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

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