Salvador Central: Capoeira
Sprawled across broad equatorial latitudes, stoked and steamed and sensual in the widest sense of the word... limned in cadenced song... its very name born in heat and embers, Brazil is a conundrum wrapped in a smile inside an irony.
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Capoeira: Dance Like a Baryshnikov, Hit Like a Kalashnikov

Capoeira. You, dear reader, may have never heard of it, or maybe you're one of the legion who can pick up a berimbau and play the toques, handle the pandeiro (a tambourine, kind of) and atabaque (a conga, kind of), sing the ladainhas and chulas, enter the roda... expertly perhaps, but more likely with more enthusiasm than expertise. It's no different here in Bahia, where capoeira was born.

This Bahian capoeira has made it from the sugarcane plantations of the Recôncavo to college campuses worldwide, from Santo Amaro to San Francisco...Europe,'s everywhere. Or is it? I'm not so sure.

Capoeira's origins are obscure and almost everything about it is polemical. For some it's quasi-religious and like religion there are those who claim the Truth unto themselves, this born less of respect than of self-aggrandizement. How many little dictators are out there right now scattered across the towns of Europe and the U.S., playing the role of capoeira prophets to earnest and well-meaning students, taking their money (and more) while beating their (own) chests and crowing "Eu sou da Bahia! (I'm from Bahia!)", as if that were enough to make them special. Bahia, like everywhere else in the world, has its ample share of deadbeats and dissimulators, and capoeira more than its share. Most of the real masters here have stories of being invited to workshops outside of Brazil and meeting "masters" who were nothing more than students here and whose mastery was acquired (via closer proximity to the orixás?) during the plane trip to wherever it was they were going. They call them mestres de aeroporto...airport masters...

This is the theme of a screenplay currently in development -- Malandro -- with Seu Jorge slated for the title role as a Pelourinho good-for-nothing who has gone to Europe to set himself up as The Master, only not to have things work out as he expected.

Would you take capoeira lessons from THIS guy?

Capoeira made it to Rio by the turn of the twentieth century, taken by the same Bahian exodus which took samba to Rio. It became a vicious street fight where straightrazors were sometimes wielded between toes to add slash-and-gash to capoeira's great roundhouse kicks. Capoeira was the fighting-style of choice of Madame Satã (Madam Satan), Lapa's most feared thug, probably the world's toughest ever transvestite.


Street Fightin' "Madam"

But capoeira is like jazz...hard to define, different people having different ideas of what it really is, or if something really is it or not (what Nicholas Payton of New Orleans plays would be jazz to most people, but to him it's simply New Orleans music, jazz having become so wide a term that it's almost meaningless nowadays).

For me, as with samba, if you take the Recôncavo out, it's not it anymore. The overriding ethos of the Recôncavo in terms of its people's arts (and by people I mean the majority of its population...slaves) was an aspiration to life and living, a moving away from the hopelessness and depression which would be natural to people forced into their position...the essential key to Brazilian music, the pervasive joy -- almost a meta-joy -- beneath it. This isn't the joy of somebody who's gotten a raise...this is the joy of somebody from whom everything has been taken but life itself, and who is determined to nevertheless live that life.

The music of capoeira, traditionally, was the folk songs -- the chulas -- sung by people in the rodas de samba. Capoeira, like samba, was a collective endeavor of friends and neighbors. Like samba, it was done in a circle. Even now, to hear capoeira played to these songs heartfully rendered is something powerfully moving, an's emotion felt in common.

So in my book razor-swinging feet is not capoeira. Nor are athletic gyres and somersaults by well-muscled "capoeiristas". There's plenty of "capoeira" right here in Bahia which as far as I'm concerned is not capoeira at all. And with the right people, there can be capoeira as real-deal as it gets anywhere there are people to play it. In capoeira, it's not whether you win or lose, and it's not even how you play the's why you do it.

Our dear friend Simon Brook's capoeira screenplay (referred to several paragraphs above) for Chic Films (they co-produced the Grand Prix winner A Prophet -- Un Prophete -- at Cannes several years ago) is tied up in development, so for anybody accustomed to reading screenplays, we give you our own story of Harlem homeboy Zoom, ashamed of his real name "Zumbi", ashamed of the music in his father's 125th St. record shop (his father is an immigrant from Bahia, Brazil), ashamed of his heritage but forced by circumstances to journey straight to its heartland and convince his father's father (an old guard capoeira master beholden to Xangô, Ogun, Oxossi, et al) to make the journey of his lifetime, to New York City. And how's this for a switch? Our real record shop -- Cana Brava -- is based on our fictional record shop in the "movie"!

If you get into that roda camará, you better watch better be careful camará, because you're in a dangerous place and...

This Dance Can Kill!

Two Great Spirits of Capoeira: Masters Pelé (left) and João Pequeno (right; now deceased) on the 456th anniversary of the founding of Salvador

Capoeira has moved from the senzalas and quilombos of Brazil to New York, Berlin, Australia, and just about every place in between.  But Bahia is capoeira's cradle, and the following is a list of masters teaching here now, and their provenance.

Mestre Boca Rica (Manoel Silva)

Mestre Boca Rica studied with Pastinha, Waldemar, and Bimba, and was christened "Boca Rica" ("Rich Mouth) by Pastinha because of his gold teeth. He is a member of the Council of Masters of the Associação Brasileira de Capoeira Angola, and is a very sweet and approachable man and a veritable font of capoeira history. He teaches in the Forte de Santo Antônio.

Boca Rica is from Maragogipe, a beautiful town in the Recôncavo, located where the Paraguaçu river debouches into the Baía de Todos os Santos.

Mestre Curió (Jaime Martínez Dos Santos)

Curio's Academy in Pelourinho. Very cool!
Mestre Curió

Comes from a generations-long line of capoeiristas and was a student of both Pastinha and of his own father (who is 106 years old and still -- after his own fashion -- plays!). The mestre teaches in Pelourinho at his Escola de Capoeira Angola: Irmões Gêmeos (located on Rua Gregório de Mattos, 9, to the right of where the Balé Folclórico da Bahia practices). The telephone number there is 3321-0396. There's also a cell phone: 9963-3562.

Mestre Curió also teaches special classes for senior citizens, and he teaches kids out at Ara Ketu's center in Periperi. When the mestre himself isn't teaching this duty is handled by his young protégé, the very able and amiable Mestra Jararaca.

Mestre Nô (Norival Moreira de Oliveira)

Mestre Nô

Mestre Nô comes from an exceptionally strong lineage of Capoeira Angola which emerged from the teachings and traditions of great Mestres who never achieved the fame of Mestre Pastinha because they lived, played and died in lesser known neighborhoods of Bahia. Mestre Nô teaches in Boca do Rio, in an enclosed area in front of his house. For capoeiristas staying in or close to the city center it is a bit of a journey (45 minutes or so by bus), but it's worth it. Nô is a great spirit, which is to say that he is an open, friendly, funny, wonderful guy. He's a master's master but he doesn't act like it at all. There's no putting on airs here. He concentrates on music, and part of the class is everybody picking up instuments and playing. Nô was Mestre Ombrinho's (Ombrinho teaches in New York City) master, and I love the slinky sinuousness their style.

Can I tell a little story? I have a friend here in Salvador, an orthopedist who for some time was the official doctor for boxing matches here in Salvador. His name is Ary, and in addition to having studied boxing, he trained for years in hapkido, and in capoeira. He told me once (and I'm translating) "Pardal! I'm from Massaranduba (a rough neighborhood), and my capoeira master taught us to fight! To defend ourselves! To come down hard, and feint and trick and eye-gouge if necessary!" To win!

I said "Gee! Who was your master?"

"Mestre Nô!" he proudly replied!

I asked Mestre Nô about it and he was a little embarrassed..."Those were different times" he said.

Yeah well, the master's no kid anymore, but if the times called for it I bet the old moves would come back in a blistering flash of Xangô's lightning! Saravá Mestre Nô! Você é o cara!

Mestre Bamba (Rubens Costa Silva)

Mestre Bamba teaches at Bimba's academy in Pelourinho, in the original space. Bamba has put the fight back into capoeira, which was where it started in the first place, and his rodas can be rough. (If you are a beginner, don't worry; you won't get beaten up. If you are strong (and a guy) and know what you're doing, get ready to rumble.) Of course the rodas can be elegant and beautful as well, exhibiting Bimba's penchant for beautiful, well-controlled moves. There's a lot of singing and energy at the academy.

The training system is you (non-locals) pay seventy reais for ten days of training. That comes to less than three dollars per day, so although it's more than at some other places you'd have to be really cheap to complain too much. For this you train, at your own discretion, up to three hours per day any time Monday through Friday from 9 a.m to noon and/or from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m; Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. You choose what you want to train. Rodas are Tuesdays and Fridays from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.

The address is Rua das Laranjeiras, 01, and the phone number is 3322-0639.

Mestre Cabeludo (Antonio Sergio Pinho Freire de Carvalho)

Leader of Capoeira Porto da Barra. "Cabeludo" means "Hairy", but since receiving that name he's gotten his more or less under control. Was a student of Mestre Bamba. His group also trains in a space in the bairro (neighborhood) of Barris.

Mestre Alabama

Was a student of Mestre Nô's. Mestre Alabama is one of the founders of Nação Capoeira and he has a large and modern academy in the bairro of Barris. The academy's address is Rua Junqueira Ayres, 33, and the phone number is 3329-1888.

Mestre João Pequeno (João Pereira dos Santos)


Highly respected grandmaster who studied with Pastinha. Grande Mestre João Pequeno teaches in the Forte de Santo Antônio. (João Pequeno means "Little John", a comparison to João Grande -- "Big John" -- who now lives and teaches in New York City.)

Mestre Moraes (Pedro Trindade Moraes)

A student of Pastinha's. Teaches in the Forte de Santo Antônio. His students wear the traditional colors of Pastinha's students. Telephone 3226-2726.

Mestres João Pequeno & Moraes teach here.

Mestre Jelon Vieira

Now spends most of his time in the United States (he's a resident of New York City), but Jelon constantly returns to Salvador and has an active group in his neighborhood of Boca do Rio. Jelon and his friend, the irrepressible Loremil Machado (now deceased) have the distinction of being the first to introduce capoeira into the U.S. Jelon studied with Mestre Bobó, under Ezequiel at Bimba's academy, and with Mestre Acordeon (now based in San Francisco).

Mestre Itapoan (Raimundo César Alves de Almeida)

Studied with Mestre Bimba, and now practices as a dentist, though still active (and highly respected, both as a master and as a scholar) in capoeira.

Mestre Boa Gente (Vivaldo Rodrigues Conceição)

Studied with Mestre Gato and lives in the area called "Vale das Pedrinhas" ("Valley of the Little Stones). Mestre Boa Gente is an active member of the Associação Brasileira de Capoeira Angola.

Mestre Bola Sete (José Luiz Oliveira Cruz)

Director of the Centro de Cultura da Capoeira Tradicional Bahiana in the bairro of Nazaré, author of "A Capoeira Angola na Bahia", and an active member of the Associação Brasileira de Capoeira Angola. Mestre Bola Sete was a student of Pastinha's. Telephone 321-8151.

Mestre Dinho

Founder of the group Capoeira Topázio. Studied with Mestres Fiínho and Nô. Classes are held at Ladeira do São Cristovão, 42, in the neighborhood of Liberdade. The phone number is 386-6133. There is now another, very beautiful, teaching space within a five-minute walk from Pelourinho, at Ladeira de Santana, No. 2 (phones: 321-3366, 321-2075, 9129-3443). This space (run by Linda) manages to be excellent in the sense that a good dance-school space would be, without a dance-school atmosphere. The price for classes is 35 reais per month.

Mestre (Lua de) Bobó

Professor Marrom (José Venceslau B. Brito)

Is the teacher of the Grupo de Capoiera Angola do Acupe, located at Boulevard Copacabana,12, (near Brotas Center on Rua Dom João VI) in the bairro of Brotas. The phone number is 356-8527.

Mestre Beto Mansinho

Teaches at Arte Bahia in Pelourinho, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The address is Rua Frei Vicente, 32, and the phone number is 3322-2343. The price for classes is 30 reais per month and there is a 10 real enrollment fee.

This list is not complete, and I'll be adding to it as time permits.

* A place to be wary is behind the Mercado Modelo. The capoeiristas there "ask for donations", which in practice quite often amounts to what could only be called extorting money from the unsuspecting. These guys can also be found playing in the Terreiro de Jesus in Pelourinho, though a lot of "legitimate" capoeiristas play there as well.

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Capoeira: Dance Like a Baryshnikov, Hit Like a Kalashnikov


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YOU Are Invited!!!

Pardal & João, Salvador Central
Me and João do Boi of the village of São Braz, Bahia
I link to João. João links to...

This is an invitation from me (black hat, right) to a music project built as an escape valve, a way to take music from anywhere to potentially anywhere else on the planet.

Unlike traditional media pipelines, which are either expensive or limited, ours is built on common humanity, on the phenomenon of six degrees of separation. Degrees of separation are links between people, connections forming pathways which extend throughout human society (which is why word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of publicity there is).

We've put an online music codex on the air, mirroring this. To give you a personal example of how it works, I link to a roots samba-de-roda (analogous in Brazil to the delta blues in the United States) group in a fishing village in Brazil. New Orleans writer/journalist Jay Mazza links to me. Trumpter Kermit Ruffins links to Jay. Other people link to Kermit. And other people link to those people. And...

Now there are LOTS of pathways leading to the musicians in that rural fishing village in Brazil. And music which would seldom be heard beyond the village border can be heard by interested people all over the world.

Jay - Salvador Central
Jay Mazza w/ Lionel Batiste
Jay links to me...

The musicodex in and of itself is probably not a mechanism for generating great commercial success, but it IS most definitely a way for news of musicians and their music to penetrate far and widely, outside of usual circles and localities. It is giant steps reducing the wide world to a mom & pop record shop (I'm the pop), wherein musical discoveries can be made and passed on.

Mankind has been making music for at least 50,000 years, and word-of-mouth has been around since humans could talk. Drawing on 21st century technology, we've put them together in a new way...

And you're invited.

Kermit Salvador Central
Kermit Ruffins links to Jay Mazza...

Airto - Salvador CentralBelpa - Salvador CentralBobby - Salvador Central
Airto Moreira - Belpa Mariani - Bobby Sanabria

This could be the start of something big...