Oct 28 2011

Mestres João Grande and João Pequeno play in 1968

Check out these two clips of Mestres João Pequeno and João Grande playing in 1968. The first is an excerpt from the movie “Dança de Guerra” directed by Jair Moura. Mestres João Grande and João Pequeno play, while Mestres Noronha and Maré sing. Posted on YouTube by Teimosia.

The second clip shows Mestres João Pequeno and João Grande playing in the lower city, by the Elevador Lacerda in Salvador. It is an excerpt from “O Pulo de Gato” – to purchase the video, contact the Capoeira Angola Center of Mestre João Grande in New York. Posted on YouTube by struendo2.

Oct 28 2011

Quotes from Mestre Pastinha – 1967

Translated by Shayna McHugh from the article It’s a fight, it’s a dance, it’s capoeira by Roberto Freire in Revista Liberdade – February 1967. Here are some quotes attributed to Mestre Pastinha:

“One day, I wrote everything that I think about capoeira on that plaque on the door of my Academy. On top, only three words: Angola, capoeira, mother. And underneath, the thought: ‘Sorcery of slaves longing for liberty, its beginning has no method and its end is inconceivable to the wisest capoeirista.'”

“There are so many stories about the beginning of capoeira that no one knows what is true and what is not. The story of the ‘zebra game’ is one of them. It is said that long ago – centuries even – in Angola, they would have a yearly celebration to honor the girls who were entering adolescence. First they were operated on by the priests, thus becoming equal to the married women. Then, while the people sang, the men fought like zebras, giving kicks and headbutts. The winners were rewarded with being able to choose the most beautiful women.”

“Well, there is one thing that no one doubts: it was the Africans from Angola who taught us capoeira. It’s possible that it used to be very different from the capoeira of today. They tell me that there are written records proving this. I believe it. Everything changes. But that which we call Capoeira de Angola, that which I learned, I didn’t allow it to change here in my Academy. This capoeira is at least 78 years old. And it will live past 100, because my students pull for me. Their eyes are now mine. They know that they must continue. They know that this art is good for self-defense.”

“When I was ten years old – I was skinny and weak – another boy who was bigger than me became my rival. All I had to do was go out on the street – to go to the store, for example – and we would get caught up in a fight. I just know that I always got beaten up by him. So I would cry in secret from shame and sadness.”

“One day, an old African watched our fight from the window of his house. ‘Come here, my son,’ he told me, seeing that I cried from rage after getting beaten up. ‘You can’t beat him, you know, because he’s bigger and older. In your spare time, come to my house and I will teach you something of great value.’ This is what he told me, and I went.”

“He would always say: ‘Don’t provoke, boy, make him aware of what you know very slowly.’ The last time the kid attacked me, I made him aware of the only blow that I could do. And he stopped being my rival, and even became my friend from admiration and respect.”

“When I was 12 years old, I went to Sailors’ School. There, I taught capoeira to my peers. Everyone called me 110. I left the Navy when I was 20 years old. It was a hard life. Because I was young and poor, I sometimes had the Police after me for street fights and whatnot. When they tried to catch me, I would remember Mestre Benedito and defend myself. They knew that I played capoeira, so they wanted to humiliate me in public. So there were times when I beat up rude policemen, but it was to defend my body and my morale. In that era, from 1910 to 1920, the game was free.”

“I started to work at a gambling house. To maintain order. But even though I was a capoeirista, I was never without a 12-inch, double-bladed knife. Professional capoeira players in those days were always armed. Whoever was among them without any weapons was a damned fool. I saw a lot of commotion, some blood, but I don’t like to tell about fights that I was involved in. Anyway, I only worked when I couldn’t earn a living from my art. Besides the gambling house, I worked as a shoe shiner, I sold newspapers, I was a gold prospector, I helped build the port of Salvador. All temporary jobs; I always wanted to live from my art. My art was being a painter.”

“There were only mestres in the roda. The most experienced of the mestres was Amorzinho, a civil guard. When he shook my hand, he offered to put me in charge of an academy. I declined, but all the mestres insisted. They said that I was the best one to lead the Academy and preserve Capoeira Angola over time.”

“Leave from the Academy here knowing everything. Knowing that the martial art is very cunning and full of cleverness, that we have to be calm. Capoeira is not an attacking martial art, it waits. The good capoeirista is obligated to cry at the foot of his attacker. He is crying, but his eyes and spirit are active. Capoeiristas don’t like hugs or handshakes; it’s always better to distrust polite gestures. Capoeiristas don’t turn a corner with their body open and unprotected. You have to take two or three steps to the right or the left to observe your enemy. Don’t enter through the door of a house where the hallway is dark. Either have some way to light up the darkness or don’t go in. If you are in the street and you see that you are being watched, disguise it, turn around quickly and look at the guy again. Well, if he’s still looking, he is an enemy and the capoeirista prepares himself for whatever comes.”

“Capoeira de Angola can only be taught without forcing the person’s natural expression. The important thing is to take advantage of the free and individual movements of each person. No one fights like me, but in my students’ games is all the knowledge that I learned. Each one is an individual. The berimbau cannot be forgotten. Berimbau is the primitive mestre. It teaches by its sound. It gives vibration and swing to our bodies. The percussive orchestra with the berimbau isn’t a modern thing; it’s fundamental. The good capoeirista, besides playing capoeira, must know how to play berimbau and sing. And to play without dirtying his clothes, without touching your body to the ground. When I play, people think ‘the old guy is drunk,’ because I make my body all my body all floppy and rickety, looking like I’m going to fall. But no one has put me on the ground yet, and no one will.”

Source: Capoeira-Infos.org

Oct 28 2011

Interview with Mestre Paulo dos Anjos

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!

Oct 28 2011

Mestre Pelé: The “Golden Throat” of Bahia

Written by Lúcia Correia Lima
Translation into English by Shayna McHugh

“Iêêêêêêêê!” Whoever hears the call of Natalício Neves da Silva (Mestre Pelé) along with the first notes of the berimbau, never forgets it. His expressive voice is capable of taking us through 500 years of history and making us aware of the liberating power that the Capoeira roda represents.

Mestre Pelé was born in 1934, in the days when Capoeira was played on weekends and holidays. He was part of a generation divided between the marginalized Capoeira of the street and the institutionalized Capoeira of the academies.

First roda

As a child, Pelé helped his father in the battle for survival. He made charcoal, he harvested manioc, and he worked the earth. Later, he would sell his wares in the Bahian capital. This was how he arrived at the ramp of the Mercado Modelo, next to the church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia, where he encountered Capoeira.

“I saw Capoeira when I was 12 years old, when I would go to the popular festivals of the Bahian recôncavo. I went with my father to Muritiba, São Félix, and Cachoeira to sell charcoal. At the end of the day, the ‘lords’ of the whole region would arrive and start to play for fun. It was the people who gave the capoeirista the title of mestre, and the title would be disputed right there in the game, the hard game,” he recalls. It was in one of these rodas that Pelé claims to have met the legendary Besouro Mangangá. He confirms the legend: “He could disappear when he wanted to.”


For the mestre, it was between the church of Conceição and the ramp of the Mercado that the best Capoeira rodas of the era took place. He remembers people such as Waldemar da Liberdade, Caiçara, Zacarias, Traíra, Angolinha, Avani, Bel and Del (brothers), Onça Preta, Sete Mola, Cabelo Bom and Bom Cabelo (twins), and Bugalho, who mesmerized him with his agility.

“There were many important people in those days besides Bimba and Pastinha. Their students didn’t play much in the street. They avoided it because of the fights that broke out; they didn’t want to damage their reputations. The shit would hit the fan and the police on horseback would come to scatter the capoeiristas and end the rodas. The capoeiristas, in turn, beat up the police. Bimba and Pastinha wanted to evolve beyond that, to do away with that image of Capoeira.”

Street Capoeira

The majority of the capoeiristas in that generation learned in the big rodas of the Mercado Modelo and in the street festivals, which began with the festival of Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia – in the heart of the lower city, next to the Elevador Lacerda – on the first day of December and went until the 8th day of the same month. Then there was the festival of Santa Luzia, attended by the dock workers, many of whom were capoeiristas.

“It was the whole day: swimming in the sea, samba de roda, samba de viola – which was a tradition. All the rhythms came from the Bahian recôncavo. In these festivals, the best mestres of Capoeira and the best berimbau players came together. It was at one of these that I began to play instruments and sing,” he remembers.

It was Bugalho, a porter, who taught the boy to ginga in the sands of Preguiça Beach during his free time. “I followed the tradition of my mestre, Bugalho, a great berimbau player. He was one of the best, he really played São Bento Grande well, especially on nights with moonlight. We would sit in the sands of the beach, and when he played, you could hear him in the upper city.”

In addition to the rodas in Liberdade on Sunday afternoons, which the civil guard Zacarias Boa Morte “looked after,” Pelé played in the rodas of Waldemar da Liberdade, in a shack made of straw and circled with a bamboo fence. “I was quick, I had good footwork. They didn’t pay me to play in the roda. And when I would arrive in the rodas in the invasion of Corta Braço, in the Pero Vaz neighborhood, Mestre Waldemar would say, ‘Here comes Satan!'”


Pelé taught Capoeira for 25 years, including teaching in the Fifth Battalion of the Military Police. “In those days, it was common for the police to train Capoeira.” In addition, Mestre Pelé participated in important folkloric groups like Viva Bahia. He performed with Mestre Canjiquinha’s group in the Belvedere da Praça da Sé, where he did shows for tourists of Capoeira, maculelê, puxada de rede, and samba de roda.

Smiling a lot, Pelé explains that “in Capoeira, everything comes out of the ginga. Ginga, molejo, and flexibility are important for the capoeirista, for both defense and attack. Capoeira is also a dance: there is the meia-lua de compasso, a low movement that is different from the rabo de arraia (faster and higher); the ponteira, a blow with the tip of the foot that aims for the jaw; the martelo, hitting the shoulder, the ponta de costela, which is a lower martelo; the benção, which aims for the chest; the giratório – the capoeirista falls back and escapes while turning; the parafuso, a turn on the ground with the head; the crabwalk, a forward and backward movement with the stomach to the air and te feet open; canivete – with one of the hands on the ground, the whole body curles in the direction of the hands; relógio, in which you spin on a queda de rim; the mule kick, which is falling forward on your two hands and lifting up both feet, etc.”


Mestre Pelé stopped playing Capoeira for twenty years. He was brought back to the rodas by a project to rescue and respect the old mestres, created by the Brazilian Capoeira Angola Association. Today, he is part of the association’s Council of Mestres and participates in important events. He sang at the burials of the mestres Caiçara, Bom Cabrito, and Zacarias Boa Morte, and at the seventh-day mass for Caiçara.

In the association, Pelé wants to make possible a retirement plan for mestres who are over 65 years old and have over 35 years in Capoeira. “A government official has already voted in favor of retirement for mães and pais de santo [priests of candomblé] who, like the capoeiristas, had their activities prohibited and persecuted. In addition, we will prove that Capoeira Angola is popular culture, and not a martial art,” concludes the singer.

Source: Revista Capoeira

Oct 28 2011

Interview with Mestre Ananias

Source: Capoeira4all

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.

Oct 28 2011

These days Waldemar only plays berimbau, but don’t be fooled

Written by Cristina Cardoso

This article is from the newspaper Diário de Notícias in Salvador. It was published on October 10, 1970 and reprinted in the book O Barracão do Mestre Waldemar by Frederico Abreu. Translation into English by Shayna McHugh

Mestre Waldemar do Pero Vaz, besides making the best berimbaus in Bahia, is a great capoeirista among the top experts of the past, having played with Pastinha, Bimba, Totonho Marê, and so many others.

Today he only plays on Sundays, when – wearing white shoes, white pants, a plaid shirt, gold rings and watch – he returns to the old days of his favorite sport. He talks enthusiastically about capoeira, without speaking badly of any capoeirista, without speaking badly of anyone. These days he has exchanged capoeira for the berimbau, which he makes with much care and affection, and challenges: “They’re the best in Bahia, yes ma’am, and I bet that I can beat any capoeirista or berimbau player in playing or singing.”

A great capoeirista, Waldemar Rodrigues da Paixão, mestre Waldemar of Pero Vaz, where he has lived since 1940, did not become a professional, nor did he establish an academy. But he made a name for himself and attracted students in the community of capoeira, which he brought from Ilha de Maré to show that it’s not just the city of Salvador that has good capoeira players.

Showing a colorful berimbau painted with yellow, green, white, and red stripes and decorated with various Senhor do Bonfim ribbons, he says, “This is Ãs de Ouro, my favorite berimbau, which I’ve kept with me for six years; from it I get the rhythms to call the men for a fight of honor in the fields of angola. Whoever doesn’t believe it should come see.”

Mortal Blow

Capoeira is not a death-fight, and its only mortal blow was created by Waldemar, who says: “The Dentinho de Angola (little tooth of angola) can kill, yes ma’am. The movement involves curving the body and lifting the heel of your shoe to the opponent’s Adam’s apple. It’s my ‘pulo de gato.'” [Pulo de gato means ‘cat’s leap’ It is an expression referring to a professional secret, a trick of the trade, a trump card that one keeps up one’s sleeve.]

But today, mestre Waldemar is tired and only plays for fun. Even so, he denies that capoeira is in crisis, saying, “Currently, capoeira is evolving, winning attention. Look, there are even guys seeking me out to do a news report about capoeira. In the old days it wasn’t like this at all. A capoeirista was a delinquent, a tough guy who messed around with the police. Today even refined people practice angola.”

White Suit

Mestre Waldemar doesn’t know capoeira regional. For him, there exists only capoeira angola, created in Brazil. Even so, he states: “I don’t exactly know how capoeira started. It didn’t happen in my lifetime, and I’m not going to tell lies or say that I knew people who I never even saw. What I know for sure is that capoeira is different. In the old days, we played wearing starched white suits and impeccable shoes, and we didn’t get dirty. That is, unless the opponent was disloyal and stuck his foot onto us. But that was playing dirty; it’s not like today, where capoeiristas grab each other with their hands. In my time, capoeira was played only with the feet and head, in a fight of agility and quickness. The important thing was to have a good head and fast feet.”

With Caymmi

“I’ve only been in Rio de Janeiro once,” continues Mestre Waldemar, “but it was worth it. It was in 1953, when I performed in Dorival Caymmi’s show. ‘It just so happens that I’m Bahian,’ and I stayed there for 45 days, you know, as the opportunities arose and I gave my price for the presentation. Then other capoeiristas came along who charged less, and they crossed my path, and that was the end of my trip.”

A student of mestre Telabi from Periperi, Waldemar do Pero Vaz is a peaceful capoeirista who doesn’t criticize anyone; he has nothing but praise for the great capoeiristas of the past: “Agripino de Periperi, Pastinha, Totonho de Maré, Barbosa do Cabeça (a porter, the capoeirista with the best technique I’ve ever seen), Onça Preta who went to Rio de Janeiro and I don’t know if he’s alive or dead.”

Berimbau and Music

Today, Waldemar do Pero Vaz dedicates himself more to the berimbaus and rhythms; he also writes songs. One of them even talks about going to the moon:

Eu já vivo enjoado I am sick
De viver aqui na terra Of living here on Earth
Mamãe eu vou pra lua Mom, I’m going to the moon
Já falei com minha mulher I’ve spoken with my wife
E ela me respondeu And she replied to me
Nós vamos se Deus quiser We’ll go if God wants us to

Waldemar points to the capoeiristas of the future who have been his students: José Cabelo Bom and Zacarias Boa Morte, who will continue his tradition. “But what I want to do right now is make berimbaus, instruments with such a lovely sound, commanding angola, with Cavalaria, São Bento Grande, São Bento Pequeno.” He says, “whoever wants to see me should come to Pero Vaz on Sunday, when I’ll give one of my berimbaus as an homage to mestre Caiçara.”


“The great tragedy,” concludes mestre Waldemar, “is that Bahia is stuffed with capoeira mestres and no one understands each other any more. But the people are the eternal and infallible judges that will determine who are the true mestres, the keepers of the truth. But what’s worse is that each mestre speaks badly about the others; there is no unity, no one thinks that the group should be united. Look at the example of doctors: a patient is being treated, one doctor gives him medicine and the sick man ends up in the cemetery. Another doctor examines him, sees that the medicine caused the death, asks who treated the patient, but doesn’t ridicule his colleague. They’re a united group. But these capoeiristas just fight among themselves.”

Oct 28 2011

Quotes from Mestre Curió

Source: Jornal Capoeira
Translation into English: Shayna McHugh 

Mestre Curió (Jaime Martins dos Santos) was born in 1939. He was a student of Pastinha, and he continues to teach and spread capoeira angola.

“Capoeira is art, dance, malícia, philosophy, trickery, theater, music, and choreography, but not violence. It only becomes dangerous at the necessary moment.”

“There are many parts of mandinga. There’s the mandinga of black magic and the mandinga of the capoeirista’s cleverness, when he can really call himself a capoeirista. That’s what mandinga is: it’s wisdom, it’s being able to hit your adversary but not doing so; you show that you didn’t hit him because you didn’t want to.”

“The student is the reflection of the mestre and the mestre the reflection of the student.”

“The student does not compete with the mestre and the mestre who has respect does not compete with the student.”

“The capoeirista doesn’t have to hit in order to show his skill.”

“When I die, I give my soul to capoeira.”

“My father always taught me that we shouldn’t teach everything we know, because if we do, the students will leave.”

“The capoeirista is calm. For the angoleiro, ‘slowly’ is still hurrying.”

“The only time I ever hurried was to be born, since I was born two months early.”

“There are people who are big and strong, who do three years of capoeira and title themselves mestres. Some of them are graduated by a plane trip, when they arrive in another country and claim to be mestres. Since no one knows them, everyone believes them. These people damage our work.”

“I’ve practiced capoeira for 56 years and I still know nothing; my father is 102 years old and he still says he has no clue. There are ‘Ph.D.s’ who have five years of capoeira training and say that they already know ‘both styles.'”

Oct 28 2011

Lecture on Mestre Pastinha and Capoeira Angola

These are my notes from a lecture given by Mestres Bola Sete and Gildo Alfinete
at the Brazilian Capoeira Angola Association in Salvador, on October 25th, 2006. 

Mestre Gildo Alfinete began the lecture by showing some photographs of Pastinha from his personal archives, pointing out the umbrella hanging from Pastinha’s arm in many of them. He said that Pastinha carried an umbrella with him wherever he went, rain or shine, to be used as a weapon in the case of an emergency. (Interesting note: Mestre Decânio, in The Heritage of Mestre Bimba, says that Bimba did the same thing!)

Mestre Gildo dispelled some of the besteiras (stupid things) that some people say about Mestre Pastinha, such as that he did not play the berimbau or sing – he did. There is also some confusion on the relationship between Pastinha and Canjiquinha, with some saying that the latter taught the former, which is completely wrong. Pastinha taught the capoeirista Aberrê (Raimundo Argolo) from 1910-1912; Aberrê was Pastinha’s first student and later became very famous; he frequented rodas in various places, used a navalha (straight razor) and was very respected. Aberrê then taught Canjiquinha.

Pastinha discovered Canjiquinha in a roda on the Baixa dos Sapateiros, liked his game, and asked him who his mestre was. When Canjiquinha responded that his mestre was Aberrê, Pastinha took in Canjiquinha and made him contra-mestre of the bateria. Aberrê was also the person who brought Pastinha back to capoeira (Pastinha was inactive from the years 1912-1941) by bringing him to the roda at Gengibirra, where the general consensus of mestres passed the command of this roda to Pastinha.

Pastinha had his students wear a uniform so that the capoeira group would look like an organized practice. The colors were black and yellow, which were the colors of his favorite soccer team, Ypiranga. He even had a quarrel with Paulo Silva, the man responsible for officially registering Pastinha’s center in 1952, because Silva wanted to change the colors to white and red – the colors of the Botafogo soccer team.

Pastinha taught his students one by one, with the others watching. His bateria, from the right to left (when sitting in the bateria) consisted of three berimbaus, 1-2 pandeiros, a small atabaque, agogô, and reco-reco.

The reason Pastinha was abandoned by his students in his last years was that his last wife, Dona Alice, was extremely hard to get along with, and drove Pastinha’s students away. 

Mestre Bola Sete added a few general observations on the state of capoeira angola: that today some people are saying that capoeira angola is non-contact, when in the old days the games were really rough. As for the people who wore all white in the roda, the point was not to avoid touching them and dirtying their white clothing – the point was to TRY to dirty their clothes, and they were so good in escaping all the blows that their clothing remained impeccable! Also, in Pastinha’s academy each of the students had a different, unique style of playing; today many angoleiros are all playing the same way.

Mestre Bola Sete called capoeira Brazilian since it arose on Brazilian soil, although its roots are African. He also explained that the term “angola” did not arise, as some claim, in the 1930s in order to differentiate the traditional capoeira from Bimba’s style. We find the term “capoeira de angola” in manuscripts from 1920 and earlier. The “angola” referred to the fact that the practitioners of capoeira were mainly Africans from the Angolan region.

Finally, Mestre Bola Sete advised that there should be no rush to learn the mandinga of capoeira; it is something that comes to the capoeirista naturally, and with time.

Oct 28 2011

Interview with Mestre Waldemar

Written by Luiz Renato Vieira
From Capoeira Magazine #7, year II (pages 46-50)
Translation into English: Shayna McHugh
Source: http://eulanet.sites.uol.com.br

By writing about Mestre Waldemar da Liberdade, also known as Waldemar da Paixão and Waldemar do Pero Vaz, we face the difficulty of tackling the life of a great capoeirista, someone who had the same status as Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha. So we want to make it clear that we don’t intend to trace, except in general lines, the biography of this great figure. We will only detail some points in order to reveal a little of his personality to the newest capoeiristas and to those who did not have the opportunity to see him play, sing, and speak of capoeira.

For this, we will use some references to Waldemar from the literature, but our main source is the interview he recorded 1989 for a project developed by the Minister of Education, in which I had the opportunity to participate, together with other capoeiristas and researchers such as Mestre Itapoan and Mestre Ezequiel. On that occasion, Mestre Waldemar, 71 years old and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, received us in his house with all the kindness and simplicity that characterizes the Bahian people. It was one of the most unique and important moments in my life.

We’ve seen that the attention of the capoeira community has awoken to Mestre Waldemar’s life and enormous contribution to the development of our art-fight. A good indicator of that is the songs sung in the rodas, many of which refer to the importance of this man, who for a long time was almost forgotten by us capoeiristas.

Little by little, we break the limits of the Mestre Bimba/Mestre Pastinha duality in search of other real persons, with extremely rich histories and stories about their daily lives and their lives in capoeira. In the book Bahia: images of the land and of the people, published in 1964, Odorico Tavares describes a Sunday afternoon roda in Mestre Waldemar’s shed in Corta-Braço, on the Estrada da Liberdade, highlighting the mestre’s qualities as a singer:

With the instrument players at his side, the mestre raises his voice, beginning the song. Two capoeira players are crouched in front of him. The song that the mestre sings as a solo is slow, and the capoeiristas accompany him with even slower movements, like snakes that begin to move: watch carefully, as these men don’t even have bones; their limbs appear to receive an almost imperceptible impulse, from the inside to the outside. (…) The men perform defenses and attacks that follow each other in unexpected seconds, all without touching each other. It is a miracle that the violence of an attack results in another attack, that no one is touched, no one is injured, no one is insulted. It is combat, it is ballet that lasts two hours.

Mestre Waldemar, who began the practice of capoeira in 1936 at 20 years old, was a student of Canário Pardo, Peripiri, Talabi, Siri-de-Mangue and Ricardo of Ilha de Maré: “I asked those men to teach me, so that I could become professional. So that I could say that I knew, and now I know. I learned capoeira,” stated the mestre. He began to teach capoeira in 1940, the year in which the demonstrations on the Estrada da Liberdade began: “Earlier, it was in open air. Later I made a shed of straw and the capoeiristas of Bahia all came there to play.”

Little by little, Mestre Waldemar’s roda became one of the most important meeting points for Bahian capoeiristas. Other capoeira meeting places were, as we stated in the previous article, the Alto de Amaralina, where Mestre Bimba organized Sunday rodas; the traditional Largo do Pelourinho, where capoeira occurred under the direction of Mestre Pastinha; and  Chame-Chame, where the also-famous roda of Mestre Cobrinha Verde occurred. Waldemar tells us a little about the personages of the old rodas, speaking of the “tough guys”:

“There were some who played with a hat that had a razor hidden in it. They bought a hat at the store, and they didn’t make a zig-zag on the top, nothing. They used it just the way that it came. The hat had a round top, where the razor was held with a strip of rubber. I played with a hat, but I didn’t use any weapons. I didn’t want to use those things. I always wanted to stay out of brawls, out of trouble. (…) I hold this value even today. Everyone appreciates me, everyone likes me. If you go here and there, you won’t find anyone who speaks badly of me, in any subject. I know how to treat everyone well, I don’t mistreat anyone.”

It is interesting to observe that in the old capoeira rodas – and the literature confirms this – eventually conflicts provoked by those called “tough guys” occurred. But these figures experienced the environment of capoeira within determined limits, above all respecting the oldest and most well-known as mestres. Respect for the mestre is, truly, a distinguishing characteristic of the good tradition of capoeira, and we see the old mestres speak proudly of the position that they achieved in the rodas of their time:

“I didn’t have trouble with anyone because I was always respected; no one ever challenged me. If a mestre who appeared here challenged me to play, I used my head to think of a way to resolve it (…) My students respected me very much. And there was no trouble because I saw them this way. They came to my feet and no one fought.”

The mestre became emotional upon telling his story, and the emotion was strongest when he told us about the times when he played:

“When I was playing, I would tell the orchestra: play angola dobrado. It is entangled, no one does a flip. It is one player inside the other, passing through, arming a tesoura, playing low. It seems that I will play. I played a lot. (…) I liked playing slow, so that I know what I’m doing. You will go by my song. I sing for any kid to play, and he plays perfectly. For my students I say that I will sing and they already know what I want: São Bento Pequeno. It is my first toque. To the other instrument player I say: ‘From high to low,’ and he knows that it is São Bento Grande. To the viola I say: improvise, and he makes the viola cry out.”

Thus, little by little we try to transport ourselves to that universe of the traditional rodas, in which the figure of the mestre was almost sacred, respected by all for his knowledge and his qualities demonstrated in the roda, in the toque of the musical instruments and in the songs. Mestre Waldemar, besides being a great player, was also known as being one of the greatest singers of Bahian capoeira:

“I still have pride in my throat, for singing my ladainhas. Songs of capoeira angola. I didn’t find anyone who sang more than me. I still don’t.”

When asked about how the capoeira “orchestra” was formed, the mestre told us:

“First a good berimbau playing. Three berimbaus: a berra-boi, a viola, and a gunga. Later – this is a new trend – the atabaque appeared, but it used to be three pandeiros, three berimbaus, and a reco-reco. And the instrument that accompanies the berimbau, to help the berimbau, the caxixi, and there was the agogô. Later on they put the atabaque in capoeira rodas, but we didn’t used to have that.”

An observation about that passage: we know that we cannot establish a strict standard about how the old capoeira rodas were organized in terms of musical instrumentation; this is confirmed by the testimonies of other old mestres such as Caiçara, Bobó, Canjiquinha, Ferreirinha and others. We understand these differences, as we state elsewhere in this magazine, as inherent in popular culture (of which capoeira is part). We cannot forget that improvisation is also an essential characteristic of capoeira.

The richness of the old capoeira traditions is found in its ethical and cultural values and fundamentals, which are much more important than details such as the exact number of each instrument that the mestres chose to use in their rodas.

Another comment that can be made about the passage above regards the use of the atabaque: it is known that the atabaque’s association to the practice of capoeira precedes that of the berimbau, as can be seen, for example, in the drawing of Rugendas published in 1835. In this drawing, capoeira appears with a drum, but there is no berimbau.

However, it is probable that the practice of capoeira in the streets as a popular pastime had, for practical reasons, occurred for many years without the use of atabaques. That could explain Mestre Waldemar’s reference to the use of the atabaque as a “new trend.”

Returning, then, to the testimony of the mestre of Liberdade, we have an important account about how his classes occurred. There is a tendency to think that in the circles of traditional capoeira, learning was restricted to informal experience with the mestre. It’s true that the systemization of capoeira classes, with more rigorous teaching methods, originated in capoeira regional. However, among the oldest mestres of capoeira angola there were various and interesting ways to pass on their knowledge in the 1930s and 40s.

Regarding this topic, Mestre Waldemar informed us that, during teaching situations, he signaled to his students with gestures, determining the movements that they must do:

“I taught in the roda, but there were also training days. They would play and I would make a signal to do tesoura, I would make a signal to do chibata. I would make a signal for the other player to duck.”

Mestre Waldemar thus gave continuity to the tradition of teaching capoeira angola as he learned it with various mestres, as we stated earlier. Referring to his learning with Siri-de-Mangue, an old capoeirista of Santo Amaro, Waldemar told us:

“He went around and said, ‘grab the mouth of my pants leg.’ I used to get up to grab it and he would turn around in that amazing trick and do a rabo-de-arraia. When I would get up he would say: ‘No, don’t get up, here comes another!’ His students played with us as if we were already good. In that time there was capoeira.”

Observations of this nature are very important in this moment of capoeira’s great growth in the sporting, school, and university arenas, when many of the new researchers and professors (often because of difficulty accessing the historical information) focus on elaborating teaching methods in some cases without taking advantage of all the knowledge accumulated in old traditions.

Oct 28 2011

Interview with Mestre João Grande

Interview with Poloca conducted on Wednesday, September 1, 2004, at Ponta de Areia / Itaparica. Translated by Shayna McHugh, October 2005
Source: Nzinga website

Expressing in words the emotions felt in these last fifteen days of August, during Mestre João Grande’s majestic passage through the city of Salvador, can seem difficult if we choose our words too carefully. On the other hand, the task becomes easy if we allow simplicity and sincerity to guide our feelings. Mestre João Grande is simple in his innocent profundity and in the precision of his movements. Despite being such a celebrity, he was one of our mestres there earlier, blessing us with his Ngunzo (strength/force) and baptizing our land with his mandinga.

I had the privilege of being with him in many situations, in both public places and in more personal situations. He arrived on Thursday, August 12th and made contact with Paulinha and myself, saying that he wanted to visit Grupo Nzinga on Sunday 15th at 2:00 P.M., taking advantage of a break in his agenda. On Saturday the 14th, he went to Mestre René’s roda in the afternoon. At night, he went to Mestre Moraes’ and also Mestre João Pequeno’s rodas. He went to a thousand rodas. On Sunday at two o’clock, he was there in Nzinga, ready for yet another capoeira roda.

He is a happy person, and we laughed a lot together. We had a small, intimate roda. There was no parade of vanities. It was pure positive energy. At the end, the general feeling was that everyone was even happier than when they arrived, including the Mestre. From there, we went to the Terreiro Tanuri Junsara (Angola); it was a party for “Tempo.” It was a time of pure enchantment, since the party was one of the most beautiful ever. According to Mestre João Grande, it was one of the most unforgettable moments of his trip.

Wednesday, August 18th was my birthday, but we did a commemorative roda the following day at seven o’clock in the evening. I asked Mestre João Grande to give me his presence at that roda as a birthday present. It seemed impossible, since he had to follow the schedule of the event that had brought him to Salvador. But I am lucky, and he was there on that day, arriving even before the other invited guests. There was a new explosion of joy, because it was a privilege to have him visit our space twice. That roda was very beautiful and joyful. Other famous people present included Mestre Valmir (FICA), CM Boca do Rio (Zimba), Cris (ACANNE), Marco Aurélio, Janaina, Linda, and others. At the end we even had birthday cake.

In the course of the following week, the Mestre went to enjoy the tranquility of his beautiful retreat on Itaparica Island.

I sensed in him the desire to infuse himself with the things of the land, the things of the daily life of the people, of religion, of the Bahian accent, of the simple things in life, whether the song of a bem-ti-vi bird in his backyard or the shout of the aipim vendor passing the door of his house, which is where I visited him and conducted the following interview. It’s too bad I can’t include the audio, with his bursts of laughter.

How did you discover capoeira angola? When did you first see capoeira?

It was the corta-capim! This is what happened: two guys about 19 years old passed in the street and did corta-capim. There were two men in the doorway of a store. Chico said to Pedro: “Pedro, that there is the dance of the Nagô negro. Do that movement to a person and the person will fall.”

The man who spoke stayed, and the one who listened went away. I stayed there listening to their whole conversation. I am very curious. I was ten years old at the time. Later, I asked the man who stayed: “What is the Nagô dance?” And he replied: “I don’t know; it’s the people who came from Africa, who work in the sugarcane mill.” And I left seeking to find out what corta-capim was.

I went on from there and I worked in a livestock ranch as a cowhand’s assistant, and as a farmhand planting beans, trees, rice, coffee, cocoa, everything. I worked in other jobs. I sought to know what corta-capim was, but no one told me. In 1953 I was twenty years old and I came to live in Salvador, on the street Amparo do Tororó, number 19. I lived there for a year working in the house of a family: sweeping the floors, washing the dishes, shopping, everything.

What family was this?

The man was named Edgar and the woman was named Julia.

Were they rich?

No, they were poor, but the husband worked as a peddler. I worked there for one year. Later I went to work with a Spaniard on the Avenida Vasco de Gama, in a cachaça warehouse. I lived in a little room in the back. I carried cachaça and vinegar. One day, I passed by the bridge that linked Tororó to Garcia, near the Roça do Lobo. Underneath the mango tree, there was a capoeira roda. I arrived there and met João Pequeno, Barbosa, Gordo, Cobrinha Verde, Tiburcinho, Manoel Carregador.

And the roda was going on. I saw the three sticks of the berimbaus. I asked Barbosa and João Pequeno: – What is this? And they replied: – This is capoeira! At exactly the moment I was asking, one guy did the corta-capim and I remembered from when I was ten years old. I asked where they learned and João Pequeno said that he would take me to the neighborhood of Brotas, where Mr. Pastinha gave classes.

How old were you at that time?

I was twenty years old. There, João Pequeno said:

– Mr. Pastinha, here is a guy who wants to learn capoeira.

He said: – Sit there. What’s your name?

– My name is João.

– What do you do?

– Well, I play soccer, I train…

Mr. Pastinha said: – leave all that behind, because it’s useless. Follow capoeira because you will grow in capoeira (he was exactly right!).

I thought: – This man knows nothing… (Laughter). I paid twenty mil-réis at the time and sat. Then all the old guys arrived: Traíra, Valdemar, Totonho de Maré, Livino, Daniel. All the people of the old guard.

And Mr. Pastinha went to play… it was after he played that I believed in his game. I thought: – This old guy knows things.

He told me: – Come train here on Tuesday.

Pastinha trained me, João Pequeno trained me. One day, the Mestre wanted to move to a bigger space and a dock worker arranged a mansion in the Pelourinho, number 19, where the Dance occurred every Saturday night. Dockers, workers, and common people came to this dance. I trained Tuesdays, Thursdays, and on Sundays was the roda. Little by little, the other old capoeiristas came to frequent the mansion.

Was everything you learned in capoeira in Mr. Pastinha’s class, or did you take classes with another Mestre?

Mestre Cobrinha Verde trained me in the morning, in his academy in Chame-chame. I went there on Sunday mornings. I practiced capoeira there in the morning. It was me, the late Gato Preto, Didi, Bom Cabrito, Rege de Santo Amaro…

So in other words, you drank from the fountain of Cobrinha Verde and also that of Mestre Pastinha?

Exactly. I used to stay with Cobrinha Verde until noon. Then I went home and grabbed a bite to eat. I went to Mestre Pastinha around 2:00 P.M. There, I ate meat. Traíra also gave me “things.” Valdemar gave me, the late Livino gave me, and Noronha gave me, all in words.

Did you also go to Mestre Waldemar’s hut?

I always went to Waldemar’s roda. The thing caught fire. Mercy! There were only snakes, experts, bred there. It was Evanir, Tatá, Bom Cabelo, Chita Macário, Sete Molas, Zacarias. All were extremely good. When I had three months of capoeira, they threw me out of that roda. Antonio Cabeceiro was as wicked as anything. I was playing with Evanir. Getting into the game with Evanir, and then he bought the game without me seeing, exactly at the time when I did a meia lua de costas without looking, and he threw me out of the roda, into the middle of the street. I didn’t even see it coming. I got all dirty and had to leave.

I went again on another Sunday. I went to see how Evanir played. I watched first, and went to play with him again. He entered and I gave him a rasteira; he retreated and returned the rasteira and I stepped on his leg, which ripped his pants from top to bottom. He went crazy afterwards… priiii they whistled to stop the roda. They had a whistle there.

Who was it that whistled, was it Mestre Waldemar?

No, it was an old guy who was there. He whistled to begin or end the games. There was a roda at Conceição da Praia on December 8th. Waldemar’s group arrived, and there were around ten of them. I walked with no one but God and my Saint. I entered and later Bom Cabelo bought in. I gave him a meia lua and he gave me a meia lua and I retreated and then gave him a cabeçada and he lightly gave a knee strike to my jaw. I closed my game and adjusted, adapted, and when he was careless I touched him with my head.

Then Evanir bought the game. There was still the debt from the barracão, and we did rolê, pá pá pá… we rolled here, we rolled there… I used sport shoes, without shoelaces. Mestre Pastinha always told me that when I entered, I should close my guard with my two arms protecting my stomach and chest. Then, Evanir entered in tesoura. I removed one of my arms from the guard in order to adjust the shoe that was almost falling off my foot, and at that moment Evanir turned rapidly and hit my face with the tip of his foot, in a chapa de frente just below my eye. It injured my face but the game continued.

Mestre Bugalho was on the berimbau with a lit cigar in the corner of his mouth. He played only accelerated São Bento Grande. I played here and there, I tumbled down and he fell over there and then the berimbau stopped. The bateria stopped. I went to go put salt on my eye, I cleaned the injury. Evanir and I were on bad terms for a year, without speaking to each other.

When I went to Carnaval, sometimes I hung around the Cantina da Lua restaurant, in the middle of the street. I went up there and they told me that Natividade, a student of Pastinha, was getting beaten up by Evanir in the roda. I went there. He saw me, stopped and asked: Who will play? Whoever wants to play with me can come. He stood there challenging.

I let him restart the game and then I went and bought in with him. Then it was a battle! He played low and didn’t get up. He did everything low. We played a full two hours, in the battle. And then after the game we congratulated each other and the bad terms ended and we became friends.

Mestre, which old capoeirista most impressed you playing capoeira? And which capoeirista of today?

Of the old ones, all of them. And of the newer ones, from 1950 on, I liked seeing Waldemar’s students: Diogo, Chita, Evanir. There was Virgílio…

Mestre Waldemar’s hut was frequented by great capoeiristas. In the book of the “capoeirologist” Frede Abreu – O Barracão do Mestre Waldemar – it’s said that those who went there armed had to leave their weapons at the entrance to the hut, in the hands of people who the Mestre trusted. Did you witness this scene as well?

I saw that often. I went to play with Chita, Macário, Diogo; those guys were good! Virgílio was also very good. There was a Cobrinha there who… gave an aú and from the aú got João Pequeno in a rasteira. He has passed away. They called him Cobrinha. In Pastinha’s academy I bought the game with him and he wanted to do this to me too and I threw him out. His father then bought the game with me. He was the son of Espinho Remoso. The three together: Cobrinha, Espinho Remoso, and Diogo were there. We played and I didn’t get him nor did he get me. It was a tough game that had no winner.

Do you notice any difference between the capoeira as it was played in the old times and the capoeira today?

Lots of difference! In the game, in the song, in the rhythm. Today ladainhas are almost never sung. Sometimes it’s just one at the beginning of the roda and that’s it. In the chula there are some verses that should not be forgotten: iê volta do mundo, que o mundo deu, que o mundo dá; iê menino é bom; iê é cabeceiro; iê é mandingueiro.

Capoeira is losing its roots because of these things. The pandeiros want to play louder than the atabaque, without respecting the hierarchy of the instruments. The rhythm is very fast. It makes the game accelerate and all the beauty of the game is lost. The game is only beautiful when you play to the rhythm of the berimbau. I used to play very beautifully when Waldemar played berimbau. We advanced and retreated and the berimbau kept the beat.

Today very few Mestres call the pair of capoeiristas to the foot of the berimbau to make an observation, give a hint, this type of thing. What do you think of that?

It’s true. They don’t call them. Sometimes one is stepping on the other’s clothes and even then the berimbau doesn’t call. Any little beating in the game, and the players should be called to the foot of the berimbau, they shake hands and begin again; nothing even has to be said, but they have to be called. We have to insist on the value of tradition.

How is it for you to teach Black Culture mainly to Americans?

Ah! I feel very satisfied. Very well. Capoeira is for the whole world. It is for men, women, and children. It is for black, red, blue, and yellow. It is in our blood. There are people who say: capoeira is for blacks… No. It is for whoever wants to learn. We are born with capoeira already in our bodies: whether white, black, red, or blue. Risadinha’s son is blonde and blue-eyed and everything, five years old and is already playing capoeira great. He plays with everyone there.

And Americans? Do they give much value to capoeira?

They give lots of value to capoeira. Mainly the women. They dedicate themselves very much. The men train too but not more than the women. In Europe when there is a capoeira event, as many women show up as men, and each one with her berimbau.

Why haven’t you formed Contra-Mestres or Treinels in your group?

Because the time has not yet arrived…

Do you remember women playing in the old days?

I saw one woman play… she was from Sergipe… in 1952, she played with Joel, student of the late Daniel. She was a short woman, wearing pants, and she played great.

After your experience of giving classes in the CECA (Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola) and in GCAP (Grupo de Capoeira Angola Pelourinho), what other experiences of teaching capoeira have you had here in Bahia?

When I left GCAP in 1987, after staying there for three years, I gave classes in Docas, in a partnership with the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios in which I taught 70 youths. For this to happen I counted on the help of Frede Abreu, Mestre Itapoan, and César Barbieri.

You remained at least five years separated from capoeira. What role did GCAP have in your return?

Well, GCAP gave strength to bring the old Mestres back again. Those meetings and workshops with the old guys made capoeira grow. There was a period when GCAP also helped me with expenses.

Do you think it is easier or harder to teach capoeira in the United States?

For me it’s the same thing. It’s all the same here as there. Did you see the event for which I came to Bahia to work? Two hundred people signed up and how many came? Few. If the event was over in Europe, it would certainly fill up.

You are also a great source of capoeira music. So much so that the main songs sung in angola rodas come from you. Do you write these songs? How do you do it?

Sometimes I remember one thing or another… but I also create the majority.

We have a great preoccupation with what we sing. Can you talk about that?

We must be careful with the fundamentals of the music. I don’t want to speak badly of anyone, but there are some old Mestres who only sing Samba de Roda in the capoeira roda. They are departing from tradition. Now, I like to see the pandeiro also call, ringing out in order to call. I don’t like them to play the pandeiro loudly. A true angoleiro must be rigorous in his teaching; it’s better for his students.

In New York, do you have contact with people who act inside organizations or institutions that work directly or indirectly with issues related to African-Americans?

There are lots there. They participate in the classes, they go there. They help me. They do activities in high schools and call me to give speeches. There is one organization that invited me to do a presentation in a show and our group had many white people. We went and they didn’t say anything to me, but they said to others there: Ah! The Mestre brought a bunch of whites here and such… Later they called me again and I said that I couldn’t go. I gave an apology, in order not to hear someone ask me not to bring the white students of the group.

Three months ago I also participated in a film, with the cast composed only of blacks. It’s a famous film that will soon be released. With a very famous actor. It will come out now in the cinemas. It was made in Harlem. We made a roda in the middle of the cold. He wanted me just to sing and play berimbau. Some of my students played.

How did your move to NY occur?

Well, Daniel Dawson arranged our departure. He took me, Moraes, Cobra Mansa, Nô, and Lua de Bobó to the Festival of Black Art in Atlanta. From there I didn’t return, I stayed… that was in 1990.

What does Gato Preto have to do with that history? Was it he who arranged the students and the space?

It was. He had a space in Harlem. He gave classes there. And I stayed living in his house. I gave classes on Sundays.

After Harlem, you went where? To Manhattan?

I left Gato. I opened a space on 69th Street in Manhattan. Risadinha was already accompanying me. I went paying the rent little by little and growing there. I opened a dance room on the side of the capoeira room. I rented it out. Later I moved again, still in Manhattan. I’ve been at that address for five years and I have just renewed the contract for five more years.

Mestre João Grande, thank you very much for the interview!