Capoeira: the dance of slaves & kings

Created by African slaves in Brazil, capoeira combines the balance and flexibility of acrobatics with the grace and strength of dance, the speed and cunning of fighting and the rhythm of music into a powerful harmony

Now practised the world over, capoeira’s up there with Brazil’s main cultural icons and exports of samba and football. And here we take a look at how capoeira, far from where it was developed, can play an important role in personal development and social change, as well as being great exercise and a lot of fun…

Capoeira on film

Slums, Drums and Capoeira

Capoeira is a fight, a dance, an art and in many of Brazil’s favelas it can also be a means of survival. Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, is the largest favela in Latin America, home to more than 150,000 people and a daily war between the police and drug traffickers. It’s here that we meet Tiane, a capoeira teacher who lost her brother to the violence, and follow her struggle to establish a capoeira school in the favela to provide kids with a different path.

Slums, Drums and Capoeira skips almost effortlessly between Rio and Salvador, the past and the present, the young people learning capoeira and the old capoeira masters. Through rare footage of Mestre Pastinha and Mestre Bimba, and interviews with some of today’s most respected masters, we learn about how capoeira was invented by slaves, a fight disguised as a dance. We also learn about the philosophy and the music of capoeira, including the instruments used.

Directed by Julian K-S and Mo Bazazi, Slums, Drums and Capoeira succeeds in providing a great overview not only of the history of capoeira but of its social and cultural importance in Brazil today. Inspirational and informative, you don’t need to be a capoeirista yourself to enjoy this film, though by the end of it you may decide to become one.

Capoeira on the stage

The World is But a Roda

“I heard this strange noise emanating from a side room. This distinctive sound and a drumming rhythm. I opened the door, the room was full of people practising the jinga. I stood and watched the whole thing, mesmerised”. Greg Hicks (left and below), one of the country’s finest Shakespearian actors, recounts how he first discovered capoeira by accident 14 years ago. Today his career with the Royal Shakespeare Company has spanned over 35 years, during which time he has received both critical acclaim and accolades, and he returns to the Roundhouse this month.

At 57, Hicks appears friendly, open, agile and youthful as he speaks passionately about what capoeira means to him: “[it’s] a dialogue of questions and answers, that’s the great joy of it. There’s a tremendous sense of camaraderie, community and egalitarianism. And you can’t play capoeira without music, which was the thing that got me to open the door in the first place.”

Known for his physicality on stage, his agile and intense presence, Hicks says that capoeira has made him a aided him professionally: “Capoeira has made me a more courageous actor, a more courageous person in fact. And that element in capoeira of cunning, of surprise… I know I can now be a more surprising actor”. No surprise then that Hicks is a passionate advocate… “It has definitely had a huge effect on me which I passionately want to share with others”.

RSC Roundhouse Season
30th Nov 2010 – 5th Feb 2011 • uk 0844 482 8008

Capoeira as a social project

The Circle of Life

Kabula Arts was established in 2004 by Carlo Alexandre Teixeira (right), otherwise known as Mestre Carlão, and now operates in London and Rio de Janeiro. Having practised capoeira since 1982, Mestre Carlão wanted to use it to encourage a cultural exchange between the UK and Brazil and to share capoeira with people in the UK.

As well as classes for all ability levels, from complete newcomer to the more experienced capoeirista, Kabula also provides workshops in Brazilian percussion. At the heart of the organisation though is its work in the community, in particular the Jinga Project which works with young people in schools. Using the movement, music and philosophy of Capoeira Angola, the aim is to connect and inspire individuals. “Kabula helps transform the individual by developing their self awareness. When people learn the jinga and the movements of capoeira they change the way they think of themselves, their bodies and how they relate to others”, says Mestre Carlão.

Over the next year, Kabula will be developing the Jinga Project to work with more young people and designing capoeira-based programmes with refugees in the UK and the Middle East. Mestre Carlão reflects, “there’s something in the roda that is a metaphor of life, inside the little circle of the roda you learn to live in the big circle of the world”.

Forthcoming Kabula events

Kabula Fundraising Party
To raise funds for their work with young people, Kabula will be hosting a screening of the documentary Slums, Drums & Capoeira followed by a berimbau orchestra, capoeira performances and music from Club Popozuda DJs João Brasil and The Bumps.
6th Dec, 7pm–1am, £3 donation
Favela Chic, 91-93 Great Eastern St – EC2 3HZ • 020 7613 4228

Kabula End of Year Celebration
A feast of capoeira including a screening of the documentary Verses and Cudgels followed by Q&A with the director, capoeira workshops with Mestre Carlão, feijoada, and a roda, with a party, live music and DJs in the evening.
18th Dec, £5-£20
1pm-6pm, St Mark’s Church Dalston – E8 2NL
9pm, Charlie Wright’s, Pitfield Street – N1 6DA

The 2nd Capoeira Extravaganza
Kabula will host an open roda with music, dance and capoeira workshops incorporating the public
and different capoeira groups in London. Come along and watch the show or join in – all levels of capoeiristas are welcome.
1st Jan 2011, 2pm onwards, FREE
The Clore Ballroom, Southbank Centre – SE1 8XX

By James Hurrell

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