Interview with Mestre Bimba
Originally published in the Goiânia Gazette, in 1973
Source: Campo de Mandinga blog
Mestre Bimba, tell us where you came from, your full name, and your story.
My father was named Luis Pereira Machado, my mother was Maria Martinha do Bonfim, and my name is Manoel Reis Machado. Many people ask me, “Why Mestre Bimba?” I don’t like to tell. Some people believe it’s because of a fight – because in Salvador around 1900, when I was born, “bimba” also meant beating – but it’s not. My mother had 25 children, and I was the last. They say I was a very fat baby. My mother made a bet with the midwife that I was a boy and the midwife said that I was a girl. So, to find out if I was a boy or a girl, since I was very fat, they opened my fat legs to check and found my “bimba”!
I worked as a carpenter and also on the docks, around 1918. I could carry 120 kilograms. I met a Capoeira Angola mestre in those days. There’s capoeira angola, and there’s capoeira regional, which I created. He was called Betinho. He was the son of two africans, I am a grandson of Africans. So from that point on, I learned capoeira angola and I eventually created regional.
How was capoeira seen in those days?
In those days, when capoeira was spoken of, it was in whispers. Those who learned capoeira only thought about becoming criminals.
Being tough was in fashion?
It was fun. Have you ever imagined how it was, for those people, to stab others in the belly with the fish-knife? …but anyway, there are people who think that capoeira is a falling fight. So from 1918 to 1936, I, Mestre Bimba, challenged all the tough guys and won: The longest fight was one minute and two seconds. Then my life changed. I abandoned my work at the docks, I abandoned everything, and took another course in life.
What’s the fundamental difference between capoeira regional and capoeira angola?
The only good thing the capoeira angola players had was their courage. So what would happen? A 12-year-old or 15-year-old kid – or even a 20-year-old – when he learned how to fight, in those days, the tendency was to buy a gun or knife. So this means that it wasn’t a sport. And the person who took Brazil’s capoeira out from the nails of the police, besides God, was me…
In other words, Mestre Bimba, capoeira angola was the style that put a razor on the end of the berimbau?
Well done. You said it.
Did you have a deep knowledge of capoeira angola before creating regional?
I taught capoeira angola for ten years. Then I started to teach regional. And I started to earn money. But I’m a poor man. I have a lot of friends, though. The richest men of Bahia passed through my hands. If I were to list all their names, it would take the whole afternoon.
With so many good people, giving classes even to Governors (which you did, didn’t you?), how is it that you had to leave Bahia due to financial problems?
This is what happens in Bahia: if you show up and ask for [financial] help to throw a party, a Carnival festival, or anything having to do with partying, it’s good. But if it’s to cure, to teach, to help an academy, and for the good of the people, you can’t find resources.
How many capoeira groups are there in Bahia?
I can’t even count them. At first there was just mine, and now there are around 38.
Do you think that the invasion of tourists is ruining Bahia?
When I put on folkloric shows in Bahia, I was always highly praised. But now, these days, there is a lot of falsification. Capoeira is a fight for men (and also for women, it depends). But in order to make money, “Capoeira of Love” has even been invented. The woman lies down, and the man flips over the palm of her hand, and they grab each other and roll away… I wasn’t the one who taught that.
The music used in capoeira – perhaps because it’s based on the berimbau – seems boring and repetitive. Is this really true?
The berimbau has eight toques (rhythms). In one roda, one, two, or eight toques may be played… in other words: it’s not an instrument that has the range of a guitar and other instruments. But it’s satisfying. The rule is one berimbau and two pandeiros.
Did maculelê come from capoeira, or did it originate separately?
No, maculelê has nothing to do with capoeira. The legend of maculelê came from the Indians who lived in Brazil. One tribe fought with another. So, there was a hero in one tribe who won the battle with two pieces of wood. Hence the name: Maculelê.
There are some variations of samba: Samba-Duro, Samba-de-Roda… What are these sambas like?
Samba-de-Roda (Samba in a Circle) is only done with women, with girls. Samba-Duro (Hard Samba) is a takedown samba, a batuque samba – it’s rougher. It’s a samba for men, it’s dancing and knocking the other guy down. Samba-de-Roda, if you’ll excuse me, is just for the girls to shake their hips.
There’s a large African influence on all the musical and dance traditions of Bahia. Are there also Portuguese and indigenous influences on Bahian folklore?
In addition to batuque and these versions of samba, there was something called Rancho Feliz, which no longer exists and was absorbed into the folklore. So all that was created by the women fit for samba. It was from those women that Samba-de-Roda was learned.
Mestre, there’s a French dance that developed around 1650, called “Savata.” Is there any similarity between that dance and capoeira? It’s also both a dance and a martial art, and uses the feet and the hands as in capoeira – although it doesn’t use any musical instruments. Could this “Savata” have influenced capoeira?
I don’t think so. Because Savata was created by foreigners, and capoeira by Brazilians. There are similarities, but it has nothing to do with capoeira. It’s just a coincidence.
Is there any capoeira in Angola today?
There was never capoeira in Angola. There are two writers from Rio de Janeiro who say that capoeira came from Africa. But no. It was created in Brazil, in the slave quarters, on the plantations, where the blacks worked. So that when they were pursued by the so-called “Captain of the Bush” [the official sent to recapture runaway slaves], they defended themselves with kicks and sweeps. In theory, that’s the legend of capoeira, which existed in 1918 when my father created the Dance-of-Batuque and I created capoeira regional.
This is a different topic. There has been much commentary lately about the “deformation” of the city of Salvador, mainly because of tourism and the construction of highways, opening of avenues, etc. They even say that some houses caught on fire just after the city decided to open a new road through the area. What have you observed about this problem?
Frankly, I don’t know much about that. The only thing that I saw happen was the fire at the Mercado Modelo, which they say was traditional in Bahia. Every year the government wanted to build something there, until finally it ended up catching fire.
What do you think of Caetano Veloso?
Frankly, I have nothing to say about him. He works in one area and I work in another.
You said earlier that you’d left Bahia for financial reasons. How is your condition here?
I was brought here to Goiânia by Professor Osvaldo de Souza, who was my student and is like a son to me. I’m leaning on him and waiting to be helped by the authorities here. So I’m enjoying the good land – to say it better, I’ve never seen more beautiful women! The girls here are great! My God, why am I so old?!
My future is here in Goiânia. My wife received the responsibility of Caretaker… they call it “Spirit-Mother” – but the real name is Caretaker of Charm. There has never been a candomblé here in Goiânia and I want to create one. My wife is the best Caretaker of Bahia. Many people who can’t be cured by doctors are often healed in candomblé. Because it could be a problem of the spirit. Sometimes a person has a haunted life, an inconsistency with things, has a hard time getting up, and nothing they do is successful… so with prayers and other things, my wife can save this person. Is my wife beautiful? She’s gorgeous! I’m black but she’s lighter-skinned.
My future here in Goiânia is to teach. Capoeira, Samba-de-Roda, Samba-Duro and Batuque, which no longer exists in Brazil. These are the things I want to do.