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Sep 25

Lyrics focus: What is capoeira?

Dance? Fight? Game? Art?

In lyrics focus lessons, we'll take a more in-depth look at capoeira songs related to a particular theme. In this lesson, our theme is O que é capoeira? (What is capoeira?) - we'll look at five songs that attempt to answer this question.

Song #1

Capoeira

É defesa, ataque

A ginga de corpo e a malandragem

São Francisco Nunes

Preto velho meu avô

Ensinou para o meu pai

Mas meu pai não me ensinou

Capoeira

É defesa, ataque

A ginga de corpo e a malandragem

O maculelê

É dança do pau

Na roda de capoeira

É no toque do berimbau

Capoeira

É defesa, ataque

A ginga de corpo e a malandragem

Eu ja tive em moçambique

Eu ja tive em guinè

Tô voltando de angola

Com o jogo de malè

Capoeira

É defesa, ataque

A ginga de corpo e a malandragem

 

CLICK TO LISTEN TO THIS SONG ON YOUTUBE

Capoeira

Is defense, attack

Swaying of the body and trickiness

Saint Francis Nunes

An old black man, my grandfather

Taught my father

But my father didn't teach me

Capoeira

Is defense, attack

Swaying of the body and trickiness

Maculelê

Is a stick dance

In the capoeira roda

It's in the berimbau rhythm

Capoeira

Is defense, attack

Swaying of the body and trickiness

I've been to Mozambique

I've been to Guinea

I'm coming back from Angola

With the game of the Malê*

Capoeira

Is defense, attack

Swaying of the body and trickiness

 

*Malê was the name given to African Muslims in Brazil. They are famous for initiating the Malê Revolt in 1835, a rebellion that, although defeated by the Brazilian cavalry, contributed to the eventual abolition of the slave trade. Read more here.

It's interesting that this song lists defesa (deh-FAY-za) before ataque (ah-TAH-kee). The capoeirista's first priority is to defend himself or herself - esquiva and negativa are among the first movements we learn. You can play a successful game in the roda using only defenses (try it sometime!)

Capoeira's defesa is mainly about avoiding attacks rather than blocking them. Unlike some other martial arts, capoeira has no direct blocking movements. This reflects the capoeira philosophy that comes from being the art of an oppressed people: if you fight force with force (such as blocking a blow), the stronger force will always win. But if you avoid the blow, it doesn't matter how big or strong your opponent is. Agility is better than brute strength in capoeira.

The ginga (ZHEEN-gah) is the most fundamental movement of capoeira. Ginga means "to swing; to sway" - it's a fluid, graceful movement that involves your whole body. If your ginga is stiff and robotic, you're doing it wrong - try to relax more!

Malandragem (mah-lahn-DRAH-zhem) means cunning, trickiness, slyness, deceptiveness. In general usage, it has a negative connotation: a malandro is a vagabond, a con artist, someone who's up to no good. Capoeira turns this word around and makes it a positive quality - a good capoeirista should have malandragem, the ability to trick the other player. That's why advanced capoeiristas can maneuver less experienced players into the perfect position for a takedown. Malandragem can't be taught; it simply comes with years of experience in the roda.


Song #2

Tá no sangue da raça brasileira

Capoeira

é da nossa cor

berimbau

é da nossa cor

atabaque

é da nossa cor

o pandeiro

é da nossa cor

LISTEN TO THIS SONG ON YOUTUBE

It’s in the blood of the Brazilian race

Capoeira

Is of our color

Berimbau

Is of our color

Atabaque

Is of our color

Pandeiro

Is of our color

This song makes a connection between capoeira and cor (color), race, or ethnicity - specifically, Brazilian ethnicity. Capoeira's roots - from the music to the movements - come from Africa, but it was only in Brazil that the art developed into the form that it exists today. Thus, capoeira reflects not only the African roots of the Brazilian people and culture, but also its long history of mixing with European and Indigenous influences.

For decades, capoeira was repressed along with other African cultural manifestations such as samba and candomblé; it was only in the 1930s that Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas made the practice of capoeira legal, recognizing it as "the Brazilian national sport." In 2008, capoeira gained further recognition when Brazil's Ministry of Culture named the art a "Cultural Patrimony of Brazil."

Many Brazilians are proud of capoeira - for good reason! It is one of the most widespread vehicles taking Brazilian culture across the globe; the art is practiced in over 150 countries.


Song #3

Oi meu mano

O que foi que tu viu la?

Eu vi Capoeira matando,

Tambem vi maculelê

Capoeira

É jogo praticado na terra de São Salvador

Capoeira

É jogo praticado na terra de São Salvador

LISTEN TO THIS SONG ON YOUTUBE

Hey, my brother

What was it that you saw there

I saw capoeira killing

I also saw maculelê

Capoeira

Is a game practiced in the land of São Salvador

Capoeira

Is a game practiced in the land of São Salvador

Here we have yet another aspect of capoeira - this song calls it a jogo (ZHOH-go) or "game." Like a chess game, capoeira involves indirect attacks and strategy to "checkmate" the other player. It has both playfulness (brincadeira) and competition.

The city of Salvador in the northeastern state of Bahia is one of Brazil's oldest cities, and was the country's first capital until being succeeded by Rio de Janeiro in 1763. It is best known for its Afro-Brazilian culture and cuisine, as it has the country's highest proportion of Brazilians of African descent.

Salvador is important in the history of capoeira. Although there is no certainty as to where, exactly, capoeira originated (the first written record of capoeira comes from Rio de Janeiro in 1789), Salvador is undeniably the birthplace of capoeira's modern forms, Capoeira Angola (preserved by Mestre Pastinha) and Capoeira Regional (developed by Mestre Bimba) - both these mestres were natives of Salvador.


Song #4 (By Mestre Barrão)

Capoeira é luta é dança

Capoeira é arte é magia

Capoeira é luta é dança

Capoeira é arte é magia

Eu jogo a capoeira

Pois ela é minha alegria

Quando eu toco Berimbau

Minha alma se contagia

Pois viver sem Capoeira

é uma grande agonia

Meu coração logo para

Meus olhos ja não brilham

Com a falta de Capoeira

Que é um vicio de alegria

Capoeira é o meu jeito de ser

Capoeira é minha filosofia

Capoeira eu joguei ontem

Jogo hoje e jogo todo dia

Capoeira é luta é dança

Capoeira é arte é magia

Capoeira é luta é dança

Capoeira é arte é magia

Capoeira dia e noite, colega velho

Capoeira noite e dia

Capoeira é luta é dança

Capoeira é arte é magia

Se não fosse a capoeira, colega velho

Eu aqui não estaria

Capoeira é luta é dança

Capoeira é arte é magia

Vou fazer da capoeira, colega velho

A minha filosofia

Capoeira é luta é dança

Capoeira é arte é magia

LISTEN TO THIS SONG ON YOUTUBE

Capoeira is fight; it is dance

Capoeira is art; it is magic

Capoeira is fight; it is dance

Capoeira is art; it is magic

I play capoeira

Because it is my joy

When I play Berimbau

It affects my soul

Because living without capoeira

Is a great agony

My heart soon stops

My eyes no longer shine

With the lack of capoeira

Which is an addiction of joy

Capoeira is my way of being

Capoeira is my philosophy

I played capoeira yesterday

I play today and I play every day

Capoeira is fight; it is dance

Capoeira is art; it is magic

Capoeira is fight; it is dance

Capoeira is art; it is magic

Capoeira day and night, old friend

Capoeira night and day

Capoeira is fight; it is dance

Capoeira is art; it is magic

If not for capoeira, old friend

I would not be here

Capoeira is fight; it is dance

Capoeira is art; it is magic

I will make capoeira, old friend

My philosophy

Capoeira is fight; it is dance

Capoeira is art; it is magic

 

This song describes capoeira in a different way - as luta (LOO-tah) and dança (DAHN-sah). Luta, although I've translated it as fight, isn't like a fistfight or barroom brawl. Portuguese has a different word for that - briga. The word luta describes martial arts and also battles/movements - such as the battle for freedom and equality. Capoeira, in addition to being a martial art, is also a "battle" to achieve deeper goals.

Describing capoeira as dança reflects the beauty and musicality of capoeira. It's not enough to play a good technical game in the roda - you must also to it beautifully! As in a dance, the capoeirista's movements are guided by the rhythm of the music.

The arte (AH-chee) of capoeira refers to its creativity. A good capoeirista doesn't just copy everything his/her mestre does like a pre-programmed robot. No, instead you must create... developing your own style that reflects your own personality.

Finally, I think every capoeirista has felt the magia (mah-ZHEE-ah) of capoeira - the energy of the music, the camaraderie of the community, the addictive thrill that comes when you get a new movement. That's what keeps us going!


Song #5 (By Mestre Barrão)

É legal, é legal

Jogar capoeira é um negocio legal

É legal, é legal

Jogar capoeira e tocar berimbau

É legal, é legal

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It’s great, it’s great

To play capoeira is a great thing

It’s great, it’s great

To play capoeira and play berimbau

It’s great, it’s great

The word legal (lay-GAU) has a double meaning in Portuguese. It means "legal" as in "not against the law" - which is interesting because capoeira used to be illegal!  The Brazilian Penal Code of 1890 prescribed two to six months in prison as a punishment for practicing capoeira - or deportation for foreigners.

But legal in colloquial Brazilian Portuguese also means "great," "cool," or "sweet" - and I think we can all agree playing capoeira is great!


Sua vez! (Your turn!)

Which aspect of capoeira do you most identify with? Leave your reply in the comments.

1 comment

  1. Gurmeet Singh (Corujao)

    Primeiro, Obrigado para esta trabalho grande. Desculpe se eu escrevo portuguese erado, porque eu so comecaram a aprender portugues,
    ca escrevo em ingles
    I just love it, i have been suffering from kknee injury for last 14 minths, prior to it i did capoeira for 8 months with CDO India, i am still with this group but away, because of the recovery process, between this injury period i got berimbau from my Capoeira teacher, Baba. Berimbau has helped me to stay close with its roots, and i believe Capoeira nao so e luta e danca, mas descricao de nossa vida tambem..Capoeira e minha vida.

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