Monthly Archives: October 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!

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Today is Carybé Day

É argentino, é brasileiro, é quichua,

é asteca, é inca, é carioca por bossa

mas baiano por fé.

É amigo do mundo inteiro

menos de quem náo dá pé.

Canta cantigas de Cuzco

da Havana e do Tremenbé.

É um sambista milongueiro

Bate um violáo de terreiro.

E é santo de cadomblé.

–Vincius de Moraes

 

On the 1nd of October 1997 a guy named Hector Julio Paride Bernabó died while attending a Candomblé ceremony in the city of Salvador, Bahia. With his dead Salvador lost one of its big recent artists. Capoeiristas, Brazilians and artists around the world know him more under his name Carybé.

First of all, I have to admit, I am illiterate in terms of art. You cant possibly walk through a museum faster than I do. It’s not a lack of interest, I am usually not even aware of arts – as long as it is not Capoeira-related. So you can guess now why this guy fills a whole post in this blog? Well, because this guy had a unique ability to capture the beauty of Salvador, of Afrobrazilian culture and, of all, of Capoeira (Angola) in his pictures. I had one of his pictures on my shirts before I knew who this guy was. And as such, and as it is now 11 years ago that he died, I thought it would be great to acknowledge his life and art on this blog!

The person

 

At the 7th of February, 1911 in the city of Lanús a boy named Hector Julio Páride Bernabó was born. Lanús is a city in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentine. In Rio de Janeiro he worked as an errand boy and earned his name Carybé, which is a type of a piranha. When he was 14 he started engaging in artwork in his elder brother’s atelier in Rio and 2 years later he started studying in the Escola National de Belas Artes. After his studies Carybé did work as graphic artist for different journals and eventually visited Salvador for the first time. This was in the year of 1938. Only after many other travels and jobs he had, visiting all over South America, he was invited to stay in Bahia in the year 1950. And there he stayed till his death in the year of 1997. Here he produced his greatest artworks, like As Três Mulheres da Xângo and worked together with great contemporary artists like Pierre Verger or Jorge Amado. But Carybé was not only a famous artist, but he was also an Oba de Xângo, a Candomblé priest till his very end. At the 1st of October 1997 he died during a ceremony.

His art

 

Carybé was priest, painter, graphics artist and sculptor. His most known artswork does picture Afrobrazilian culture as he has seen it in his 47 years of Salvador, Bahia – and thus, is one of the most valuable sources of information on life in late 20 centuries Bahia. Of special mentioning are his pictures about Candomblé and of Orixás, which does leave us insight into a culture most non-Candomblistas won’t see much (especially us Gringos who are not even living in Bahia, let alone in Brazil!). Beautiful examples are his sculptures of Orixás, like the one of Oxun you see below.

 Capoeira

Carybé did also visit Rodas de Capoeira Angola, like Mestre Waldemar’s Roda in the Liberdade neighbourhood. Here he was in the 60’s and made his drawings, which are nowadays known in the whole Capoeira Community. I have seen a lot of them without noticing that it was actually Carybé. But next time one of you sees one of these pictures, or one which does look alike, maybe you will remember one of the few artists who was able to capture Capoeira’s beauty with only a few lines on paper. And now I will leave you alone with a couple of Carybé’s Capoeira pictures. Sit back and enjoy!

 

So, that’s it. No, it’s for sure not all the artwork you can find of Carybé. On the site of Capoeira-Info.org you can also read and see one of his booklets “A jogo da capoeira” with many beautiful drawings of Capoeira. Carybé was extremely active and I leave it to you people to look further and jump into this tiny, but strong, bits of Afrobrazilian culture Carybé is presenting us with his artwork.

 

In memoriam:

Carybé, 1911-1997

 

Sources:

Wikipedia

http://www.pinturabrasileira.com/artistas_bio.asp?cod=81&in=1 (Portuguese)

 http://www.geocities.com/Athens/6415/carybe_opener2.html

http://capoeira-infos.org

Pictures:

www.artenet.com.br

www.macacocapoeira.free.fr

www.uniflorgta.edu.br

www.vitorbraga.com.br

www.nzinga.org.br

http://musibrasil.net

www.gruposenzala.com

www.pitoresco.com.br

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