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.

14 Comments

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14 responses to “Devagar, Devagar…

  1. Pintado

    Hi! Nice to see you posting again, Angoleiro. Your blog is always interesting. I hope you will stick to it and produce loads of new posts🙂

    I want to point out just one thing. It’s really just me being petty, but here goes… You say there are different reasons to why capoeira angola is played slow and then you list a few of them. I think that’s putting it backwards. Those are not reasons for why angola is played slow, they are ‘consequences’ of angola being played slow. The ‘reasons’ you would find in the history and the development through time. This development has made angola the way it is and it enables the practice of lenghty games, beautiful movements, safer play, healthy elbows etc… Agree?

  2. This was such a great post, Angoleiro–not least because of your uncanny timing, as after having trained 7 days/week for 2 months I’ve gotten sick due to an annoying cough and have been forced to slow down. As well, last week I found myself the only non-beginner student in a first-time beginner’s class and was forced to go slow on very basic movements nearly the entire time, and would’ve cried due to frustration were it not just the night before a friend giving me advice to work on “slowness and control”! So this has only helped to reinforce that. =D Hope you’re (unlike me currently) well!

  3. Hey Pintado, thanks for your kind words. I think you are in one way right. Of course Capoeira Angola is the way it is because of its development over time. But (you knew there would be a but) to argue if the effects of Capoeira being played “devagar” are a result or stand in the beginning is a bit like a chicken-or-egg discussion. Which came first? Capoeira Angola being played slowly and then people found out that it has benefits? Or people wanting some benefits and thus playing it slowly? No matter how you turn it you’ll always find a counter-argument🙂

    Hi Joaninha, sorry to hear that your health does keep you from training that much. But maybe it’s good that you dont train too much. Otherwise you might become a Capoeira comet (you know? pops up, shines bright and disappears sooner than expected). Control your speed and your movements is truly much more challenging than just throwing your body around. Good luck with that! Oh, and of course, thanks for your comment🙂

  4. I liked this post!

    It’s easy for a lot of people (myself included) to see capoeira angola and just mindlessly think it’s slow, however there’s just as good reason for slowness as there is speed. Also the assumption that all angola is always slow is definitely a fallacy as well. Seeing this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhCgFITPRBU
    Mestre Joao Grande and Joao Pequinho play angola, but it isn’t slow🙂

    Thanks for the post!

  5. LOL! That comment about being a comet totally cheered me up.🙂 Too true, as well. Noted, and thanks!

  6. javier

    Just wanted to say thanks for another great post. The last weeks with friends i’ve been playing berimbau with a friend and her guitar on the street and occaisionally we meet brazilian tourists and perhaps 1 out of every 5 does or has done capoeira but it’s so funny to hear them when I talk about angola, they complain about the speed saying it’s “too slow for them” as if it’s something boring. All such comments seem so ridiculous to me because for me, a very fast game in Regional is so incredibly boring for me to watch, perhaps every other 4th game I see some flicker of intelligence or strategy, where as almost every angola game i’ve seen is far interesting, I much prefer to see one beautiful meia lua de costa rather than 10 fast quexadas. In a slow game there’s just so much more communication and this for me is one of the main things that makes capoeira so special and beautifully unique. thanks for the post🙂

  7. xixarro

    What a coincidence. Just last Wednesday I was telling my students about the importance of being able to play slow. I’m going to refer to this article in my next class. 😉

    PS: I’m with Javier.
    I’m totally bored out with regional games at the moment. It feels like I’ve seen it all by now. It’s always fast and no communication. And my joints are too old to keep the pace up like that😛

  8. Hey Javier, hey Xix! thanks for your comments. I am glad that you all appreciate the nuances of a slow game. But it is a fact that some people dont like that. That’s a matter of taste and I wont judge nobody for thinking that Capoeira Angola is boring because it’s too slow for them. Not everybody has to like it. It turns into a problem when people think they would be able to play Capoeira Angola because it is just slow Capoeira or so. But mostly it turns out to be only a problem for the guy who thinks this way (in the form of a very fast kick he didnt expect, for example….).

    And Xixarro, I dont think that you have the right to use your age as an excuse yet😉

  9. Totally agree with Javier and Xixarro…even though I’m in a floreio-heavy group and do get caught up in the mentality, ever since all the dialogue-intense games I got to see in France, I’ll be in a roda and then realize one person’s doing something on one side and the other is on the other side also doing their own thing, and there’s no dialogue going on at all! Then even if I’m impressed by the acrobatics, a part of me still wants to zone out since I want to see a capoeira game, not just two simultaneous solos!

    Interestingly enough, I found out one of -the- most acrobatic-heavy players in my group (making up like 85% of their game) finds angola boring, so I also agree with Angoleiro, it’s just what people’s personal tastes (and maybe abilities?) tend to, I guess.

  10. By abilities, I meant that sometimes I wonder if part of my “floreios are filler, it’s the game that counts” attitude is really just sour grapes…i.e. would I still feel that way if I were really good at doing floreios myself? (Just doing my part for Devil’s advocacy…though I really have thought that sometimes.)

  11. elastico

    for me an game of capoeira angola is not about being fast or slow. it’s about being fast when the timing is right, when you see an opening and it’s time to strike. if you see any other marital art, nobody is moving the fastest they can during the whole fight. but when there an opening, then the strike hits like lightning. the same thing applies to capoeira. i really don’t understand the point of moving fast all the the time. you get tired, and you can not surprise your opponent with fast technique. thank you for an interesting post.

  12. Hey people, I am really glad that this topic does have so much of resonance. That actually means that I hit a wound point, which is always very interesting. Thanks for that!
    @Joaninha: I am sorry that you are in a acrobatics heavy group. It is really hard for people who are used to acrobatics to suddenly involve themselves in full-on Capoeira dialogue. You are right that acrobacy players usually dont like to engage into an Angola game. That is in my opinion because there they cannot show the acrobatics they learned (I also dont like to be in a Roda full of acrobacy, because then all of my game wouldnt make much sense any more). They would have to apply them “in game”. And that is where most players lack. They are able to make a salto mortal, but they dont know when they can do it in a game where the other one waits for you to make a mistake. I am not principally against floreios. But if they dont fit into the game they are suddenly very displaced (in the eye of the angoleiro). That is also why I dont agree with your “opinion” (I know you are playing the devil’s advocate, but anyway). Because for me it’s not a question of being able to do a movement. I can do a handstand, for example, which is a very basic acrobatic movement. But if somebody does a handstand without considering the other person, without this handstand having anything to do with the game, then it’s a poor movement anyway, no matter if I can do that movement or not. You get my point (I gotta admit I am having problems with putting the sentences nicely, right now).
    @elastico: welcome to my blog, by the way. You are right. Also other martial arts do not recommend you to be fast all the time. I think that the emphasis of playing slowly in Capoeira Angola is still very special. I guess it mainly comes from the fact that the Jogo de Angola is not a full-contact fight. When it comes to a fight then it doesnt make sense to be “slow all the time”, but then it is about the right speed at the right time. You are right in this.

    Thanks for your interesting comments!

  13. Espada

    Hi Angoleiro,
    1st of all let me start by telling this was a great article wich i enjoyed reading.

    now for me i love playing both fast and slow. Both for very different reasons. with angola i have to chanel my “engery” . i cant push the gas pedal all the way down. i use my mind more then my instinct.
    reginal is the other way around, pedal to the metal, without losing controle🙂 escivas are pure instinct and things my brain sees before i see them make me act and react.

    but now we come to the only part i dont realy agree with in this article. is the heath part. Health, fitness, strenght training and stuff is something i know somthing about.

    i dont think playing slower is healthier, safer yes. healthier no. i can even tell you the opposite. playing short fast hard is much much better for you health than playing long and slow.
    just like running 10 800m sprints is better than running 20km. look up interval training vs LSD (long slow distance).
    Now safe is also most of the time a state you dont want your body to be in. (if we are talking about making it stronger, better, faster, healthier,… ect) Let me explain it like this. children climbing trees is not safe. but still crusial in a childs growth.

    what i think is the big cause for injury in reagional is the inadequat training for it. out technical abillity is bigger than out phisical. what i mean is that by learning how to kick and get better and better at it we go faster and faster. but we dont get stronger. we dont get the muscle/tendon strenght to absorb the shock.

    in short:
    playing slow is safer wich is not always healthier🙂

    sorry if this sounds like i’m muggezifting but i cant help it… been reading to much about that stuff lately😀

    see ya!

  14. Hi there,
    it’s true that newbies in capoeira angola have difficulties to understand that you must follow the rythm of the berimbau and even when we sing devagar, devagar, newbies must understand the signification ! In angola, you need to use your head !

    Love your blog,
    Adrien

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