixâo (1916-1990) aka Mestre Waldemar was especially known for his Roda. The Roda at Mestre Waldemar’s hut was one of the few legendary rodas in Salvador and the place to be on Sundays to see the old mestres play. The roda was known for its diversity of games displayed, from the slowest ones to the hardest games. His Roda was also point of reference for many artists and intellectuals who were trying to underline the importance of African influence on (Afro-)Brazilian culture. One of these was Carybé who did make his paintings inspired by the scenes he saw at Mestre Waldemar’s roda. Other than that Mestre Waldemar was also known for his Berimbaus and does claim to be the first one who started to paint his Berimbaus (a common practise among Angoleiros today). Later he started suffering under Parkinson’s disease and stopped playing Capoeira. He is not known to have left any students (edit: I seem to be wrong with this last sentence, as you see in the comments, Mestre Waldemar did leave students. I just seem to not have found them mentioned…My apologies to his students).

 

As you people see, most of the mestres I mentioned died in and around the 90’s or at least in the last decades of the 20th century. They represent a generation of Angoleiros most of us dont know at all, both Regionalistas and Angoleiros. As the concept of lineage is very important among Angoleiros it is still good to know about them, cause most if not all of today’s mestres of Capoeira do trace back their Capoeira to one of these Mestres (ok, a majority do trace back their Capoeira to Mestre Pastinha, what a surprise!). But there are other old mestres of Capoeira Angola still alive today, and those will be the topic of my next post in the series about Mestres of Capoeira Angola.

Note on pictures: most pictures of the mestres are commonly available pictures you can get anywhere on the web. My favourite picture of this post is the very first one showing several of the old angoleiros in salvador of the year 1982. From left to right those are: Mestre Joao Grande, the son of Cobrinha Verde, Mestre Joao Pequeno, Mestre Cobrinha Verde, Mestre Canjiquinha and Mestre Waldemar. The picture can be found on the site http://www.suldabahiaperu.com/ .

November 24 2008

Is your Corpo Fechado?


verger-capoeira-26454

Capoeira is not only a martial art, a dance and a game. It comes along with its cultural background, which developed in the Afrobrazilian circles of Brazil and spread all over the world. It’s like HipHop, or like Yoga. It left it’s national and cultural boundaries and spread to places where some parts of it’s culture might be less well understood than others. Some interesting thoughts about cultural differences in the practice of Capoeira are given in a post by Mandingueira on her highly recommendable blog www.mandingueira.com. Even in Brazil many connotations and aspects of this art get lost due to old mestres dying and their knowledge usually dying with them. Here in Europe or in the U.S. or in Asia only few pieces of this culture are learned. This is why once in a while I come along and try to explain some of the words which you will hear in connection to capoeira. I’m not Brazilian and my connection to Brazil is solely because I love to play Capoeira Angola. So all I can give you is my limited view on some parts of Capoeira culture. If you know better, feel free to correct.

After this short intro I will now come to the question given in the title. Is your Corpo Fechado? For all those who dont know Portuguese, Corpo Fechado means “closed body”. in Capoeira, and in related Afrobrazilian cults like Candomblé, Corpo Fechado does have an important meaning. I will try to explain both the secular and the spiritual meaning of this word.

Corpo Fechado - in the Roda

The closed body in the Roda is a basic principle of Capoeira. Everybody learns it from the very beginning without having to know that they are actually working on a ‘closed body’. The Corpo Fechado in the Roda is your defense, most basically your hands and arms protecting vulnerable parts of your body. These parts are especially your face, neck, chest and lower torso.

Already doing the Ginga does demand the player to keep up his defense every time his body is moving forward. One arm always protects the face. If not so the danger of getting a kick or slap into the face is imminent (I wont judge now how nice or fair it is to kick into the face of somebody whose face was unprotected… that’s another topic). The same does account for every single movement in Capoeira. And also both in traditional and modern variants of the Game. Some Mestres do complain that in modern variants due to a higher distance between players the necessity of a “closed body” decreases. In Capoeira Angola on the other side, a closed body is a necessity - and in every second of the Game a hole in your defense can be used by your partner.

I dont want to scare you people away. And I also dont want to show you just the one side of the coin. Modern Capoeira and Capoeira Angola do allow you to show apparent “entrances” into your body. In the ideal case sometimes you might seem absolutely helpless with you body wide open. And still be able to close the body when it’s needed. That is to lure your partner into a situation where he thinks he has you, and showing him that that is not so. One of my favoritue Capoeira Angola pictures is the one posted below where the player in white seems absolutely helpless. Still, his partner does not fall into that trap keeping up his defense, knowing that a good player can defend himself in whatever position he is.

corpo fechado

But dont forget one essential thing about capoeira. That it is not about concentrating on one thing. Corpo Fechado is a set term in Capoeira culture, but it is not the only thing. Theoretically you could have a perfect defense, but still be absolutely horrible in playing Capoeira. Thus, Corpo Fechado is one part of Capoeira, a part everybody should know of, but not the above-all most important part of it.

Corpo Fechado - in Life

Corpo Fechado does also have a very religious connotation. In Afrobrazilian practises achieving Corpo Fechado is possible through specific rituals and by wearing amulets. Having a Corpo Fechado means being invulnerable against all kinds of physical attacks. If it’s knives or bullets. The most favourite person to have had a Corpo Fechado was the Capoeira legend Besouro Manganga. Manoel Henrique Pereira (1897-1924) was a legendary Capoeirista and criminal in Santo Amaro, Bahia. He was known and loved by the folks for his fights with the police. In times of danger he would transform into a beetle and vanish from the place. He was also known to be invulnerable - or only vulnerable by an enchanted wooden dagger (made of the Tucum-tree), which was the reason for his death in 1927.

But the Corpo Fechado does exist outside of Capoeira aswell. As I said, it is part of Afrobrazilian culture. The rituals and ideals behind this go back into Kongolese religious practices, where there was the belief in Kanga Nitu. Kanga Nitu was “binding your body” thorugh rituals protecting it from evil spirits. Other rituals did include the use fetishes and amuletts - socalled Nkisis - against arrows from enemies in times of war, or for a successful hunt (among many other uses). The ideas of Kanga Nitu and corresponding rituals came along with the slaves and still have an influence on Afrobrazilian culture.

One part which is to be mentioned together with it are the patuás, the amuletts which protect the faithful from all kinds of physical harm. These amuletts did contain a diversity of herbs alongside with prayers written into them. But it obviously doesnt seem to be enough to just wear a Patuá around your neck, you also have to know your prayers and rituals, and what is forbidden and what not. Basically, you have to believe and know the religion before you start “protecting” yourself with a Patuá. As the proverb says: “Quem nao pode com mandinga, nao carrega patúa.” Roughly translated: Who doesn’t know Mandinga, should not use a Patúa. Today a lot of people do carry a Patúa without actually believing in it’s use. It has become a part of Capoeira fashion. I personally do not believe in the effect of a Patúa, but I still would strongly recommend any person who carries a Patúa to learn about its implications. Even if he/she does only see it as a fashionable accessoire, it is still of use to know what you are walking around with.

There are also certain ways to “open” the body of a person, even when that person does have a “Corpo Fechado”, this does include the use of enchanted weapons (as it was in the case of Besouro Mangangá). But also the person himself can cause his “protection” to fail. One known way is to have sex. Some traditional Mestres dont recommend practising Capoeira after having had sex the night before.

So, the next time a mestre screams at you to “fechar o corpo” he means that you should keep up your defense. He usually does not mean you to be abstinent before you come to his class or to wear a Patúa, because as Capoeira does spread around the world, there will be more and more practitioners who do not believe in Candomblé or into any Afrobrazilian manifestation of those ancient Bantu traditions. Still, even if you dont believe in them, it’s useful to know about it - and even if it is only to comprehend more what we are doing, playing Capoeira.

Picture sources:

http://www.ele-mental.org/capoeira/TABCAT/aboutcapoeira.html

http://albenisio.spaces.live.com/blog/

November 12 2008

O menino quem foi seu Mestre?


Mestre Pastinha

Menino, quem foi seu mestre ?
Quem te ensinou a brincar
O teu mestre foi Besouro
Aprendeu com Manganga

Eu aprendi com Pastinha
Quero contigo Brincar
A capoeira de angola
A africano quem mandou

Na capital de Salvador
Foi pastinha que me ensinou
Na roda de capoeira
Reconheço esse valor

(M.Joao Pequeno)

At the 13th November 1981 Vincente Ferreira Pastinha, known to the world as Mestre Pastinha, died at the age of 92. Today that is 27 years ago. The only reason why I write this post is to remind everybody of one of the biggest and most important Mestres of Capoeira. I wont go into the details of his life. When he was born, who did teach him capoeira, why, and when he started to teach Capoeira. There is enough sources for that, and everybody who is interested will find the information. Important is what Mestre Pastinha stands for.

Mestre Pastinha stands for the tradition of Capoeira Angola. He is the Mestre of Capoeira Angola. He was not the only one around and not all Angoleiros are from his lineage. But he did do for Capoeira Angola what Mestre Bimba did for the recognition of Capoeira. Both Mestres were not the sole reason for the re-collection of traditions (Pastinha) or for the social integration (Bimba) of Capoeira. But both of them gave these specific processes a face. A name and a point of reference.

What Mestre Pastinha did was keeping up and teaching the traditional Bahian capoeira in a time when Capoeira Angola started to vanish from the streets. Other Mestres of Capoeira did give him the duty and the responsibility to keep up the traditions. And although he was of higher age already, he did start teaching people, building up students who would pass on Capoeira Angola. Without Mestre Pastinha, there wouldnt have been a Mestre Joao Grande, a Mestre Joao Pequeno, a Mestre Moraes, a Mestre Cobrinha, a Mestre Jogo de Dentro… all the people and their organizations which make Capoeira Angola the smaller but definitely not less important part of today’s Capoeira. Not only today’s Capoeira Angola Community, but also the general Capoeira world would have been totally different - and I think far less attractive - if he wouldnt have done his job.  Would there be another one who would have taken the responsibility? No one knows for sure. But what we know is that he did it. And he did it in the best way possible. Concentrating on everything what Capoeira was losing in a time when Capoeira was getting more popular among Brazilian society, but only if it was stripped of it’s Mandinga, Brincadeira, rituals, spirituality, individuality and - to sum it up - it’s soul. He did resist all these temptations and died miserably.

It’s sad that his role in keeping traditional Capoeira alive was only fully comprehended when he was already dead, but that’s often with big personalities in history. We can’t change history, but we can keep his work up. I dont expect it from everybody, just somebody has to do it. And those who are mostly (but not solely) responsible for this are the Mestres, especially the ones who dedicate themselves to Capoeira Angola.

This is the reason why in future I will also post more about specific Mestres of Capoeira Angola, and their achievements and ways to keep up the heritage of Mestre Pastinha. And with this I will finish now and hope that I did a small contribution to the memory of Mestre Pastinha.

 

Axé!

November 03 2008

Mixing styles: Can you train both Angola and Regional?


This is one of the most controverse topics in discussions between Angoleiros and Regionalistas. And it is a question which is coming up more and more often since several groups claim for themselves that they a) practise both or b) that the dichotomy between Regional and Angola is artificial and thus, that they are training “Capoeira só”. Capoeira e uma so, I agree. But most of the time this sentence is used to downsize the existing difference between the styles. Isnt it possible that there is one Capoeira, but with two different styles? Can you intermix those styles?

Capoeira e uma so?

First I want to talk about the difference between Capoeira Angola and modern variants of Capoeira. The question I want to ask is: how big is the difference? Because, if there is no big difference between the two styles of Capoeira, than the issue is not that big, right? We have to keep in mind that these styles are not monolithic constructs. They did develop over time and under the influence of different mestres and different schools, thus both evolving into artforms with a lot of variants. Thus the issue get’s more complicated than you think.

Let’s chose the most simple solution to this problem. Below I posted 6 videos of Capoeira games and you people will make a self-test and see if you can see the difference between an Angola game and a Regional game.

Ok, so most of you were able to distinguish the different styles here, right? Good, for me that’s proof enough that there is not only one Capoeira, bBut two distinguishable styles.

Enter: Capoeira Angonal

Can you intermix the styles?  As supporters of a mixed Capoeira do say over and over again, there was no dichotomy between Capoeira Regional and Capoeira Angola before Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha started teaching these. So logically there should be the possibility to get back to the traditional ”pre-forms” of Capoeira by mixing Capoeira Angola and Regional, right? Although this logic seems to be intriguing, as an Angoleiro I have to say that there is one basic mistake in this assumption. That is to see Capoeira Angola as something which did evolve from the old Capoeira and which is significantly different from it, as different as other modern variants of Capoeira. We Angoleiros do insist on the fact that Capoeira Angola is the traditional Capoeira (or at least what comes closest to it). The dichotomy did evolve when the modern form of Capoeira Regional did come to existence. So if somebody wants to rely on tradition, why doesnt he play Capoeira Angola?

Thus, when you try to intermix the modern form with the traditional form, then what you wont get back to a traditional form. Present mixes of Capoeira Regional and Capoeira Angola are sometimes called Capoeira Contemporeana or Capoeira Angonal. When you search for both terms you will find modern Capoeira groups, Angoleiros still would still call them Regionalistas. Check it yourself on Youtube by typing in Capoeira Angonal. Some of the videos do sometimes resemble an Angola game, but as an Angoleiro (and I assume also as a modern Capoeirista) you will be able to see the difference. On the other side I have to admit that it is hard to name the differences. There is a lot differentiating the Angoleiro from the Regionalista: the ginga, the way of moving, the use of malicia (there is also malicia in modern Capoeira though), the expression, the speed, the proximity of the players to each other and much more. Although we might not be able to pinpoint it, we can tell if we see an Angoleiro playing or not.

But what is with those old Capoeiristas who did say that they were neither Regional and neither Angola like Mestre Canjiquinha or Mestre Leopoldina?

With these Mestres it is more difficult to put them into certain categories, as they are clearly no Regionalistas, but they seem to differ from the typical Angoleiro style. To answer this you have to remember that most Angoleiros nowadays are in the tradition of Mestre Pastinha and his students Mestre Joao Grande and Joao Pequeno. But there were other mestres, and those played different. For Angoleiros there is no contradiction. The other old mestres might play differently, but for an Angoleiro they are clearly traditional Capoeiristas, thus: Angoleiros. On the other side, supporters of the “Capoeira e uma so” idea do bring these examples as evidence that present day Capoeira Angola is also just a new style and that by practising Capoeira Angonal, you are actually really traditional! Angoleiros, seeing themselves as protectors of the traditional Capoeira, see “Angonalistas”, their game, and start getting suspicious. Is Capoeira Angonal just a marketing idea, brought up when being “traditional” started to be cool again? Because, Capoeira Angonal did not exist (neither as word nor as idea) when traditional Capoeira was threatened by extinction, when being modern was all, and being traditional was considered antiquated or plain stupid. Only when people started realizing that being traditional is not equal to being old-fashioned and antiquated, and when traditional Capoeira did start to rise in reputation again, only then the “true” “pre-forms” of dichotomy free Capoeira did come up.

Can you train both and keep them separate?

So, for an Angoleiro you can’t intermix the styles and make a Capoeira Angonal. That would be just taking over some of the traditions, but keeping the modern changes in it. Thus, it would still not be traditional Capoeira Angola. It would be more like taking your favourite pieces to spice your game up again, but denying the rest.

On the other side there are other groups who say that they train both, but separated from each other, having Capoeira Angola classes in one week and Capoeira Regional classes the other weeks. At first thought, there cant be a big problem with this, right? The only thing you have to do then is to define when you are going to play Regional, and when you are going to play Angola. I have met people who did say that they train both and yes, you could see that. It was still not the game of an Angoleiro. The following video is an example where you see a group of Regionalistas training Capoeira Angola.

But be careful: It’s not that Angoleiros dont appreciate when modern Capoeiristas do show interest in Capoeira Angola. I love it and I wish much more modern Capoeiristas would do that! But you should be aware that everybody will see the difference between a pure Angoleiro and a Capoeirista who learned to play Capoeira Angola.

At the end: it is one body and one brain we are training. And if you have seen people from other martial arts training Capoeira you know exactly what I mean. What you learned before, does influence your game. Be it another martial art, be it Capoeira Regional or Capoeira Angola. I trained for a year with a group of Capoeira Contemporeana, and I have observed two things about my game: One, if I would want to play the same way as the students of that group, I would have to train years with them, and concentrate on not using what I learned before. Only after years people will have a hard time seeing if I was an Angoleiro before or not. And on the other side, only after a year of training with a modern Capoeira group my first Capoeira Angola teacher and other Angoleiros could see the difference in my game. Less than before I was going into Jogo de Dentro, I was kind of restricted in my game. Had problems seeing through the malicia of my teacher, and so on.

I dont say it’s bad that I trained with a group of modern Capoeira. Life is a learning process and for sure I have learned things in the last year. But I realized myself that my game started to change, and develop away from my Capoeira Angola skills. That is why I now start focusing on Capoeira Angola again.

Is it impossible to play both?

No it’s not, when you see Mestres play you can see that there are a lot of Mestres who can play both styles of Capoeira. With some of the bigger Mestres it is impossible to see if they are Angoleiros or Regionalistas. They blend into any Roda. And that’s something admirable for sure. One nice example is the game in the following video.

But to be able to blend into both styles does not only need the will to do it, but also the coordination and the experience to do so. For the usual student of modern Capoeira, like most of my readers, it is impossible to play Angola Angoleiro style. And for me it is impossible to play Regional Regional style.

At least not with a few years of experience.

Thus…

So what does it mean for us? First, we have to decide on what we are gonna be. Do we want to be Angoleiros or Regionalistas? Do we want to concentrate on one, or do we want to learn both? It’s not a mistake to chose to learn both styles. I can see that there are different qualities in the different styles and that you want to learn and experience them both. I as an Angoleiro dont want to recommend on training some kind of mix of the two styles, because these mixes have not proven themselves to be a real alternative to the established schools and styles. And I would also recommend you to learn the two styles in different schools. Not because one school might not be able to learn you the basics of both, but because the chance to learn both properly is higher when you go to a modern Capoeirista for modern Capoeira, and to an Angoleiro for Capoeira Angola.

Axé!

October 13 2008

Respect Your Berimbau!


The first time I heard and saw the Berimbau, I was amazed. Some other people were not used to its sound and did not understand it. And while learning more about Capoeira, a student does understand that having a Berimbau and learning how to play it and that listening to the sounds and the orders of the Berimbau in the Roda is of uttermost importance in Capoeira. I always accepted this as a fact and did not waste energy to think about it, until the first person asked: “why?”

When we thoroughly study the sources, we see that Capoeira was not always associated with the Berimbau. When Rugendas was describing Capoeira in 1825, there were drums. When Debrét was drawing the black street vendor with the Berimbau, there was no Capoeira. In the few first-hand sources we have about Capoeira of the 19th century, there is just no Berimbau. And still, today all our Mestres and teachers do emphasize the importance of the Berimbau. The Berimbau started to become a symbol of Capoeira. When I see somebody walking around with a Berimbau here in Europe, I just assume he is a Capoeirista. So, what happened in the last 100 years? Why is the Berimbau so important to Capoeira, while it was just not associated with it just 110 years ago?

Let’s try to track it back.

Out of Africa - the Berimbau

The Berimbau is an African-derived instrument. Recent and past indigenous tribes of Brazil did not have musical bows, the Europeans neither. But in Africa around the 15th century till today there was a huge diversity of different musical bows, of which I have given an overview in another post of mine. The ones who played these bows and built them in Africa were shipped over to Brazil and there they started making Berimbaus and playing them. We find the first historical documentation of the Berimbau in the early 19th century. Especially travellers from Europe were fascinated or curious about the musical bow which was described as being used by street vendors and beggars. And it was especially an instrument used by Blacks, not by the mestizoes, not the poor whites, it was the African Brazilian people who used the Berimbau.

The first times the Berimbau was mentioned together with Capoeira, was in the early 1880’s. One document of this time (about 1891) is a description by Joao Silva da Campos, whose description was published posthumously in 1941:

The excited dark crowd performed Batuques. Samba. Capoeira circles. One heard pandeiros, cavaquinhos, violas, harmonicas, berimbau and cadential hand clapping. It was  pandemonium (Campos 1941:131).

This description, which does not seem to be the description of an insider, does definitely show us that Capoeira and the Berimbau were already in the same happenings, but maybe not specifically linked to each other. It was still mainly poor African Brazilians who practised Capoeira, and who played the Berimbau. But in one expect there is an important difference between Capoeira and the Berimbau. While Capoeira was practised in different places, the Berimbau seems to have survived in only few places. Especially in Salvador. In Rio Capoeira was practised without the Berimbau (and without the Ginga and so on), but was associated with war songs used by the Guiamos and the Nagoas. In Recife Capoeira was associated with the city’s principal music bands, but they also had no Berimbau.

Symbiosis

In the 1930’s the Berimbau was nearly extinct in Brazil. It was only played in Salvador, and here most of its players were Capoeiristas or associated to them. And then, when Capoeira did suddenly increase in popularity thanks to Mestre Bimba and the legalization of Capoeira Academies by Getulio Vargas, the Berimbau did start to be used more and more. And today, only 70 years later, the Berimbau is a symbol of Brazil, but more of Afrobrazilian culture, and, of all, of Capoeira. It is still most intimately connected to Capoeira, but has now its existence in performance and entertainment outside of it as well. Without Capoeira, the Berimbau would never had experienced such an increase in popularity in the world. And maybe, though this is speculation, it would not have survived.

But there is also the other side of the coin. Would Capoeira have survived or gained so much popularity without the Berimbau? Mind, that the Capoeiras of Rio de Janeiro and Recife, the ones without the Berimbau and stripped from many parts of Afrobrazilian culture, did not survive. Alright, this is all speculation, because, in fact, Capoeira and the Berimbau did survive. My opinion is still, that without each other, both would have been much weaker nowadays than before. They are in a symbiosis: a situation, where two different entities are closely associated gaining mutual benefit from this. Already this is a reason to respect the Berimbau and keep it in your Rodas and in your trainings.

Control

There is more to the Berimbau. The Berimbau is the Master of the Roda. Of course, yes, there are other Mestres, but in every Roda, in modern Capoeira Rodas and in traditional ones, the Berimbau does control speed and style of the game. That’s why there are different rythms, different toques of the Berimbau. That is why the Berimbau is the first instrument to play in a Capoeira Roda. That’s why every instrument can miss in a Roda, but not the Berimbau. And that’s why Capoeiristas can walk through any street and will react on the sound of the Berimbau, usually making him attent and making him search for the Roda. That is why there are all rituals around the Berimbau, why it’s at the Pé do Berimbau where we enter the Roda.

Mestre Bimba did modernize Capoeira, but he did leave the Berimbau, because it is the controlling instance in a Capoeira Roda. It is the Berimbau and the bateria of Capoeira, which did keep Bahian Capoeira under control, so that it could be playful in the first, beautiful in the second and deadly in the third game. That’s the big difference of Bahian Capoeira to Capoeira Carioca or Capoeira of Recife. That’s why it did survive.

Everybody has to listen to the Berimbau, if he does not, he doesn’t have any idea of Capoeira.

And us?

I have to admit it. My Berimbau skills are far less than my playing skills. I might play some toques and be able to keep up a Roda, but whoever calls my Berimbau play beautiful has never heard a good Capoeirista play the Berimbau. What I am gonna do is learn to play the Berimbau. Training it as regularly as your Capoeira skills is something most people do not do - and when your teacher doesn’t give music lessons (or only rarely) than your music will be horrible. Until you start learning it yourself. We should understand that the Berimbau is as important as the Ginga in Capoeira. When you are a longterm Capoeirista and you have no Berimbau, the question is: why? Get yourself a Berimbau, start playing it till there is no feeling in your pinky and then: play more!

July 09 2008

Intro To Capoeira Music: The Atabaque, Pandeiro, and Supporting Instruments



Photo by faisca (Flickr)

Welcome to the fourth part of the Introduction to Capoeira Music series, where we will learn a bit more about the rest of capoeira’s orchestra.

The berimbau may be capoeira’s most famous and unique instrument, but capoeira’s sound is not truly complete without the accompaniment of the atabaque and pandeiro (and in some cases, the reco reco and agogo).

The atabaque and pandeiro are rhythm instruments more commonly known as a drum and tambourine, respectively. The capoeira game can be played without these two instruments, but it probably won’t be as lively or energetic if they are missing.

Hopefully when you’re done reading this post, you’ll know a little more about each instrument, and you’ll be able to take some basic rhythms with you to practice.

Atabaque


Photo from Wikipedia

The atabaque is a drum typically made from Brazilian jacaranda wood and animal skin. You play the atabaque with your hands, and most of the time while standing.

The basic rhythm is pretty easy to start with (definitely easier at first than the berimbau, in my opinion), but it gets a bit tricky when you are playing with the rest of the instruments and singing in a frantic roda. Like everything else: practice makes perfect.

This is a basic atabaque rhythm:

Once you get the hang of the basics, you can move on to other rhythms like maculele and samba de roda. And when you really start progressing, you can begin adding flourishes and improvisations to the basic rhythms.

Here are some things to keep in mind while playing the atabaque:

  • Keep your hands relaxed while playing.
  • There should be a distinct difference in sound when you hit the middle of the atabaque head and the edge.
  • The atabaque should not be played so loud that it overpowers the berimbau.
  • When switching atabaque players, try to switch quickly and not miss a beat.

Pandeiro


Photo by jandoo (Flickr)

The pandeiro plays essentially the same part as the atabaque: it keeps the rhythm.

Its smaller than the atabaque, but don’t let the pandeiro’s small stature fool you; it still takes time to master, and could even be considered harder to learn than the atabaque. But because it is small (not to mention less expensive) it’s more practical to learn on in the comfort of your own home. And you can then take what you learn on the pandeiro and apply it to the atabaque when you’re in class.

It takes a bit of dexterity to play the pandeiro well, because truly getting the most out of the instrument requires you to use the fingers, thumb, palm, and heel of your hand.

These are some basic pandeiro rhythms:

You probably noticed that it sounds a lot like the basic atabaque rhythm. Good obvservation! The basic rhythms are the same, you just play the pandeiro with one hand instead of two. And just like the atabaque, once you get good at the pandeiro you can improvide and add your own flourishes.

Here are some things to keep in mind while playing the pandeiro:

  • Hitting the middle of the pandeiro should produce a tone different from hitting the edge.
  • You can change the tone of the rim hit by pressing your thumb against the skin.
  • Try to practice the pandeiro on both hands so you can switch if you start to get tired.
  • “Don’t spank the pandeiro. Enough said.”

Supporting Instruments

These final two instruments are not played in all capoeira rodas, and in my experience, are more likely to be found in angola rodas than regional.

Reco Reco


Photo from LSC

The reco reco is a a bamboo instrument played by scraping a stick across grooves in the body.

I couldn’t find any video tutorials, but here are a few good tips:

  • The rhythm is 1-2-3 (rest).
  • Don’t make all the scrapes in the same direction. Try towards you (1), away (2), towards you (3).

Agogo


Photo from LSC

The agogo is a high pitched bell. It is played by tapping a stick against the bells.

Again, I couldn’t find any video tutorials, but I offer you a few words of wisdom:

  • The agogo has a high sound that can be heard above the other instruments, so stay on the beat.
  • Some groups play high-low-high, while others play low-high-low.

This concludes our Intro to Capoeira Music series. I will follow up with an appendix of useful resources so you can expand upon what you’ve learned. I hope this series has been useful and enjoyable. I’ve learned a lot from it, and I hope you have too!

July 01 2008

We Interrupt This Series To Bring You An Urgent Message


That message being that Faisca is a busy dude (and the summer season is certainly taking a toll on my motivation) and as such, hasn’t had time to finish the last two parts of the Intro To Capoeira Music series.

I apologize.

I could just take a few minutes and whip something up, but I want to make it worth all of our time, so that just wouldn’t be right.

I hope you understand that I’m not a pro-blogger, and I do feel genuinely bad for not completing what I set out to do.  I’ve learned an important lesson here though, if I ever do take my blogging to the “pro” level.  From now on if I set out to write any more series posts, I’m going to do them in advance.  Because I feel like a buffoon for starting something that is taking a while to finish (in a perfect world it would have been 5 Wednesdays and 5 posts).

I do plan to have the series finished for next week.  But for now, I will leave you with this totally awesome yet totally unrelated video:

Oh, and to those of you in the states: have a great 4th of July weekend!

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