Category: Globalization

An Old Attack on UK capoeira

 Sara Delamont, Cardiff University

 The UK has a ‘free’ Radio and TV service provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which carries no advertisements.  It is funded by an annual licence, that the whole population is expected to pay for, and refusal can lead to a jail sentence.  At the time of writing this, the licence costs each household about £160.  The gaps between TV programmes are filled by trailers for other programmes and station Idents.  BBC One the channel with the largest audience, has Idents that showcase aspects of British Life.  Between 2001-2006 a suite of Idents featured adults doing physical activities, either sports or dance, including wheelchair dance, Tai Chi, aerial gymnastics, rugby football and capoeira.  Because BBC One has an audience of many millions, these ‘fillers’ are seen by many people.  The capoeira Ident, which can be seen online featured two young Brazilian men newly arrived in London, doing beautiful capoeira apparently on a London roof top with the dome of the St Paul’s cathedral as a background.  

The two men, now both mestres (Mestre Poncianinho and Mestre Casquinha) were seen by many people over the five years their performance was broadcast.  There was no explanatory caption and no bateria (percussion).  Those who knew what capoeira was recognised it with delight.  I have spoken to puzzled viewers who described it as ‘Cuban’, ‘gymnastics’, or ‘acrobatics’.  Mestre Poncianinho used a still from the Ident on his advertising flyers for many years and it is reproduced in his book.

In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic the BBC have launched a new capoeira Ident, in a new series called One:  Oneness.  These all show people doing physical activities that in normal times are done in groups.  To represent the lockdown the screen shows 6-10 people practicing alone, but all in unison.  The capoeira Ident shows people in flats, gardens or the street doing meia luas and queixadas, in capoeira uniforms (abadás). https://cdob.co.uk/bbc-one-oneness-ident

When Mestres Poncianinho and Casquinha did their performance they were members of Cordão de Ouro.  The new Ident features current Cordão de Ouro people, drawn from Contra-Mestre Mascote’s group based in Birmingham, London and Leicester.  The reappearance of a capoeira Ident at the time of the Black Lives Matter movement is a good opportunity to revisit an attack on the BBC from 2002 centred on the Poncianinho and Casquinha Ident.

 The right-wing newspapers in the UK regularly attack the BBC.  Their owners would like to have commercial TV and radio stations and make money from them.  The Murdoch family who own two newspapers, Fox News, and Sky TV, are particularly vocal about the BBC being run by London based liberal intellectuals who are anti-Christian, anti-family and therefore out of touch with ordinary British patriots.  The licence fee is attacked relentlessly in its own right, but also as something the liberal intelligentsia at the BBC ‘waste’ on left wing, highbrow, rubbish that no decent British family wants to watch but has to pay for.  The most extreme newspapers are The Daily Express and The Daily Mail which had big circulations (2-3 million readers) in 2001.  Both are reactionary, staunchly anti-intellectual, routinely support miracle ‘cures’ for cancer, and publish salacious gossips about ‘celebrities’.

 In 2002 the capoeira Ident was used as a pretext for an attack on the BBC.  The Daily Mail has an opinion and gossip column under the by-line of a pseudonym ‘Ephraim Hardcastle’ whose stance is that of the sensible ‘man in the street’.  The Daily Mail is notoriously hostile to all women, so the column really does represent the assumed views of ‘the patriotic man’, with common sense, living outside London.  In that context it was not surprising that the Ephraim Hardcastle column used the capoeira Ident to attack the BBC.  The journalist wrote that the BBC was using white males to perform capoeira, explaining that it had been created by ‘Black slaves’, and was a martial art which incorporated dance.  Hardcastle then told his readers that by hiring white men to perform capoeira the BBC was presenting to the British public – the licence payers – a dishonest travesty.  The Ident was ‘a case of patronising liberals getting all excited about exotic culture and completely missing the point’ (3/3/2002).  Hardcastle did not make similar points about the Tai Chi, or the New Zealand Maori Haka (a war dance) or the Argentinian tango.  The BBC did not demand a public correction or make a public defence, but Hardcastle’s basic premise was wrong.  Mestres Poncianinho and Casquinha are both Brazilians who self-identify as mestizos.  Neither is very dark-skinned, but they are both proud of their Afro-Brazilian heritage and would not, in London, or Cyprus (where Casquinha now teaches) be classified as ‘white’.  Hardcastle cannot have asked Poncianinho or Casquinha how they self-identified or he would not have called them white.  The journalist erroneously assumed they were unauthentic capoeira players in order to attack the BBC.

 Of course, even in 2002 Hardcastle’s sneering comment that ‘patronising liberals’ had ‘got all excited’ about ‘exotic culture’ and ‘completely missed the point’ was an odd set of complaints. Non Afro-Brazilians had been doing capoeira authentically for 60 years, and people of all races outside Brazil had been learning capoeira for 30 years paying great attention to the authenticity of what they learnt.  Two white Scottish women could have been filmed playing capoeira in the Orkney Islands and it would have been ‘authentic’.

 Later on that decade the BBC filmed a travel series about Brazil starring Michael Palin, who was seen having a capoeira lesson from M. Gente Boa in Salvador, and the run up to the World Cup (2014) and the Rio Olympics (2016) included programmes in which British journalists saw capoeira.  These programmes were not ridiculed, perhaps because the Brazilian capoeira experts shown were all very dark-skinned Afro-Brazilians.

 “Embodying Brazil:  An Ethnography of Diasporic Capoeira”  with Sara Delamont, Neil Stephens and Mestre Claudio Campos.

 The One: Oneness Ident shows men and women with a variety of skin-tones practising basic moves to the sound of a berimbau. (https://cdob.co.uk/bbc-one-oneness-ident).

 At a time when BLM campaigners have thrown a statue of a slave trader into Bristol harbour, and a popular historian has been sacked by two universities for talking about ‘damn Blacks’ in a recorded interview, it will be interesting to see if the anti-BBC press again seize on a capoeira Ident to attack the BBC. If any of the capoeiristas in the 2020 Ident were accused of being inauthentic, their teacher, Contra-Mestre Mascote, would be well placed to reject that accusation.  He is a British Sociology graduate, and could contest any such media slurs.  His own roots in capoeira are deep. I remember embracing Mestre Jogo de Dentro at Mascote’s first batizado and very wonderful it was.  

I hope that this capoeira Ident leads to an explosion of new students enrolling for live classes as soon as the whole UK comes out of lockdown.

My colleague Professor Paul Bowman drew my attention to the Daily Mail piece for which I am grateful. 

Sara Delamont is co-author of Embodying Brazil:  An Ethnography of Diasporic Capoeira  with Neil Stephens and Mestre Claudio Campos

 

Capoeira, the transnational dialogue of bodies in motion

By Daniel Granada

“Once the African-Brazilian martial art called capoeira was distant. Now it’s right next door. North American women and men play this blend of dance and combat in Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Santa Fe, Boston, New Heaven, Washington DC, Atlanta and New York City” (Thompson, 1992, xi)

This is how Robert Farris Thompson begins one of the first books dedicated to the practice of capoeira in English. The preface to J. L. Lewis’ Ring of Liberation, published in 1992, was both a foreshadowing and acknowledgement of the expansion of capoeira outside Brazil. This represented a new chapter in the development of the practice permeated by ruptures and continuities, permeated by processes of creative reinvention.

The relocation of capoeira practice, both in Brazil and abroad, necessarily implies a social and cultural resignification of the practice, both in the contexts in which it is introduced, as well as with the agents who make these exchanges and translations operational. If in Brazil the transformations of the practice have already been intense, with regional characteristics having shaped different playing styles, in the case of capoeira outside Brazil, new potentials have arisen due to the agents’ creative capacity, the need for an implementation of this art in new contexts, and the possibilities existing outside the country. This has been remarkably demonstrated by the various works dedicated to map the expansion of capoeira outside Brazil which problematise the adaptation processes of capoeira and its practitioners in new contexts. These studies highlight the relationship between the “cultural” and the “political” fields within different national contexts, as well as affecting identity construction and the power relations resulting from the encounter between Brazilian practitioners and local practitioners in the United States, (Travassos, 2000) in Canada, (Joseph, 2008a, 2008b), in France (Vassalo, 2004; Ferreira, 2015 a; Gravina, 2010; Brito, 2017), in Spain (Guizardi, 2011, 2013) in the United Kingdom (Ferreira, 2015a, 2015 b; 2017), and in Portugal (Nascimento, 2015; Brito, 2016). Another study analyses the impact of the transnationalisation of the Studies such as Fernandes’ (2014), on the practice of capoeira in Germany, and Nascimento’s (2015) on the practice of capoeira in Poland and Portugal brought new elements to think the relocation of capoeira in Europe. In both works, the authors’ knowledge of the practice of capoeira and their rigorous reflection on the ethnographic material they perform stands out. In the case of Fernandes (2014), the relation of the interviewed masters with the broader Brazilian emigration process in the first wave of capoeiristas going abroad is evident, thus demonstrating the importance of folklore groups in relocating the practice outside Brazil. Nascimento (2015: 98-104) also highlighted the prominent role of folklore groups in the expansion process of capoeira outside Brazil.

The transnationalisation of the practice of capoeira, both regional, angola or other modalities, is closely associated with the movement of increasing contacts and international circulation of people. Not only Brazilians, but individuals from different nationalities, were, and continue to be, responsible for safeguarding capoeira’s memory, expansion and dissemination. The role of the pioneer capoeiristas who left in the 1970s and 1980s to appear in folklore shows in Europe and the United States and decided to stay working in small jobs, who discovered through capoeira practice ways to stay in connected to Brazil and live with dignity as artists abroad, highlights the existing inequalities at the international level. It is not by chance that in the 1980s and 1990s, airports began to be the destination of dozens of capoeiristas who, through their networks and contacts, sought the means to live from capoeira practice abroad. The years passed and these capoeiristas created schools, trained instructors, teachers, trenéis, interns, contramestres, masters, and many other classifications that capoeiristas created to differentiate the length of practice and engagement of the members of their groups.

The structure currently established abroad, which is the result of a collective process where men and women – Brazilian or not – operate, relies also on individual determination, highlighting a process implemented by people who come together and form groups around a practice that carries memory recorded in bodies, transmitted through movement imitation, songs, rhythms and behaviours. Capoeira’s contribution around the world, which unfortunately still lacks recognition in our country, is related to what makes us humans, our ability to create, to invent ways of living together. The practice of capoeira is the art of celebrating this encounter, of continuing with each new roda a game that never ends, which is reinvented at each meeting through the joy and banality of performing dialogues of bodies in motion, through dancing, making music and living together.

Whilst these lines are being written, we are going through a world crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. This health crisis which was also resulted from the intensification of circulation of peoples associated with the globalisation process, has the so-called social isolation as its main method of reducing the spread of the virus. In the countries that are going through this crisis, capoeira rodas have been cancelled – however, the berimbaus have not remained silent. They appear on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram lives and videos of capoeiristas playing the berimbau and singing, others moving their bodies in front of their smartphones, celebrating and keeping capoeira practice alive. Capoeiristas’ appropriation of new technologies and their use is not something new either, as capoeiristas have been using the internet and its potential to publicize their groups and events for some time now. What is new in this moment of crisis is the impossibility of meeting friends in rodas. Within the process of the transnationalisation of capoeira practice, this moment will certainly be remembered as a singular event, but in the future it will make way for new rodas, hugs and handshakes to the sound of berimbaus, thus further intensifying the transnational dialogue of bodies in motion.

 Daniel Granada is a lecturer in  the Department of  Natural and Social Sciences, Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC). 

References

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Where did we go, huh!

Julio Cesar de Tavares

Professor of Anthropology, Universidade Federal Fluminense (Niterói, Rio de Janeiro)

Who would have been able to imagine, a century ago, that today, capoeira would be out and about in the world and bringing out more and more capoeiristas to the artful game of rogues?

No doubt, this was not accomplished without suffering, effort and dedication. Nor did it happen without humiliation, frustration, persecution and exclusion. Capoeira, by its original definition, was, is and will continue to be the art of disguise (ginga/mandinga), whether Capoeira Regional, Capoeira Angola, Contemporary Capoeira or an independent style. It is deeply shaped by rebellion (hidden resistance/resilience) against the injustices of the State regarding the daily lives of subaltern individuals and subordinated social groups. This is, like it or not, one of the most intriguing aspects, in any of its styles or denominations – this permanent libertarian communication, demonstrated by the interest of individuals empowered by a certain rebellious condition when they let themselves be captivated by capoeira. Emerging through permanent recreations and projections by the Afro-descendant population, there is an endless appeal to creativity in capoeira beyond the very conditions that created it.

In spite of being concentrated, until the beginning of the 20th century, in the most subaltern groups of the population in large urban centres, such as in Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Recife, and in addition to being classified by hostile and defamatory categories, loaded with negative associations, capoeira always managed to circulate among other social strata and attract individuals from other ethnic-racial origins. For this very reason, it has always shown enormous flexibility in overcoming racial and social boundaries. And, surprisingly, it entered environments totally characteristic of the plantation’s big house (casa grande), while preserving the characteristics, the main features, the language, the way, the rhythm, the nostalgia and sorrow typical of the ancestral tradition present in black African music throughout its diaspora. This paradoxical process allowed capoeira to recreate itself and adapt to the demands of a world in constant transformation, which, every day, is founded again in what we call the contemporary ways.

Today, in 2020, capoeira is not only anchored, increasingly refined, careful and meticulously centred in its knowledge of technical, physiological, musical and artisanal research, but also supported by the various academic fields of History, Anthropology, Ethnomusicology, Performance Arts, Literature, Physical Education, etc. What most calls our attention is the speed with which all this happened – in little more than half a century, if we consider 1966 as the landmark of capoeira expansion.

Yes, Mestre Pastinha was present at the First World Festival of Black Arts, in Dakar, Senegal, and hence the song by Caetano Veloso that goes: “Pastinha has already been to Africa, Pastinha has already been to Africa, to show capoeira from Brazil (…)”. And there he presented, on the soil of the mother continent, the matrix of an African movement celebrated in the swing (ginga) of the diaspora, and the most relevant transnational fact, which was the insertion of capoeira into the world, in the context of that first great pan-African and Afrodiasporic encounter. The First World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, in 1966, with the presence of Mestre Pastinha, voiced to the world the dynamic asymmetry, the rhythmic movement driven by the beat (levada) of the berimbau, in multiple synchronicity with the infinite combination of movements on the ground, in standing, in flight and in addition, with playfulness, the game, and the permanent joy and smile of enchantment.

From then on, capoeira won over the world. It managed to spread its phenomenal development at an exponential speed, which until then seemed impossible to imagine. We witness that everything had happened in a smooth and cautious way, cannibalized by the world and exemplified as a symptom of the emerging transnationalization of Afro-Brazilian culture.

After its presentation in Africa, capoeira expanded throughout the United States and Europe, still in the late 1960s. Until Katherine Dunham, the beloved student of anthropologist M. Herskovits and considered by Levi-Strauss as the founder of Dance Anthropology, with her ethnographic examination of the religious dances of Vodou in Haiti, and the gestures and movements of Santeria in Cuba, interfered with the overall direction of Afro-Brazilian culture. And it did so, transcending the choreographic dimension of capoeira, by combining the capoeirista’s body with diasporic politics of recognition and visibility. Dunham accomplished this through a professional gesture when hiring capoeira practitioners for her dance company and also enroling as auxiliary teacher for her classes at Saint Louis University Eusébio Lobo, known as Mestre Pavão (now a professor at Unicamp). Her dance group, the Katherine Dunham Company, was developed and composed entirely by blacks specialized in this type of dance.

It is necessary to point out here that Katherine, beyond her professional invitation to the capoeirista and capoeira-teacher Eusébio, also accomplished a political gesture of incredible importance for Brazil. I’m talking about the public denunciation of racism which she did, in 1950, well before hiring Eusébio which only happened in the 60s. When travelling in Brazil she was prevented from taking a room at the Hotel Esplanada in São Paulo, which did not accept black guests. Conscious of her political role and her ethno-racial origins, the intended humiliation of the Tupiniquim (=Brazilian) racism did not manage to silence her because this episode became a national scandal, shaking the political, judicial and intelectual spheres. Gilberto Freyre, Afonso Arinos and other MPs initiated a great mobilisation to demonstrate the need to penalise cases like hers. In fact, Afonso Arinos managed to approve the first anti-racist law in Brazil which bears his name: the Afonso Arinos Law of 1951. Gilberto Freyre’s involvement in the case shook the political and cultural sectors and the project of the MP Afonso Arinos was approved by a large majority. Today, the Afonso Arinos law of 1951 has been revoked [translator’s note: and replaced by another legislation]. Hence Katherine Dunham made an involuntary contribution to the approval of the first law that attempted to punish racial discrimination in Brazil.

Returning to capoeira, how could we imagine capoeira would be registered as Brazilian intangible heritage in 2009? It was even less likely to predict the circulation of the category “intangible heritage” which is currently used in the field of anthropological and historical studies on Heritage. In the early 1980s, this was as unfeasible to imagine as the fall of the Berlin wall (1989). Today, solidly present in more than 150 countries (in some, even, as an integral part of official education policies), capoeira is booming, as did jazz, jiu-jitsu, judo, ballet and classical music, examples of great performances, both musical and corporal, which reached transnational expression.

Imagine that, at this very moment as we read through these words and lines, tens of thousands of the more than 200,000 capoeira practitioners all over the world, are singing a chula (a type of capoeira song), playing an instrument and playing a game in the capoeira circle (roda)! Can you still imagine that this game, with several centuries of history, whose players communicate through Brazilian Portuguese in this art form, won over the world, won over fans and expanded its practice without any interference from the Brazilian state for this to happen? The strength of the capoeira diaspora is witnessed by our diplomats and recognized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which reiterates the omnipresence, brilliance and vitality of this art form/game/fight and its important role in the dissemination of the Brazilian vernacular and body language.

We found that, in fact, capoeira is an intersectional performance/fight/game that is built as an art movement amidst a constellation of many other art forms. Certainly, it is in this complex web of connections that characterizes it – a body in motion, the music, song, poetry of its litanies (ladainhas, another type of capoeira song) and the craftsmanship of its instruments – that one finds the great power, magic, charm and mystery of capoeira. And so, magnetizing hundreds of thousands of practitioners, it multiplied across Europe, all states of the United States, the countries of South America, several countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, in addition to the Caribbean countries.

It is an art that experiences intersectionality. Capoeira is expressed and thematised in many other art forms such as literature (for example, in Jorge Amado’s work), and has a growing presence in cinema, soap operas, theatre, dance, visual arts and, more recently, even in video games. It has achieved full recognition of the extensive performative strength of Afro-Brazilian culture and of all the transnational effort of the capoeirista community.

It is accepted that capoeira provides an effective contribution to the development of multiple cognitive skills. This Brazilian heritage should therefore be integrated into school education, from childhood to university, as a traditional expression of the Afro-Brazilian practice of resistance and resilience, of extreme motor coordination, which integrates in harmony and asymmetry, an enduring combination of multiple intelligences. Incorporated into the cultural repertoire of national pedagogy, it becomes an updated post-colonial representation of resistance to domination and cognitive injustices. This fantastic expression of concealment becomes a true transnational epidemic, which enchants men and women, children and adolescents, adults and the elderly all around the world. At the same time, it promotes a permanent reinvention of movement, technical investigation and aesthetic sensibility in individual bodies that carry both a unique and global body memory.

Check out the author’s book; Dança de Guerra

There is one aspect that needs to be pointed out that is of great relevance in this process of expanding capoeira’s borders. Yes, we can say that capoeira expanded the frontiers of national culture because it broke the provincial view that was tied to the idea that Brazilian​​culture is framed by specific locations in Brazil in contrast to an external culture. Suddenly, capoeiristas believed that they could expand Brazil’s borders by taking a culture from deep inside to the outside world. In this process the culture from the inside was indeed taken to the outside world. And look! Capoeira and other cultures from within shared this invasion of the outside world, and puxada de rede, samba de roda, maracatu, maculelê, jongo, expanded all in conjunction with capoeira, in public demonstrations, belonging to a markedly Afro-Brazilian diasporic cultural network around the world.

This fact and factor signal the making of capoeira leadership, represented by the masters (mestres), which need to be better appreciated today. By spearheading this movement across the world through a wide network of ‘Made in Brazil’ cultures with an Afro-Brazilian brand and matrix, capoeira has created a leadership, which although not self-reflective is still manifesting itself. A true cultural enterprise has been established, with challenging times for many of the founding heroes, who left without knowing what they were sowing. Some failed to see the creation of this globalizing landmark or the strength of what has been created with capoeira around the world. And who is managing this powerful machine of bodily knowledge and who really dominates it in the most profitable environments? The Afro-Brazilians? Why or why not? That is a question that needs to be asked in order to reveal the explicit role of politics in capoeira’s transnational practice.

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