Why capoeira songs should stay in Portuguese

Capoeiristas fall into two camps when it comes to singing capoeira songs in other languages. The people who are against it say that Portuguese is the traditional language of capoeira songs and we should preserve that tradition. They argue that the individual should change in order to learn capoeira, not change capoeira in order to suit the individual. Those who are in favor of singing in other languages say that capoeira has always evolved to adapt to its environment, and as capoeira spreads to other countries and cultures, non-Brazilian capoeiristas should be able to freely express themselves in their own languages. They argue that Portuguese wasn’t the native language of capoeira’s African creators, so why should we stick to it as “tradition”? There are valid points on both sides, but I definitely support the first camp

– I think we should keep capoeira songs in Portuguese, and I see many benefits to doing so. 1. The unity of the global capoeira community is at stake. Portuguese being the “universal language” of capoeira means that capoeiristas from all over the world can communicate with each other. Here in Brazil, I’ve met capoeiristas from France, Spain, Israel, Japan, and more – and Portuguese is the link that allows us to converse, even though it’s none of our native languages. I love knowing that I can go to Australia, Russia, Mexico, South Africa, or Greece and sing “Meu facão bateu embaixo…” and the chorus will respond, “A bananeira caiu”! If everyone started singing in their native languages, that intercultural connection through Portuguese would start to be broken.

2. It requires the non-Brazilian capoeirista to learn Portuguese. This is a GOOD thing, ladies and gentlemen! It’s one of the ways capoeira helps you grow as an individual: you learn a new skill, a new language, a totally new way of expressing yourself! There are things that I can only express in Portuguese because English just doesn’t have the structure/vocabulary for it (the reverse is also true). Of course learning a new language can be difficult, and of course you won’t understand a lot of the songs at first… but would you rather be practicing an art that challenges you and causes you to grow, or one in which everything is easily understandable and spoon-fed to you from day one?

3. The tradition of singing in capoeira began in Brazil. Regarding the argument that if we really wanted to be “traditional,” we’d sing in an African language; thus, Portuguese has no special standing – this reasoning sounds all noble, but I see several flaws in it. Yes, Africans created capoeira, but when the songs were added to the art, the songs were in Portuguese. The tradition of singing in capoeira is (relatively) recent; the earliest mention I’ve found of songs in capoeira occurs in Manuel Raimundo Querino’s book A Bahia de Outrora (Bahia of the Old Days), written in 1916. He describes capoeira and capoeiristas, and includes a song – which is in Portuguese. It’s not formal, grammatically perfect Portuguese, and it contains words originating in African languages (such as moleque and marimbondo) but it’s definitely Portuguese. In candomblé, on the other hand, which came directly from Africa, the chants and terms are in Yoruba. For whatever reason, the capoeiristas who started the tradition of singing in the roda composed their songs in Portuguese – one possibility is that Portuguese was the only method of communication possible among capoeira’s early practitioners since they came (or were descended) from different tribes, cultures, and languages in Africa.

4. YOU must change in order to learn capoeira, not try to force capoeira to change in order to better suit you. If you accept the statement, “I don’t understand Portuguese, so instead of learning it I’m going to sing in my own language in order to express myself,” you can rapidly progress to: “I don’t know how to play the berimbau, so instead of learning it I’m going to make the piano the main instrument in the roda,” or, “The ginga is hard for me, so instead of practicing it, I’m going to ‘express myself’ in my own way by using a fixed and immobile stance.” See how it rapidly goes downhill? Of course, the debate about which changes represent capoeira’s natural evolution and which changes fundamentally discharacterize the art is a whole other can of worms that I won’t open right now… however, I hope I’ve provided some food for thought about the advantages of keeping capoeira songs in

Portuguese – See more at: http://capoeira-connection.com/capoeira/2011/10/why-capoeira-songs-should-stay-in-portuguese/#sthash.3blp5fht.dpuf

Reinventing an esthetics of Capoeira: a review of the documentary Fly Away Beetle

By Ricardo Cangaceiro
During the last decades, we have noticed a significant increase in the production of fiction films and documentaries featuring Capoeira. To be honest, the presence of Capoeira in motion pictures of all sorts is nothing new, even though, in the past, it had been mostly limited to national productions and correlated to other themes of Afro-Brazilian culture. It’s no surprise that the production of films featuring Capoeira would eventually reach other continents, given the process of globalization that Capoeira has been through over the years and the appropriation of the art by the cultural industry. One good example is the Hollywood production, Only the Strong, released in 1993 and premiered in Brazil under the suggestive title Esporte Sangrento (Bloody Sport). As a worldwide phenomenon, the film reached young men and women all over the planet and inspired a whole generation to start practicing Capoeira.
In spite of what movies such as Only the Strong have done to popularize Capoeira on a global scale, what we find really interesting about films featuring Capoeira and other expressions of Brazilian popular culture is their ability to produce an esthetics of performance full of tropical exoticism, which has been constantly re-invented over the years. For instance, where would Samba be today without the prominent figure of Carmén Miranda, who helped project the music style beyond Brazilian borders, conferring it the status of one of the symbols of our national identity. During the 1930s, Miranda participated in two important films, A Voz do Carnaval and Banana da Terra, in which she sings the famous song, O que é que a Baiana tem? (What does the Baiana have?), by Dorival Caymi. The same happened with the Tango, for instance, which had its Argentineaness reinforced through the films of Carlos Gardel, during the first half of the XX century.
Samba and Tango are good examples of how the phonographic and cinematographic industries have converged to exploit and promote symbols of popular culture, bringing audiences to the theaters, on the one hand, and selling records, on the other. Thanks to its ambiguous character – a blend of martial-arts, dance and music – it has been no different with Capoeira. Judgments aside, it’s nothing new to say that the arts in general have used Capoeira and other expressions of Brazilian popular culture as elements of artistic exploitation, at the same time that they re-invented a new esthetics of these cultural forms. Need some examples? Just take a look at the paintings of Carybé and the photography of Pierre Verger.
As for the film industry, we could point out a number of national and international productions featuring Capoeira as their flagship: Vadiação, Dança de Guerra, Cordão de Ouro, Only the Strong, A Capoeira Iluminada, Mandinga in Manhatam, and Besouro, to name a few. Fly Away Beetle appears in the sequence of these films. In a way, it is an extension of all of them, especially those in documentary format, even though it seems to pull back from traditional documentary style.
The film brings the testimony of three renowned masters, Boca Rica, Olavo dos Santos and Cobra Mansa. It also shows the true story of Roque Batista, a young men living on the streets of Salvador, Bahia, who turns to Capoeira in order to save himself from destitution. The story is not at all unknown for us, capoeiristas: Capoeira as a tool for self-transformation and for bettering one’s life, and the strong connection of the art with the magical city of Salvador da Bahia, Mecca of Capoeira and epicenter of Afro-Brazilian culture.
Besides the renowned masters, Roque Batista and two of his young Capoeira students, Fly Away Beetle also features other characters which, in spite of not having a particular identity in the documentary, perform a very important role for the underlying discourse of the film. We are speaking of the capoeiristas which during the action shots perform blows and acrobatic moves in typical Contemporary Capoeira style. The exposure of the half-naked bodies and the urban/natural scenario of Salvador highlight a tropical-mulatto type of aesthetics. Most of these scenes take place outdoors, at some of the famous sights of the city and in public spaces, where kids play soccer, the baianas sell their products and Capoeira coexists.
Within the broader context of the film, the above scenes contrast with the testimonies of the older masters who, through their own stories and memories, take us back to a time when Capoeira was persecuted, devalued, marginalized and despised by society. It is through this correlation between beautiful Capoeira shots and the crude reality of its early stages – expressed though the testimonies of mestres Olavo and Boca Rica – that Fly Away Beetle presents us with a paradox and, certainly, what the film has of most important. A practice developed by enslaved Africans in Brazil and their descendants – just like Samba and other cultural practices not long ago derogatorily classified as “negroes’ pastimes” – completes its transition between opposite extremes. Capoeira is no longer seen by the elite as “one of the indications of our inferiority as a people”. It has reached the artistic scene and become one of the symbols of our national identity. Nonetheless, it is through the story of Roque Batista that Fly Away Beetle reminds us that, even though Capoeira has reached Hollywood, the Afro-Brazilian population continues to be confined to poverty, destitution and marginality, needy of social projects or of a “lifeline” such as Samba, Football and Capoeira to save them from social exclusion.
Additionally, it is worth mentioning the parallel between Fly Away Beetle and the myth of Besouro Preto or Black Beetle – the magical Capoeirista who would turn into a beetle and fly away whenever in trouble. The legend of Besouro recently reached the screens of theaters in Brazil with the film BesouroBesouro takes place in the old Bahia, and it introduces us to mestre Alípio who, just like Olavo, Boca Rica and Cobra Mansa, represents the figure of the old master, keeper of the traditions and master of Besouro. In the film/myth, Besouro spends most of his time in the wild tropical forest, where he encounters the spirits of nature and Afro-Brazilian Candomblé. The Besouro of Fly Away Beetle is Roque Batista, and its wild forest is the urban jungle of Salvador, full of dangers which can lead one into social disorder, chaos and marginalization. Roque’s magical element of metamorphosis of man into insect is Capoeira; magical, black, racially mixed, tropical, ancestral, and ritualized in a world ever more secularized.
In spite of such obvious deconstruction, it is important to emphasize that Capoeira has indeed made a great contribution to social projects with the objective of promoting the social inclusion of Afro-Brazilians and the strengthening of their self-esteem. Roque Batista is just one of the many Afro-Brazilians to whom Capoeira has given life, either because he left behind a possible tragic end to become one of the disseminators of the art, or because Capoeira has enabled the cinema to reconstruct his narrative on screen.
The conversion of popular culture into an aesthetic object is a magic that the cinema knows how to do well, especially when sweetened by the no less mystical Capoeira of modern times. It’s no surprise that the European premiere of Fly Away Beetle took place in two great post-colonial metropolises, Lisbon and London, where global audiences consume what is produced in the periphery of the world. After all, Roque and Roll are global products.

Ricardo “Cangaceiro” Nascimento is a geographer, Master in Sociology of Culture, Capoeira instructor, and is currently completing a PhD in Anthropology at the University of Lisbon.

Visions of Urban Space at Cais do Valongo Capoeira Circle

For original article in Portuguese by Ricardo Nascimento in Jogo de Mandingo click here.


Roda do Cais do Valongo - October 2012 [photo by Maria Puppim Buzanovsky]

A vision of the tropical paradise

The city of Rio de Janeiro has always been the postcard image for Brazil. A significant portion of the symbols of Brazilianness that now form part of the Brazilian imagination and circulate around the consumer-driven globe comes from Rio. The Rio Carnival, samba, Christ the Redeemer, football; all of these elements contribute to the entertainment and leisure industry at an international level.

Hermano Viana, in his book ‘The Mystery of Samba’, highlights a historic encounter which occurred in Rio in the early twentieth century between important Brazilian cultural figures. During a casual encounter during a visit to the city, the sociologist Gilberto Freyre went to drink cachaça and listen to music with the social scientist Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, the journalist Pedro Dantas, the composers Villa Lobos and Luciano Gallet, as well as Patrício, Donga e Pixinguinha, eminent figures in the creation of Rio samba. According to Hermano, this meeting of intellectuals from the worlds of social science and culture with geniuses of popular music would become a founding story in explaining “the invention of samba” in Rio, as a symbol of Brazilianness and furthermore demonstrating Rio as the epicentre for the production of Brazilian identity in the national context.

Two other important symbols were responsible for the exotification of Rio and the exportation of its characteristics as symbols of Brazil: Cármen Miranda and Walt Disney’s character Zé Carioca. Despite having been born in Portugal and broadly taking influences from Bahia, Cármen lived in Rio and portrayed the Rio music scene in her films and shows. The character Zé Carioca was created in the forties, following the “Good Neighbor Policy” of the United States and is believed to have been designed by Walt Disney himself, in Rio de Janeiro, as a way to honor the wonderful city.

From empire to republic: tearing apart Rio’s urban space

Roda do Cais do Valongo - October 2012 [photo by Maria Puppim Buzanovsky]Having been the second Brazilian capital after Salvador, numerous important factors highlighted the city of Rio de Janeiro within the national historical context. The historical and cultural trends which constitute the city’s biography left, over many years, deep impressions in the urban landscape. From an urban perspective the city was continually marked by socio-spatial divisions between the white elite and the vast black and mestiço population who initially occupied shacks and tenements, and later climbed up the hillsides to found favelas, areas of steep slopes and uncertainty.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the arrival of the Portuguese royal family caused profound changes in the city, which in demographic terms received a huge number of Portuguese elite, escaping the old continent during the Napoleonic War. The city of Rio de Janeiro was the setting for important political events such as Brazil’s independence, played host to the monarchy of two kingdoms, was where the end of the monarchy was announced along with the beginning of the republic, as well as having been the location for the signing and declaration of the end of slavery. In one way or another, all of these political events affected the urban geography of Rio, creating fragmentation, breaking up the urban space and causing social and spatial segregation for the least privileged groups.

Roda do Cais do Valongo - October 2012 [photo by Maria Puppim Buzanovsky]

In his book ‘A Capoeira Escrava’, Carlos Eugénio Líbano describes the capoeira gangs as organized groups of blacks and mestiços who occupied areas in the city of Rio to practice their art. It is believed that the groups were extinguished as a result of the police repression unleashed by Sampaio Ferraz, chief of the Rio police, who also practiced capoeira, and also as a result of the urban “cleansing” and remodeling policies which occurred in Rio at the beginning of the twentieth century. At this time theVaccine Revolt occurred, a popular uprising against the obligatory smallpox vaccination laws. In truth, the obligatory vaccinations constituted a form of state intervention against the poorest elements of the population, who were understood as an “illness” which needed to be exterminated from the city. In the first decades of the twentieth century mayor Pereira Passos carried out huge changes to the urban space of the city of Rio, with the aim to modernize living standards in line with “the civilized West,” leading inhabitants to be divided into two areas: the poorest forming the favelas on the hillsides and the richest moving to the neighbourhoods of Ipanema, Copacabana and the South Zone more generally.

Reinventing Rio in the global context

Roda do Cais do Valongo - October 2012 [photo by Maria Puppim Buzanovsky]

History is often cyclical, and it is no wonder that from time to time policies and forms of social and urban intervention used in the past reappear, adapted to the contemporary situation. As a result of two huge international events, Rio de Janeiro has once again become the target for urban policies that outline profound territorial changes and new forms of hygienism, resembling those of the past but with a subtle adaptation to the present. Of course, we are referring to the interventions linked to the World Cup 2014 and the Olympic and Paralympics Games in 2016, for which Rio will be the principal host. Astronomical efforts are being made to restore Rio de Janeiro to the world tourism map and, in light of the global economic crisis, this is a great financial and political moment for Brazil. Yet despite “noble” proposals for economic advancement, issues denounced by social and cultural movements that deserve attention have instead been brushed over and hidden.

Thinking about the city and roda do Cais do Valongo

Roda do Cais do Valongo - October 2012 [photo by Maria Puppim Buzanovsky]

Cais do Valongo (Valongo Wharf) is located in the port of Rio de Janeiro and has always maintained links with Afro-Brazilian culture, be it from having been a warehouse for slaves in Rio or from the presence of capoeiristas, babalorixás and yalorixás (leaders of Afro-Brazilian religions), sambistas and other characters from Rio’s popular culture. Cais do Valongo has itself been the site of great urban change over many years, for example in 1893 when it was extended in preparation for the arrival of the empress who would marry Pedro II and consequently was renamed Cais da Imperatriz.

The Cais de Valongo roda (circular assembly of capoeiristas) was conceived by Carlo Alexandre Teixeira da Silva, known in capoeira as Master Carlão. The master started his study of Angolan capoeira in the 1980s and was part of a generation of capoeiristas in Rio who made efforts to revitalize Angolan capoeira, and also promote the art form outside Brazil. For a time Mestre Carlão lived in London, arranging theatre productions fusing together both traditional theatre and Angolan capoeira and also organizing one of the most important capoeira events in London, The Movement for Change conference.

Roda do Cais do Valongo - October 2012 [photo by Maria Puppim Buzanovsky]

On returning to Brazil to once again live in Rio, Master Carlão held classes close to Cais do Valongo, recognizing the importance of the area and the need to create a symbolic place for the movement. The Cais do Valongo rodas are of special interest as they are the first to be dedicated to Prata Preta, a black leader in the Vaccine Revolts. The roda is also visited by and counts amongst its participants various prominent personalities who study capoeira, black culture and the city of Rio, such as the journalist Décio Teobaldo and the historian Mathias Assunção. The main idea behind the roda, according to Master Carlão, is “to occupy public and historic spaces, to establish our presence in areas which are becoming more and more controlled.” According to the master it is a response to the municipal Shock of Order policy in the occupation of public spaces whereby municipal administrators have implemented strict rules limiting popular culture activity on the streets. According to Master Carlão and other cultural agitators from Rio’s capoeira scene, the area of Cais do Valongo is viewed with great speculative interest by investors, be it as a result of the historical importance or simply as a question of land value, but above all in view of the large investments they intend to make there. As well as the capoeiristas, other groups have used the square such as Jongo groups, the Carnival “bloco” Prata Preta and indigenous groups.

It is important to understand that this activity of occupying and intervening in public spaces by the capoeiristas in part reinforces the cultural practice, highlighting how it is a popular activity in dialogue with the social groups which occupy urban Rio. But they are, above all, a driven and political entity in favor of the city, demanding the right to demonstrate via cultural means and to oppose any form of elitism and socio-spatial segregation which public authorities consider implementing. Note also that the roda do Cais do Valongo is a driving force behind the promotion of the practice of Angolan capoeira in Rio de Janeiro. As well as the assembly and practice of the group, there are discussions, speeches occur and can eventually lead to interventions of other groups. As a result of this activity, leaders of other groups have also boosted their own presence on the streets creating a spontaneous movement, linked to a common sentiment of intervention in the city and joint engagement of Angolan capoeira creating the Conexão Carioca de Rodas na Rua (Rio Connection of Capoeira Street Circles), an initiative by capoeiristas to help integrate already existing street groups into one body. The groups involved in this initiative are Grupo Volta ao Mundo – M. Cláudio (Roda in Praça São Salvador, Laranjeiras); Grupo Kabula Rio – M. Carlão, CM. Leandro, Treinel Fátima (Roda do Cais do Valongo); Grupo Ypiranga de Pastinha – M. Manoel (Roda in Cinelândia, Centro); Grupo Aluandê – C.M Célio (Roda da Feira do Lavradio, Rua do Lavradio); Grupo Valongo – Treinel Maicol and Pedro Rolo and Roda da Praça XV with Prof. Fábio-Pezão of the Instituto Uka – Casa dos Saberes Ancestrais.

The Cais do Valongo roda is here to stay. As well as the ritual of Angolan capoeira, mandinga and the theatricality of its practitioners, the Cais do Valongo roda is a marriage of numerous artistic expressions. Videos have been produced, lectures held, photographic experiments taken – in particular the work here featured by photographer Maria Puppim Buzanovsky should be highlighted – and yet more projects are planned. The rhythm and beat of Rio is reflected in the roda do Cais do Valongo.

Ricardo Nascimento is a geographer, currently undertaking a doctorate in Anthropology at the New University of Lisbon

Mandinga for export

This blog is about a research conducted for my personal PHD studies in Anthropology and it discusses the globalization process of Capoeira, an afro-brazilian martial art. At the blog i intend to post aspects of the current development of the research as well as to discuss books, articles, movies and share, with the community, my personal views about others studies concerning related subjects. It’s also the intention of the blog to discuss concepts that are part of the main research such as globalization, transnationalism, national identities, creolization and hibridity.

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