October 20, 2009

The Capoeira Experience. ~ via Roger Williams

In preparation for Project Runaway I am focusing on expanding my cultural influences. One possible destination is Brazil because of its party culture and surfing spots. I figure that exposing myself to some Brazilian culture will only help with things like speaking Portugese and even finding work. Then on two seperate occasions the term Capoeira resurfaces and its a sign that I have to follow.

 I put it out to the Twitterverse that I was looking for a Capoeira spot in the AZ area and got a response from Philippos Savvides (@savvides) to come and check out their Grupo Capoeira Brasil in Tempe, AZ. Its always cool to see more and more people using Twitter to connect and make things happen! Naturally I had to take him up on his offer and check out their next available class.

 Capoeira is an “Afro-Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, games, music, and dance.” (Wikipedia) It was developed by slaves as a way of practicing their martial arts while disguising them as a dance, fooling their owners into thinking they were just partying. It was outlawed in Brazil for much of the 19th century, but was later recognized as having cultural value and has now become a popular sport with expansion all over the globe.

 Practitioners of Capoeira form a circle with some playing instruments, some singing, and pairs sparring in the middle with fluid/acrobatic movements. In the class that I attended the focus was on the musical instruments and singing. Apparently this is very different from ‘normal’ Capoeira class where the sparring aspect is the focus. However in order to progress in the sport one must learn to play all instruments and sing solo during others sparring time so this may have been the best way to introduce myself to the sport.

 As we started I was welcomed warmly by everyone in the class on an individual level. I was not called out at any point to explain who I was or anything like that, which I appreciated cause I was nervous as a diabetic on too much caffine. One very large guy named Reggie was super cool and helped me get accustomed to the tambourine(pandeiros) and the method of playing it in the circle. I am certain that this was the first time I handled a tambourine since elementary school and pretty sure I butchered it, but I had a blast and thats all the matters right? Right.

After jamming on the tambourine, I was handed the most intimidating musical device I have ever seen: the berimbaus. This thing looks like a bow with a bowl attached to the bottom. You play it by holding the bow(Verga) with one hand; which with your pinky finger you are keeping the bowl(Cabaça) from falling off, then using the two middle fingers you hold the bow, and the thumb and index hold a rock or coin(Pedra or Dobrão) which is applied to the wire string(Arame) for certain notes. The other hand holds a basket with beads(Caxixí) in the palm while the thumb and forefinger hold a small stick(Baqueta) used to hit the Arame and make notes.

 With all of that in hand you then have a few ways to create music, or in my case noise. The Cabaça is open at one end, so holding it against your chest makes a difference to holding it away. Applying the Pedra or Dobrão to the Arame also makes a difference. Take these combinations and then throw in a modulating rythmn and I was pretty well lost with this one. Just holding the Verga and keeping the Cabaça up with my pinky was causing smoke to come out of my ears. Thankfully everyone was cool about my noobness and we jammed on.

 Then the singing started. And it was awesome. I tried to join in a bit but found it difficult to keep pace with the instrument at the same time so I kept my mouth shut for a rare occasion. I have no idea what was being sung but it was beautiful and I forgot about everything else: where, when, who, how, why, and what for… At one point it struck me that I was still in AZ but it didn’t feel that way at all.

 After a bit of playing the instruments we broke off into smaller groups to learn some of the songs. Keep in mind everything is in Portugese and I have enough trouble with English. Nonetheless, I managed to learn a few lines and was able to contribute in my own little way. We formed a circle up with the entire group again and each smaller group went around teaching each other their song. 

 The next phase of class was sparring and for my first live experience of a Capoeira spar I definitely stayed in the circle and watched. There were some serious moves getting thrown around and on a few occasions some contact was about to make it a bloody afternoon. My cautious self won out and kept me sidelined as this went on. I really wanted to jump in but knew it would probably end with at least one black eye.

 My concept of time completely disappeared during this class so I cannot say how much time was spent on each section, what I can tell you is that 2 hours were over and gone before I knew what happened. Professor Trovão runs a great studio and I recommend that everyone go and give it a try. I surely won’t miss Thursday’s class.

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