Monthly Archives: July 2008

Intermezzo: while waiting for the series

I just found this on the web and thought people might want to watch it – while waiting for the first post of the African Roots-series. The first post is going well, by the way, I have now checked enough sources to write some coherent stuff.

So people, check this out, it’s wonderful and it is a clear evidence: Capoeira is old!

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African Roots – series on Angoleiro’s Blog

Ié!                                                    Ié!

Capoeira é uma arte,                       Capoeira is an art,

Capoeira é uma arte,                       Capoeira is an art,

Que o negrou inventou.                   which the negro invented.

Foi na briga de duas zebras              In the brawl between two zebras

que N’Golo se criou.                         the N’Golo did evolve.

Chegando aqui no Brasil                  As it arrived here in Brazil

Capoeira se chamou.                       it was called Capoeira.

Ginga e danca que era arte              The Ginga and the dance, which were an art,

em arme se transformou                 did transform into a weapon

Para libertar o negro                        to liberate the negro

da senzala do senhor.                      from the Senzala of the lord (slave owner).

Hoje aprendo essa cultura               Today I learn this culture

para me conscientizar.                     to increase my awareness

Agracedo ao Pai Ogum,                    Praise to Father Ogum,

A forca dos Orixás,                          the power of the Orixás,

Camará!                                           Comrade!

(Ladainha from Grupo Capoeira Angola Pelourinho*)

 

Starting aound 1550 the Portuguese started to import millions of Africans into Brazil. Over three hundred years, Black men and women were robbed and bought in Africa, treated like animals, transported over the Atlantic under unhuman conditions and had to work hard for essentially nothing. They were slaves.

Regarding those slaves who were imported there is one quote I read somewhere (I really dont know anymore where) and that is: “Those slaves might have come empty handed, but they did not come empty headed.” What came with them is their complete belief systems, music, rituals, world view, traditions, knowledge, language, arts, willpower and so on. And one thing which came with them is a form of dance/fight combining different concepts like beauty and strength, acrobatics and music, dance and violence.

Today’s Capoeira Angola does have a lot to do with awareness. Being aware of Capoeira’s roots, being aware that the African element in this art is of utterly high importance. Without it’s Africanity, Capoeira would degenerate into a fancy but soulless martial art. Capoeira, and especially Capoeira Angola, does live from its rituals, it game, its music and its history. In a discussion** I read and participated in on the Blog Mandingueira I realized that this awareness has to be maintained and increased in the present Capoeira Community.

But: Writing about Africanity in Capoeira is a mammoth task. Actually you could write a book about it and still would not have described everything there is to describe. 400 years of Capoeira practice mainly by Africans and Afrobrazilians did lead to the situation that every facette of Capoeira does have major African influences (admittedly there are European influences, too, since Portuguese lower class and sailors did start playing Capoeira in the 19th century and since Mestre Bimba started teaching white students). This is the reason why I will start the first cohesive series of posts on this Blog: African Roots. I hope that I will at least be able to give an overview about Africanity in Capoeira and I hope that there are people out there willing to add to the upcoming posts their knowledge about this topic, thus making these posts a richer source for people who make their first steps in exploring the roots of Capoeira.

Have an eye on this blog in the next few days. Cause then the first posts of the African Roots series will be published.

 

*if there are mistakes in the translation it is because of my lack of Portuguese. Corrections are welcome!

**special thanks to Kimbandeira for starting that discussion on Mandingueira

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A small lesson in History: Mandinga

The other day I read a comment of a person called Kimbandeira on the Mandingueira blog. One question she asked in there was: “Do you actually know what Mandinga means?” When I saw this I thought “well, I do have an idea about it” and then I remembered that I actually had gathered some information of the word Mandinga but never put it together for a blog post.

So, now you think “oh, again some lessons in the meaning of the word Mandinga!”. No. I think the word Mandinga is quite well explained. If you dont know yet what it means, just check this post and the links in it. What I want to show you people is where it comes from!

The Mandinka

Mandinga is a word of African origin. In its form “Mandinka” or “Mandingo” it is the name of a huge ethnic group in West Africa(Mandinkas are one part of the Mandè ethnicity).  They have a common language, which is called Mandinka, and common traditions and history. Today there are about 11 million Mandinka scattered in the nations of Sierra leone, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Gambia and more states of West Africa. Most of them are of Islamic belief though they kept a huge amount of their old traditions.

Mandinka history

Mandinka history as it s known begins in the Middle Ages. It is the story of the Manding Empire, or better known as the Mali empire. The empire existed from the 13th century till the beginning of the 17th century, where it collapsed under the power plays which happen in every kingdom at a certain time. It was founded by the magician Sundjata who belonged to one of the noble Islamic families who existed in West Africa. During its time the empire had a huge influence on culture and traditions in West Africa. It had a high standard of civilization and was one of the most urbanized areas in the world! One of its famous personalities is its king Mansa Musa (about 1300 to 1330), who was so rich that the value of gold dropped during the time he and his caravan visited Cairo (on his journey to Mecca, the Hajj).  

After its collapse different tribes among the Mandinka did engage in war with each other. During this war there was a lot of people driven to the Atlantic coast. Some willingly, a lot of them were caught and were made slaves. And just during those times the trans-Atlantic slave trade started to flourish. Today, a lot of the Afroamericans in North America are descendants of the Mandinka. But the slaves were transported not only to North America, but also to South America (especially Brazil).

The Malè Revolution

In Brazil Mandinkas and Mandés were known as Malé (which comes from a Yoruba word for “from Mali”). What was known about them was, they were Muslim and they were able to read and write, although it was ‘just’ Arabian script, but that was actually much more than most African slaves were able to. The theory says that this was a reason for the Malé being highly respected by other slaves. The Malé did in fact build up something like credibility in Brazil and were having an effect. Especially on one day: On January 24th 1835 a group of a couple of hundred muslim slaves and ex-slaves did several attempts to get hold of key positions in Salvador. Although this “revolt” was only one day and did end in the revolt being devastated and the number of the slaves decimated (and 9 Portuguese soldiers being dead) the revolt became a symbol for resistance of slaves in Brazil. It is not the first and not the only revolt in the New World and also not the most important example in Brazil, but it has its value in modern history. This is because it was just the endpoint of a long years resistance of Male slaves against their owners (the troubles happened during the years between 1807 and 1835). And it lead to a ban on import of Male slaves – they were just too dangerous. And during those times, when Malé slaves did cause trouble in the slave-driven society of colonial Brazil, the word Mandinga comes up, meaning much more than just “people of the Mandinka”, but meaning something like magician, priest or scholar.

To get a more detailed view of the history of the Mandinka and the Malé, just check these sources I have put together (and used for this post). The first two resources are highly recommended (and sometimes a bit hard to read, especially the second one). Anyway, enjoy!

Sources:

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The Joy of the Unknown –

or: Visiting an unknown group/Roda…

Let’s face it. Most of the time a Capoeirista does spend his time with Capoeiristas he knows. He plays in Rodas where he  knows the rules. Most of the time, we spend or time in our groups. That is where we are most secure and thus, most confident. Even when we go to other places, most of the time, we take people with us. We have somebody to rely upon. We know, there is someone who is on my side.

But then there are the rare occasions where the only one on your side is you. When you visit another group. These are not the most favourable situations. It is pretty unsafe, sometimes. But it does have its own fascination.

Since a bit more than one year I had the possibilities to visit different groups and every time I visited a new group there was this great feeling. Something in between excitement, curiosity and fear. This feeling is especially strong if you are going alone. Because then it is only you you can rely on.

Here a couple of hints for the next time one of you people visits a new/unknown group:

1. Always try to make first contact before you arrive at their Roda or Training. It is a demonstration of respect if you ask the responsible person beforehand if you are allowed to come or not. The possibility that the teacher will say “no” is low, but this should not stop you from showing your respect.

2. When you arrive at the Roda/Training do try to make first contact with the teacher/mestre as soon as possible. This should happen before the Roda/Training started. Do tell who you are, where you are from and who was your teacher (these are the most interesting pieces of info the teacher will want to have). In this situation it is helpful to a) refer to a mail/phone call you made before and to b) refer to a teacher/mestre of yours that is known. Usually a teacher/mestre does respect other teachers, although they might not always be of the same opinion.

3. Do not insist on playing in the Roda. Humility is the word of the hour here. As you are a guest you do not insist in showing your skill in the Roda. The first thing, if there is a roda, is to offer playing an instrument. Do not grab the next berimbau unless the teacher said so. Offer to play one of the percussion instruments, like the pandeiro, the reco reco or the agogo.

4. Do not show off. One of the most important rules. It is never smart to show off when you are in a unknown roda. You as a stranger do have the attention of everybody anyway. So whatever you do will be measured and rated. Of course the more you show off the higher is the possibility that they try to find out where your limits are. If your limits do not go farther than your show off abilities than you are done and everybody will just remember “the show-off who came the other day and was at his limits in 10 seconds…“. Another reason why you should not show off is that you should always have a good pool of movements for the times when there is somebody who really wants to test you.

5. Do not expect to play the teacher/mestre. It never happened to me that the first game I had in a new group was with the teacher or mestre. Usually they did send somebody else in and watched my game before they decided to get in or not. This is absolute logical. A teacher/mestre does know that there are a zillion of capoeiristas out there with a lot of abilities. A stranger coming into there group could be a bad-ass violent maniac or just a semi-beginner with a couple of show off qualities. As the teacher does have the responsibility over the group he does take the tactically smartest option, which is seeing first what kind of player you are and then deciding if they go into the roda or not.

6. Try not to play hard.I know a couple of you people does play hard on others on a regular basis. Some of you people didnt learn it another way. And within your own group it is ok. Even when you are a bit harder on one or the other colleague the possibility that you get beaten up in your own group because you are too hard is quite low. There are other ways to tell you to loosen up, like your teacher just telling you this in a quite minute or two. But when you are visiting another group you cannot assume that they have the same rules. So the best thing to do is playing soft and see what kind of game the these people have. Actually it is even better to first watch their game and see if you really like to join or not. The problem is that most groups do have a different game in public presentations and during training. So do not assume that a group who has a soft game during a presentation will also have a soft game in their Roda.

7. Do not get nervous or sensitive when you are in the Roda and you realize that the people are playing hard on you. Or when you are playing an instrument and the teacher does correct your music, dont be oversensitive. It cannot be a personal issue they have with you, because they do not know you. If they are unfriendly, well, then you at least know that this visit was your last. And if you can save your face and do shrug it off, then you are “the winner”. If they correct you, do accept the correction. It will not influence your style if you do change your [insert name of the movement] for one day. Do not insist on one way of movement or music or the other. And if you get attacked in the Roda then respond reasonably. Do not use more violence then the other one uses in the game (this might lead to a violence spiral and you should mind that you are the one who has no friends around).

7. Do not criticize. This is actually self-explaining. But I have seen guests arrive and thinking that they know things better and thinking that somebody gives a s…t! It is deeply embarrassing if somebody does this mistake and does usually lead to you getting a lesson in humility by the teacher or one of his better students.

8. Be thankful.It is not your right to be at another group’s training or Roda. It is not your right to play in their bateria or in their Roda. So everything they let you do is actually a favour. Do treat it like this. Be thankful and do express it after the games and after the training or Roda. Go to the teacher/mestre and tell him. Even if you did not like it. A good “Thank you” at the very end might even neutralize some mistakes you made at the end.

9. Do not bitch around afterwards. What happened, happened. You got beaten up in that roda? Maybe not your fault but your responsibility. You went there, right? Nobody forced you. You did not like their game? That is OK. That is the reason why there are different groups. You did not like the teacher/the students? Well, the world is not perfect, right? Your opinion about what happened or what not is maybe very important to you, but refrain from going around and bitching about your experiences in the other group. If there is something wrong with that group than most people do already know anyway. If you bitch around, people will talk about it. And as you do not have control about where your bitching goes to (it might end up at the group where you just been yesterday) it is just better to remain silent.

And if you follow these rules and do go in there, knowing what abilities you have and trying to learn from the other group, then the only thing I can tell you is: Enjoy! It is one of the biggest and most exciting things in Capoeira, when you face another player you dont know in a Roda you dont know! Then you can show if you are a real Capoeirista or not!

AxÉ!

*picture source: www.capoeirayork.com

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Bring Capoeira Back to the Streets!

Street Capoeira

This topic is circulating through my mind since a couple of weeks. Maybe it is due to me leaving my first Capoeira group more than a year ago, which lead to me visiting groups and training with different groups – also regional, which is not really my line of Game. Anyway, during those times I started to see Groups and Academies differently. It is not that I do have a problem with all the typical group issues which can come up when you are in one (see Mandingueiras page for this, she has some pretty good posts in there!). I just thought about one question, and that is the question I am gonna contemplate upon in this post:

Does Capoeira really have to be stuck in Academies?

I know it is a provoking thought, questioning about 80 years of Capoeira History and a lot of teachers would decapitate me with a clean martello for this, but Capoeira did survive because people did have the flexibility of thinking in another way. So that’s what I am doing right now: Thinking the other way.

Of course “Bring Capoeira Back to the Streets” is a very placative exclamation and more an eyecatcher for you people than meant that way. No, I think without academies Capoeira would still delve in the marginality in which Mestre Bimba did find it 80 years ago and did lift it up into publicity. Without academies only some special ethnologists or Brazil-fanatics would even know what Capoeira is, nobody would play it and I would still not be able to do a handstand (and would have not chosen any sport at all for my life!). So academies do have a pretty big influence on what Capoeira IS today. Actually, Capoeira is almost only to be found in academies (or at least groups). In Europe and North America much more than in Brazil. I will later come back to the advantages of academies for Capoeira (I think most of you do intuitively know it anyway…). But much more interesting is: Why do I come up with the Streets at all? What is what Streets can give Capoeira?

I’ll name three advantages of Capoeira on the Streets and then name some disadvantages and why the academies are exactly at the right spot for this.

Pro: Capoeira on the Streets

Capoeira on the Streets

a) The first thing one have to think about is that Capoeira does actually come from the streets – or at least has spent a lot of time on the streets, in suburbian Brazil, on the docks of Bahia, Rio, Recife. Of course, I as an Angoleiro do say that Capoeira comes from African slaves, but some major changes were coming exactly from the time when Capoeira was played on the streets. It grew up in marginality, being chased down by the police and being frowned upon by “general” society. Then, some brilliant mind called Mestre Bimba did succeed in pushing through the academies and although society did not really accept Capoeira, yet academies were ok. It was some people doing that stuff between walls, out of the sight of the public (and if, then it was some kind of folklore demonstration…at least that was what people might have thought). It was a Capoeira being under control. If there was a problem with Capoeiristas you did not have to hunt down a solitude Capoeirista, but just go to his school – and the problem was solved. This everything was good for Capoeiras survival, and once it survived and was tolerated, it could start spreading around. Yeah, but on the other side it is now stuck in this academies. Even in Brazil you have so many academies and groups that usually there is always a Capoeira school some kind of Capoeirista belongs to. Does it have to be like that? Is not Capoeira, learned and practised on the street, some kind of a more authentic way of Capoeira? Less ‘imprisoned’?

b) And this leads to my second point in arguing for Capoeira on the streets. With Mestre Bimba’s academy, and the thousands of spawning academies which basically do form the Capoeira Regional and Contemporeana scene of today, a whole other way of teaching entered the Capoeira world. There were groups before, and the one or other teacher might have taught Capoeira in a more structured way. But the real structured way of teaching came to Capoeira in the wave of the academies. What is wrong with this? Well, structured and standadized ways of teaching do usually not concentrate on a single student’s needs, problems or strengths, but somehow takes “the average student” which is a non-existing prototype. After a while in the standardized training method, each individual student does come closer and closer to “the average student” leading to a whole bunch of students, which play alike! And that’s what is the problem of academies. You can actually see where a Capoeirista comes from, when you know a specific group’s style. That is true for every size of group, but when you have groups with thousands of students, then this becomes a problem. Capoeira is born and lives from its diversity. Thus, uniformity does kill it. And that is something which can’t happen that easily on the streets. When people learn by playing other people, they might take over techniques of one specific capoeirista, but there will be the influence of a lot of other players – leading to more diversity.

c) The last point I have is actually the most important, to me. With Capoeira in Academies you have one problem. They are not out there. And if they are, then Capoeiristas are part of a show, with sometimes defined people (who plays the berimbau? who does the acrobatics? who’s playing whom? and so on…). That is not the same as we are playing in our Rodas amongst Capoeiristas, right? This way Capoeira will have it hard to integrate into any society other than the Brazilian society. We are here, outside of Brazil, playing Capoeira since 30 years, and still I have to explain people what Capoeira is. It gets better, but most people actually have no idea about Capoeira, until they have trained it… for years. But if Capoeira is part of street culture, people will be able to recognize the sound of the Berimbau, be able to link Capoeira to Brazil and will get interested easier. It will stop being a rare phenomenon and finally find its place in the middle of society.

So, now enough advantages. There are also major drawbacks of Street-Capoeira.

Contra: Capoeira on the Streets/Pro: Academies

Capoeira Academy

a) My first pro-point was that Capoeira was something that was belonging to the streets before Mestre Bimba came along and did make some serious changes. It is, of course, a romanticized view to say that everything was better. Street Capoeira was having an existence in marginality. And this was not only because it was a black sport. It was also a violent game. This inherent violence made it troublesome, threatening and suspicious for ‘general society’. And these were good reasons to chase Capoeiristas. At least for the ‘society’. (That a lot of Capoeiristas did the things they do out of poor desperation, or because there was no other way, that is something people do forget easily, but that is another topic.) Now let us go 10 years into the future and think of a Capoeira street scene somewhere in a major Norht American and European city. And suddenly violence does occur. Two groups/gangs of Capoeiristas do make use of knives in the Roda, or of shotguns… Well, welcome back to the situation of Rio in 19th century. I am exaggerating a bit, but where I am coming down to is this: Without academies there is no control of Capoeira at all. That is sometimes good for Capoeiras freedom, but we all know that Capoeira was also used for other purposes. And when Capoeiristas do become a source of trouble in other than Brazilian societies the reputation of Capoeiristas will drop into a grey area we all do not want to belong to. And it just needs a couple of stupid people for this! How does the oriental saying go? “When one idiot does throw a stone into font, ten wise men will not be able to get it out.

b) Another disadvantage of a street capoeirista is quite obvious and was obvious to a lot of old Mestres when they first saw regionalistas (the phenomenon is still existent today, though I think in a lesser degree than in the past). Street Capoeira does not teach you how to do things efficiently or beautifully or anything else. The degree of technique taught in a Capoeira Academy is – because of a streamlined and structural way of learning – higher than on the streets. Because of this we have more highly developed Capoeiristas than ever before. There is even still a difference between Regionalistas and Angoleiros. Angoleiros do usually receive a less structured lesson than Regionalistas. This does lead to the fact that Regionalistas learn playing and do achieve high performance faster than Angoleiros. Learning Capoeira Angola does need more time – with the advantage of pretty individualized styles. But even Angoleiros today do have much more structurized training than people had before.

c) The last point I have against a street capoeira scene is actually a direct response to my last pro argument. Capoeiras integration into society and a street Capoeira scene in Europe and North America (and Asia, Africa or Australia) would change Capoeira itself. It would generate some kind of local Capoeira, which is in danger of losing its roots. As an Angoleiro I am very considered that nobody forgets what Capoeira was, what the traditions are and that the Game does not lose its characeristics. Without an Academy the danger of losing Capoeiras identity is very high. When you think about it, MEstre Pastinha’s academy did evolve especially because there was a need of saving Capoeira Angola was felt. Maybe only this and the efforts of people organized in academies did save Capoeira Angola. And that is something I should not forget myself – e.g.when I am contemplating about Capoeira on the Streets yes or no. Capoeira might loose its cultural roots.

So where do we land at the very end. Should Capoeira go back to the streets? Yes and no – as it is with everything in the world, right? I think the invention of academies did save Capoeira and make it so big and this will continue. Without the academies the Capoeira world will shrink, diffuse or drift into a position where it is folklore or a violent game. Both nothing we really would like to have. And what can we do about this. Well, first of all: Belong and do not lose contact to one or other academy. They are the basis of Capoeira today and there are pretty good reasons to leave it like that. And on the other side – if your teacher does allow it – play on the streets. Do play with other people, meet up and do something. Let’s live Capoeira!

Axé!

 Pictures taken from: www.salvador-portal.com , www.wikipedia.org and www.achebrasil.com

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My favourite Youtube-Clips!

I realized the other day that I did write mostly about serious topics. That is ok, cause, well, Capoeira Angola is something I take serious. But as important as all the cultural aspects and the little rules and the philosophy of capoeira is the fact that Capoeira Angola is FUN!!! I sadly dont have any real footage showing me playing (if I do I’ll promise to post it!), so I decided to post my favourite Capoeira Angola youtube videos this time. I will also say one or two things about them, although, most of the time the videos are talking for themselves.

The first video does show a footage I have already in my history page in this blog. It shows the two Grand Mestres of Capoeira Angola, Mestre Joao Grande and Mestre Joao Pequeno, playing.

As these guys do not get younger but are still alive and kickin’ and it is just a great atmosphere to see 160 years of Capoeira Angola in one circle the second video is also one of my favorite ones.

There is a lot more and many other videos from mestres I admire. One of them is Mestre Cobra Mansa (of course!) and so I want to put one of my absolute favourite videos in here, too. He is playing Mestre Ponchianinho here, from Cordao de Ouró. It is also one of the proof videos that Capoeira Angola does have a rough game, too.

But on the other side, there are also very beautiful games which do not show (much) antagonism. The next video is a premium example for this. It shows two students of Mestre Jogo de Dentro and there almost perfect interplay in the roda.

Some other Mestre who is just plain very interesting in his style is Mestre Camaleao, who seems to have a huge amount of moves I’d never dare to use in a roda (out of fear that my opponent would kill me afterwards!). He is also a rough player, at least in this video.

Another video is actually a footage from a whole DVD which is quite high on my to-buy list. It’s from the DVD Ypiranga de Pastinha. If somebody knows where to find it. TELL ME! 😀

Although it is the third time that I have Cobra Mansa in my video collection this video is not about him but about a 10 year old boy who is definitely somebody I should keep in eye! Check him out!

And last but not least a bit of a musical final. A guy getting interesting sounds out of the Berimbau!

I hope you enjoyed this little collection of Capoeira videos. And my message for this post is quite simple. Never, never forget that Capoeira and Capoeira Angola is for joy!

I would also like to see what YOU people like. Which youtube videos can you recommend?

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