Translation into English by Shayna McHugh
Mestre Ananias is one of the icons of capoeira in São Paulo. At 81 years old, he embodies the fusion of African heritage with the Brazilian people. He lives capoeira, samba, and candomblé without separating them. Mestre Ananias was born in 1924 in São Felix, a region of the Bahian Recôncavo whose cultural richness merits in-depth study.
After absorbing the culture in which he grew up, he moved to São Paulo in the middle of the 20th century after being invited by theater producers. He worked with Plínio Marcos, Solano Trinidade, and other famous people in all the city’s theaters. In 1953, he founded the most traditional capoeira roda of São Paulo, which takes place in the Praça da República. This roda grew as his peers arrived, and during this time capoeira really showed one of its main fundamentals: to integrate disadvantaged classes into society despite racial and social prejudice.
What is capoeira, mestre?
For me, capoeira is health, it is a “sport for real men,” as the expression goes! You have to have courage, behave yourself, accept a challenge. It’s not just hitting, like the capoeiristas do today… we have an iron strength; there are people who say it’s just a dance, but for me it is the dance of death. Capoeira kills while smiling; within a greeting comes an attack, dude!!! Capoeira is everything in my life. If it wasn’t for capoeira, I would not have lived to the age I am now.
How and when did you begin practicing capoeira?
When I was 14 years old. That’s the age when you start to feel capoeira in your blood; before this you’re clueless about everything. That’s the age when stories begin, and when I started to get smart. But I’ve been in the middle of this culture since I was really little. I’m from São Félix and Cachoeira.
What can you tell us about the people who taught you capoeira?
Juvêncio was the mestre. He was a dock worker who did capoeira on the docks of São Felix, during the festivals of Igreja de São Deus Menino and Senhor São Félix. The roda was formed with João de Zazá, the brobthers Toy and Roxinho, Alvelino and Santos who were also two brothers, Caial, Estevão who was a ridiculously good capoeirista; he was a guard at the cigar factory, and so many others… Traíra and Café from Cachoeira… no one gave classes, but the real master was Juvêncio, everyone got together and played, there wasn’t this business of finding a mestre.
Later, when I went to Salvador, I went to Mestre Pastinha’s roda around 1940. I lived in the Liberdade neighborhood, and on Sundays I would go to Mestre Waldemar’s roda. There was training on Wednesdays and on Sundays there was the performance roda for the people, the Americans who went to watch us. There was Dorival (Mestre Waldemar’s brother), Maré, Caiçara, Zacaria, Bom Cabelo, Nagé, Onça Preta, Bugalho, and Mucungê the berimbau player.
In Salvador, I began to get better at berimbau and in the game with Waldemar, and with time he gave me the title of contra-mestre after a rigorous testing with the mestres. Canjiquinha was a great capoeirista, sambista, singer, and percussionist; the guy was complete. I did a show with him here in São Paulo… I played capoeira with him in shows, but not in the academy. I got my diploma with him, but in the old days there wasn’t this business of diplomas.
Who were your role models when you began to practice capoeira?
Nagé and Onça Preta were beautiful, a dance-like game, laughing, goofing off, very beautiful… while the others were tougher. Maré and Traíra also had very nice games, Bom Cabelo and Zacarias, and Waldemar of course was the Mestre, extremely good in everything. Caiçara was devilishly good and Dorival, when those two met each other, whew!! They were enemies inside the roda and the games were mean. Outside the roda, I have no idea what their relationship was…
What do you think is most important to be a good capoeirista?
You have to be dedicated in order to learn everything in capoeira, from the instruments to the game. You also have to know how to teach. There is much to learn. It’s not just banging away on the instruments either, there is much to learn…
What is the difference between the capoeira of the old days and capoeira today?
Lots of difference… comparing the capoeira of the old days with the insolent capoeira of today… hmm! Today it’s all slow… let’s put a bit more wood in the fire, shall we? This is why no one respects capoeira angola. Capoeira angola should be low and high, a lively game. And there’s more – they’re making up all this stuff about how capoeira belongs to the world, it belongs to the world and has no owner – just wanting to make money from naïve people. In the old days, the rhythm was lively, the notes were perfectly clear. Today it’s a shame, it’s impossible to understand.
And samba, Mestre, who did you learn with?
With the old guys in Bahia, in the candomblé temples, in the samba rodas, we used to do capoeira and then samba afterwards. Mainly my father, who did everything – he was a man of samba together with his friends who were viola players, with pandeiro, and I was always hanging around them so I learned.
And your group “Garoa do Recôncavo,” how did it start?
It’s very good, I formed it with my students. First we did capoeira, then we started doing samba, and it just got better and better. The samba that we do is an old style that I learned when I was a boy, it’s the hard samba of the Recôncavo. And now we’re making a CD, which is going to be good.
What would you like to teach to your students?
Everything that is inside me. Now, this also depends on them, you know, and what they want to learn. Nowadays no one wants to learn anything and I just want my little space back. The house belongs to all of us, everyone visits and likes it, but until now… we are all demanding our space back.
Where will capoeira be in 20 years?
That depends on the mestres. The way it’s going now, this anarchy… especially in public, everyone just thinks about being tough. Let’s think a little better, for the sake of the future…
Do you have a favorite capoeira song?
All of them, they’re equal, all good.
What do you like to do besides capoeira?
Candomblé, I am a priest at the disposition of the orixás, but… candomblé has also changed a lot, even the deities have changed, as well as the songs…
Perhaps you could tell us more about your group.
Our group is great. The only thing we’re lacking is a space, you know? But I depend on all of you. There’s too much jealousy in capoeira: one person says one thing, another says something else. We need to be more united.