Written by Adriano Chediak
Source: Revista Capoeira
Translated into English by Shayna McHugh
Few of today’s capoeira practitioners stick so close to the art’s traditions and originality as José Paulo dos Anjos. He passed away in March of 1999 in Salvador, the victim of an infection contracted after a surgery in a local hospital. His death representes the loss of not only a very distinguished human being, but also an irreparable loss for capoeira, especially the lineage of capoeira angola.
Mestre Paulo dos Anjos was known as one of the most skilled and versatile angoleiros of the century. He strongly resisted the attempts to incorporate the changes and fads of modern capoeira into the traditional art. “For me, nothing has changed. I continue practicing Capoeira Angola according to tradition,” he used to say.
Born on August 15th, 1936 in the state of Sergipe, the 14-year-old José Paulo dos Anjos made a name for himself in Salvador as a promising boxer. When he met Mestre Canjiquinha one year earlier, he became hooked on Capoeira and began to frequent the rodas of the Bahian cities. In the street festivals, his technique and abilities began to attract everyone’s attention. From then on, time would transform him into a master, graduated by Mestre Canjiquinha himself.
He was widely respected in the capoeira world and also well-known as a singer. He recorded some songs on a CD, with his unique style, maintaining the musical tradition of capoeira. Alongside Mestre Gato Preto, he gave classes on Itaparica Island as well as other places in the metropolitan region of Salvador.
In the 1970s, he moved to São Paulo for five years. In São José dos Campos, he formed the group Anjos de Angola (Angels of Angola). In 1978 he won the capoeira championship at the Pacaembu Gymnasium in the state capital. He returned to Salvador in 1980 and influenced the movement of capoeiristas fighting for better working conditions. Beginning in 1987, he led the Brazilian Capoeira Angola Association and combined his capoeira work with his activities as a civil servant in Salvador’s town hall.
Today, many of his students have become teachers and mestres. Some already have their own academies in Salvador and São Paulo: Virgílio do Retiro, Jaime de Mar Grande, Jorge Satélite, Pássaro Preto, Amâncio, Neguinho, Renê, Alfredo, Djalma, Galego, Mala, Josias, Cabeção, Jequié, Feijão, Vital, and Al Capone, among others.
One of the most interesting interviews with Mestre Paulo dos Anjos was given to the publication “Capoeirando” of the Universidade Estadual Paulista in 1995. Here are selections from the interview:
Tell us about your capoeira experience.
I learned with Mestre Canjiquinha and I participated in the rodas of Mestre Pastinha’s academy. I spent time with Mestre Gato Preto, teaching with him in Bahia and also in São Paulo.
Why did you move from Bahia to São Paulo in the 1970s?
My situation was bad; it was an era of seas without fish. A student who trained boxing with me and knew that I played capoeira invited me to São Paulo, and I went.
Do you still give capoeira classes in Salvador?
I have the Brazilian Capoeira Angola Association, but it’s the students who give the classes. I give a few courses outside of Bahia.
From your experience, do you think capoeira is changing?
For me, nothing changed. I continue practicing capoeira angola according to tradition. I have always been an angoleiro. I don’t even discuss regional because I don’t know it and don’t understand it. If I don’t understand it, I don’t have to pretend that I do!
What about this idea of tradition?
There has to be a guy older than me to explain that.
Was the use of the navalha (straight razor) part of the tradition?
There were always rogues with straight razors. Capoeira has always had troublemakers, but one thing used to exist and seems not to exist anymore: respect. Now there are 20-year-old kids who, just because they can do a bunch of flips, challenge the mestre and asks for a fight!
Why are straight razors no longer used in the game?
Because capoeira was never played with straight razors. Put a razor between your toes to play? That’s a lie. It’s just done during exhibitions, for show!
Even the street capoeira of the old days didn’t have straight razors?
It had razors, but they were in the capoeirista’s pockets. That story about putting it between your toes to cut people is a lie. There are skilled guys around here who, if you grab a knife to attack him and you’re not real tough, the guy will take the knife and beat you up. Imagine putting a razor between your toes to go around cutting people! That’s a fantasy to deceive stupid children!