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.

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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😉 )

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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

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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/

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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

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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!

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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.

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