Monday, 18 June 2007

Capoeira, California style

Back in the early to mid-80s,* the main Capoeira group in California was the World Capoeira Association, founded in San Francisco** by Mestre Acordeon, aka Bira Almeida (shown in the above photo), the Brazilian author of the polemically titled book Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form. Acordeon organised a major Capoeira gathering in 1986, way up in wine country. As usual I was the designated driver, so a bunch of Capoeiristas piled into my Dad's Cutlass Supreme (complete with cruise control) and we cruised up the coast to Frisco.

Acordeon’s school was located in the Mission district, but the venue for the event was a castle-like facility (complete with sauna) north of the Napa Valley, owned by a Bagwan-like cult. Capoeristas from all over the country took part. In those days, they boiled down to Jelom Vieira's group from NYC and students and mestres from LA and San Francisco. There seemed to be a healthy, friendly rivalry between Acordeon and Jelom. I thought it was funny that, in most of Jelom's rodas, the opponents ended up wrestling on the ground - especially when his opponent was Acordeon! I haven't seen that style of Capoeira before or since, but it was also the denouement of Ag'ya as filmed by Katherine Dunham, so I can't say it wasn't authentic.

The other leading Brazilian Capoeira mestre in California was Henrique do Nascimento, whose father, the poet, activist, sculptor, actor, scholar and politician Abdias do Nascimento, is a fascinating figure who unfortunately does not otherwise fit into this particular narrative. Henrique was involved in several Capoeira events in Los Angeles, but I don't remember seeing him play. I do recall going to a party at his home and tasting a batida (a potent mix of cachaça and lime juice) for the first time. Naively assuming it was lemonade, I took a hefty swig, and spent the rest of the party trying to sober up so I could drive home!

Back then, the most important characteristic of Capoeira in the USA was that it was dominated by Regional mestres. The only teacher who gave us a glimpse of Capoeira Angola was Paris. Even so, I got it into my head that Angola was the truly authentic style, and when I made plans to go to Brazil, it was Angola that I wanted to learn.

*I left the US for Brazil in December 1986, to give a more specific timeframe.
**Mestre Moraes once told me that this was like founding the International Hot Dog Association in Brazil - an apt analogy on more than one level.

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