THIS IS THE STORY OF HOW CAPOEIRA, THE AFRICAN-BRAZILIAN MARTIAL ART/DANCE, BECAME PART OF LIFE FOR A BRITISH WOMAN WHO NOW LIVES IN BRAZIL It will be told in instalments - with a few interruptions to mention present-day events - so be sure to come back and read the next exciting chapter ;-)
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Sabrina (right) playing berimbau at UCLA in the early 80s
What is Capoeira?
A martial art, a dance? More like a form of self-defence and offense camouflaged as a dance in the round. Enslaved Africans - chiefly people from the Bantu area of southwestern Africa and what is now Angola - brought a martial art used to win brides without paying a bride price to Brazil and adapted it to the harsh realities of forced labour. We now know it was originally called N'golo. Naturally, it was banned and practiced in secret - possibly in forest clearings (capoeiras). After Abolition in 1888, it was still outlawed and associated with criminal gangs. When the police rode up on their horses, the berimbau - an African musical bow that was added to the mix in Brazil - sounded out a warning (the rhythm of galloping hooves). The Angola style was preserved and taught in Bahia by Mestre Pastinha. Finally, a dictator decided to legalise (or co-opt) Capoeira by authorising Mestre Bimba to develop the Regional style in the 1930s. Now we have two main forms: Capoeira Angola - slow, sly, close to the ground - and Capoeira Regional - high kicking, flashy, popular with tourists. There are also other styles and different varieties in other countries, but Capoeira - given its melding of musical and martial arts traditions and even its indigenous name (a Tupi word that means both 'clearing' and 'chicken coop') - is as uniquely Brazilian as it is African, which helps explain why it is fast gaining popularity around the world.
The Mestre and "Gringa Mansa"
Sabrina playing berimbau alongside João Grande in NYC in February 2007