Wise Words from Mestre João Grande

In 2001, Mestre João Grande was honored as a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow. Only a few artists are selected each year for this prestigious award, which recognizes "lifetime achievement, artistic excellence, and contributions to our nation's traditional arts heritage", according to the Endowment's website. Here is an excerpt of an interview done with Janelle Ott of the NEA, upon Mestre's winning of the fellowship.

Q: Where and when did you get your inspiration to dance?

Grande: I was brought up the countryside of Itagí, in the southern part of Bahia, Brazil. I got my inspiration from watching nature and the animals. At the age of ten, I saw my first capoeira movement, called corta capim, which means "cutting the grass." The legs sweeps round and round the hand. I asked one of the capoeiristas, "What is this movement?" and he said "the dance of the Nagôs," which was a dance of black people, from the city of Salvador. Capoeira comes from all things natural. You can hear that in the songs too, you know, we sing about the rolling of the waves.

Q: What are the biggest challenges in practicing and sustaining your art form?

Grande: Everything is easy! Capoeira is "a good thing to eat." Like eating, I can't imagine life without it. It's almost the same as asking someone, "What's the most difficult thing about eating everyday?" It's so much a part of my life, it's the same to me as breathing. Capoeira is an art, a dance, a profession, and a culture. A capoeirista is a dancer, a poet, a singer, and a philosopher. It brings nothing but good for people's body and spirit.

Q: I'm glad to hear that it is easy because it looks so difficult!

Grande: The reputation that it's difficult is because not many people know how to teach it. Capoeira is for everyone: for men, for women, and for children - anyone who wants to can learn. The only people who can't learn are people who don't want to learn. Capoeira is very good for your life, your whole life.

Read the whole thing here.


FICA-Baltimore Weekend Workshops & Party

Here are the details for FICA-Baltimore's weekend workshops.

Film & Discussion
When: 7pm??, Friday Feb 23
Cidade das Mulheres documentary with a panel discussion featuring ethnomusicologist Gisele Mills, Capoeira Angola Treineu Andrea, famed samba dancer Rita Nobre, and filmmaker Mari Gartner.

Workshops with Treineu Andrea
When: 10am-12 noon & 2-4 pm, Saturday, February 24
Where: Sojourner Douglass College Gym, 200 N. Central Avenue
Cost: $20 non-members/$15 members, each workshop
Saturday Lunch and lecture: 12:30pm - 1:30, $5

Viva Brasil Party!
When: 9pm-12 midnight, Saturday, Feb 24
Samba Trovao featuring Rose Moraes with a samba class & performance by Rita Nobre.

When: 2pm-6pm, Sunday, February 25
Where: The Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Avenue


FICA-Chicago Party this Sunday!

Carnival has ended in Brazil, but the parties keep rolling here in the US. FICA-Chicago will host a fundraising party this Sunday. Here are the details:

When: Sunday, February 25th, 8pm-Midnight
Where: Bar ñ, 2977 N Elston Ave.

Join ICAF Chicago and Bossa Tres at Bar for a night of Capoeira Angola and Brazilian rhythms.

Capoeira Angola roda @ 9pm.

Bossa Tres @ 10pm

Kitchen and Bar will be open.
Suggested Donation is $10.

For more information or for class inquiries, contact the Quilombo Cultural Center at 773-227-8879.


Carnival Edition: Ilê Aiyê

In 1975, a revolution occurred during Bahia’s carnival that would change not only the way Carnival was celebrated, but also the very culture of Brazil. Ilê Aiyê paraded as the first ever bloco-afro.

With music that referenced black power, celebrated black beauty, and proclaimed that blacks built Brazil, Ilê Aiyê was fearless in its politics. Not only was the group challenging Brazil’s “racial paradise” paradigm, but it was also organizing in direct conflict with the military dictatorship’s repression of novel cultural manifestations.

Ilê Aiyê was founded in 1974 by Antonio Carlos dos Santos, or Vovô as he is known to fans around the world, and Apolônio de Jesus. Their mission was to create a group that honored African and Afro-Brazilian culture, fought against racism, and instilled pride in the black community of Salvador. Based in Liberdade, the blackest neighborhood in the blackest city in Brazil, Ilê Aiyê was unapologetically for blacks, by blacks.

The group faced great obstacles in its early years, including people who considered it racist and black Brazilians who did not self-identify as blacks. After Ilê Aiyê’s first Carnival appearance, A Tarde, Salvador’s largest newspaper, accused it of being racist and imitating the politics of blacks in the United States. The article said, “Fortunately, we [in Brazil] don’t have a race problem. This is one of the great joys of the Brazilian people…” and went on to suggest that Ilê Aiyê present a less controversial theme next year.

But Ilê Aiyê never wavered in its mission or its politics, and in its wake, dozens of other bloco-afros formed, including the world-renowned Olodum and Ara-Ketu, and as Muzena and os Malê de Balê.

Today, Ilê Aiyê has various programs aimed at raising awareness of Afro-Brazilian culture, including three schools. Every year, a few weeks before Carnival, it hosts “Beleza Negra”, a pageant/talent show/party that celebrates black beauty and selects a Goddess of Ebony who will dance atop its float and represent Ilê Aiyê around the world.

Ilê Aiyê has truly changed the way Brazilians celebrate Carnival and think about their country.


Carnival Edition: Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a phenomenon that is difficult to discuss as a unified thing. Mardi Gras means different things to different people, with families celebrating differently from single people, white differently from black, and rich differently from poor. In light of these divisions, we can look at one component of Mardi Gras: Mardi Gras Indians. There are more than 25 Mardi Gras Indian tribes in New Orleans, and as such, it will be impossible to do anything other than generalize. Please forgive any oversimplification.

The first Mardi Gras Indian tribe was the Creole Wild West, formed in the mid to late 1880s. There are two versions of the origin myths of this tribe. Some speculate that black men saw representatives of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which was in New Orleans in 1884 and 1885, dressed in Plains Indian garb and modeled their own attire after them. Others refute this somewhat facile story and argue that the original founder of the Creole Wild West was the great uncle of Tootie Montana (Big Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas tribe from 1947 until 1997) and that this man was of mixed black and Indian descent and was creating a movement for others like him to express their cultural heritage, and to pay homage to the long-standing relationship between Africans and Native populations in the United States. Indian costuming is also a feature of many carnival celebrations in the Caribbean and Latin America. This is a point often referred to when attempts are made to link New Orleans to the survival of non-American activities that make it culturally distinct from the rest of the United States.

Tootie Montana is one among many, though he may be the most famous, Big Chiefs. He held the title longer than any other Big Chief in history, and he was a vocal agitator for the rights of the members of his community, both within the tribe and in the larger community that the tribe represents. Tootie Montana’s untimely death of a heart attack at a City Council meeting dealing with allegations of police misconduct against the Mardi Gras Indians during their St. Joseph’s Day celebrations is emblematic, in a morbid sense, of his dedication to his community.

Click here for a detailed account of Tootie Montana’s life (including photos), as well as some background on the history of the Mardi Gras Indians.

Mardi Gras Indian suits are complex and time-consuming creations. Most often, one year’s costume is broken down to be reassembled into a wholly new creation for the following Mardi Gras. The sewing process begins long before Mardi Gras, is performed by the men of the tribe themselves, is the subject of many Mardi Gras Indian songs, and ends some time right before it’s time to hit the street on Mardi Gras morning. Each tribe picks the theme, some, like Victor Harris’ Spirit of Fi-ya-ya Indians mask in a more typically African style, while others prefer the Plains Indian style begun by the Creole Wild West in the late 19th century.

Mardi Gras Indians have a unique style of singing, battling, and speaking, including their mysterious language that is difficult to translate directly. Some argue that this language is derived from the language used by the Native Americans who aided escaped slaves in the Louisiana swamps. Others say it’s simply made up. Either way, the words do not have exact meanings to anyone but the Mardi Gras Indians who use them.

The Mardi Gras Indian tribes continue to mask each year, and their traditions continue to be a source of pride for insiders and fascination for outsiders. As a result of this, Mardi Gras Indians continue to represent their communities’ legacy of resistance to slavery, to violence, poverty in the context of one of the biggest celebrations in the world.

Thanks to LL in NO for the submission.


Feliz Carnival!

The world's biggest party starts tonight. Most Brazilians have spent months planning for the next few days. The cities fill up as friends and family flood in along with thousands of sun-burnt gringos. Stores along the main avenues board up, and small barracas sprout up selling everything from beer and hot dogs to candy and cheese on a stick. The city closes down and there is nothing to do but go out in the streets and dance. Everyone is ready for a good time.

Each major Brazilian city has its own distinct Carnival traditions, and for the uninitiated, things can become very confusing pretty quickly. Here's the dirt on Carnival in Bahia, Rio, and Olinda, with some nice pictures to boot.

Chiclete com Banana in Salvador.

Salvador's carnival revolves around trio-eléctricos that weave through the city.

In Rio, the Sambadromo is another planet (and these are tame images!):

I wonder where these two are from?

In the streets of Olinda, a more old-school carnival with bonecos and maracatus.

Over the next few days, we'll talk more about Carnival, so stay tuned and have a blast.


Memories of Mestre Waldemar

In 2004, a Dutch capoeira magazine published an interview with Mestre Cobra Mansa following his first workshops in the Netherlands. In the article, Mestre Cobra Mansa talks about his first seeing capoeira, meeting Mestre Moraes, his research on the berimbau, the old mestres, and more. Here is an excerpt:

The person who taught me most about capoeira and life itself was Mestre Waldemar. He was a very happy and joyful person, who always talked and smiled a lot. He said he had everything he longed for in life. But at the end of his days he suffered, just because he didn’t know how to make use of his capoeira. This had a great influence on me, in two ways: I try to save for a good future, but also to enjoy everything I can. Because today could be the last one so I won’t die unhappy...

...Mestre Waldemar used to tell me about where he went, what he did, the girlfriends he had. And when he talked, he was reliving those moments, his eyes began to shine! The same happens if you talk to Mestre João Pequeno and Mestre João Grande. When they tell you their stories it is like you are there with them. I mirror myself a lot to those people.

I think that capoeira is like Mestre Decânio told it to me once. A phrase that is very interesting to me: “A capoeira não é para morrer, é para viver”. So let’s live capoeira!
This and other great articles are available for your perusal in our archives.


Rodathon Redux

FICA-DC held its annual Rodathon on Saturday, February 3. It started out with a few brave souls and some coffee at 9:00 am and ended up a red-hot roda with folks from all over the East Coast.

CM Chorão from Grupo do Acupe-Indianapolis was at the rodathon, after giving class on Thursday and Friday and a lecture about his time in capoeira in Salvador. We had support from Baltimore, and a crew from New York. We also had a good number of spectators. Everyone from FICA-DC pitched in for a potluck feast with moqueca, gumbo, chicken, rice & red beans, plain old rice, couscous, tabouli, greens, tons of fruit, cake, pastries, juice, and, as always, varieties of flan.

The rodathon brought in enough dough to cover the tickets for Linda G., Maria Luz and Nena, and a van for the rest. Linda G. was especially honored for her commitment to the group. Special thanks to Troy, above, who raised the most money.

Thank you to CM Chorão for the wonderful workshops.

*The photos are by Harry. Ana is working on putting up some pictures to which we will link, so check back.


Grupo Zimba Event in Salvador

Need a reason to go to Bahia this weekend? Here's a good one:

Grupo Zimba (Mestre Boca do Rio) Event

When: Feb 9-11
Mestres Invited: Mestre Augusto, Mestre Caboré, Mestre Valmir, Mestre Jair Moura, e Mestre Boca do Rio
Lectures by: Fredy Abreu & Pimentinha (of FICA-Bahia) and M. Jair Noura
African Dance Class with: Marcela Gayosso and Mauro & Marcus Suel

It will all be kicked off with a cocktail and movie on the night of the 9th.

For more information click here.


Viva Brasil! in Baltimore

Just as the cold really hits, Baltimore is bringing us a bit of Carnival with its annual Viva Brasil! party. Here's the deal:

Location: Creative Alliance at The Patterson (3134 Eastern Avenue)
When: February 23- 25
What: A weekend full of great events, including,

Friday Feb 23: Film & Discussion. Cidade das Mulheres documentary with a panel discussion featuring ethnomusicologist Gisele Mills, Capoeira Angola Treineu Andrea, famed samba dancer Rita Nobre, and filmmaker Mari Gartner. 7 pm??? til it ends.

Saturday, Feb 24: Carnival Samba Dance party! With Samba Trovao featuring Rose Moraes with a samba class beforehand. 8 pm?? til it ends.

Sunday, Feb 25: Open Capoeira Roda. 2- 6 pm.

Andrea will also do some workshops. We'll post the details when we get them.


Festa de Iemanjá


Today in Salvador, most everyone will be heading down to the beach at Rio Vermelho with their presents for Iemanjá, orixá of the sea, Mother of the Waters and the Fishes.

According to lore, Iemanjá is very beautiful and vain, and she covets offerings such as mirrors, make-up, combs, perfume, flowers, and jewelry. Her colors are light blue and white, and she is sometimes personified as a mermaid. There are images of her all over Bahia. Some people will spend months creating elaborate baskets of offerings, while others will add their simple offering to the many baskets in the Weigh House at Rio Vermelho. The baskets will be piled onto hundreds of small boats and rowed far out to sea and placed in the waters. It is truly a beautiful sight. It is said that if your offering sinks, Iemanjá has accepted your gift and will protect you. If it doesn't... well, perhaps its time to talk to a mãe de santo.

The festival began back in 1923, when a group of fisherman offered presents to the goddess of the sea because it had been a particularly bad fishing season.

Even if you are not into candomblé, this is an event not to be missed because you will experience many of the wonderful aspects of Salvador, including capoeira rodas, batuque do afoxé and samba, "as baianas vendendo acarajé", the joie de vivre of Bahia in festival, and, of course, lots of fitas.