Tag Archives: Roda

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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Angoleiro in action

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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!

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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!

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Is your Corpo Fechado?

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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/

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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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Are Angoleiros Snobs?

The other day I talked with a Regionalista whom I didnt know much. And in this conversation he was talking about a teacher of Capoeira Angola who was (quote) “like all Angoleiros a bit of a snob”. He knew who he was talking to, so I smiled and replied “yeah I know, I’m like that, too.” Actually I was not even mad about that, I kind of saw where this prejudice is coming from.

Prejudices

It is kind of true. Angoleiros do often look down on modern Capoeiristas, or – and this is much more the case – try to point out why Capoeira Angola is preferable. Angoleiros do bitch about the music, which is so much better in Capoeira Angola than in Capoeira Regional, they do state that the interaction is missing in Capoeira Regional, they do say that modern Capoeira did lost its roots and does prefer muscle over brain and full-body-workout over freeing your soul. Some Angoleiros do smile when they see a pumped up guy walking around in his white Abada, because that Regionalista is so clichè! Of course this is not a one-way road. I have heard enough remarks which made me go mad, like “your training is for sissys”, “yu call that capoeira, I show you what Capoeira is” or just “well, Capoeira Angola is just slower Capoeira”. And the stereotype of the smelly Angoleiro with dreads and being stoned like a wall is so old, I won’t even touch it.

Where does it come from?

The habits Capoeiristas of my age (not that old) are showing around today – all these prejudices – are nothing new. It has its roots in recent Capoeira history. It’s the phenomenon of the Regional-Angola dichotomy which arouse in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This dichotomy did come to existence when Capoeira Regional did start growing rapidly due to the achievements and the regulations made by the Senzala group and their contemporaries. In those times Capoeira Angola was still small and stayed small till the 80’s, where some people said that Capoeira Angola actually died out. In these times Angoleiros had to struggle for acceptance in the Capoeira scene. The new modern Capoeira scene was growing so fast and there were so many Regionalistas who did believe that modernity and change was good and that traditions are to be discarded, that they saw Angoleiros as something inferior. “We put the angoleiros on the grounds and stamp on their heads.” is a quote Mestre Moraes cited about some comments he heard of Regionalistas (you can read this in Nestor Capoeiras ‘The Little Capoeira Book’). A lot of Mestres de Capoeira Angola resigned in those times and only a few did fight fiercly for their acceptance. In those times the GCAP from Mestre Moraes did start saving Capoeira Angola. Mestre Moraes, a highly valuable Mestre, is often seen as a difficult personality, as a typical example of the fanatical Angoleiro. What most people don’t see is that his way to stick to the traditions and to actively distinguish and define Capoeira Angola from modern Capoeira was the only way to keep the Capoeira Angola scene alive. If it was not for him and Mestres alike him, Capoeira Angola would still vegetate in an existence like in the early eighties, or it might be de facto non-existent.

And this is the heritage Angoleiros do carry around. We are learning movements, philosophy and attitudes from our Mestres and our teachers. And even if they personally didnt live through the hard times of Capoeira Angola, then it was their teachers who did.

Of course there are also other cases, like Angoleiros who were Regionalistas before. These convertits do have a classical convertit-attitude. They are Angoleiros because they are convinced that Capoeira Angola is the right Capoeira. If you started in a Capoeira Angola group from the very beginning (like I did) it’s quite likely that your attitude is less strict. People who changed usually fight hard for their acceptance as Angoleiros in the beginning (well, they even have to learn the Ginga from the very beginning) and might have the need to prove themselves, and also to convince others that the change from Regional to Angola does pay off.

And finally there are the ones who just see the success of Capoeira Regional and do feel the need to point out that Capoeira Angola does have its own qualities, which makes it a real alternative. Everybody knows that Capoeira Regional does have a strong effect on the common audience. People who have no idea about Capoeira do get attracted more often by Regionalistas than by Angoleiros. Capoeira Regional is considered to be cooler. Capoeira classes and workshops of modern Capoeira are usually much more crowded, while a group size of more than 20 is already quite big for a group of Capoeira Angola. Also the average age of Regionalistas seems to be lower than the age of Angoleiros. All this does certainly rise the need for some comments by Angoleiros.

Is this changing?

Yes it is. Capoeira Angola does more and more get the respect it deserves. More and more Mestres and teachers of modern Capoeira do accept Capoeira Angola as being a striving, modern part of Capoeira – and not just history which is only kept alive by some stick-in-the-muds. Capoeira Angola is still small in comparison with modern Capoeira. But it has found its nichè and new confidence does allow interstyle contacts, meetings, workshops and rodas. This development does not only occur between Mestres and teachers, but also between students. Angoleiros and Regionalistas do get more and more involved with each other. Some Capoeiristas try to learn both (which is something I’d post later about), some say that they do merge things together which were splitted in the past, and some just accept that the styles are different, but not to be compared in terms of what is better, what sucks?  Comparison between Capoeira Angola and Regional should be more What does suit me more?

This doesnt mean that you will never encounter snobistic Angoleiros, but this also does not mean that I will never meet a guy who says that Capoeira Angola is for old men, until I prove him otherwise 😉 What do we learn out of this? Don’t be too harsh with the Angoleiro’s attitude of teaching you or telling you what Capoeira Angola is about. This attitude is decreasing and as such you don’t have to bother (much) with it in future. And I try not to get annoyed when some Regionalista guy comes up to me and tries to explain to me that Capoeira Angola is too slow for him;)

And if there is an active Angoleiro-Regionalista contact, that will lead to so many interesting workshops, games and Rodas. And that certainly it will pay off in future, enriching both styles and the Capoeira scene in general. For a nice example of an interstyle game see this video:

picture source: http://www.nzinga.org.br/

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Filed under Capoeira Today

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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