Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Back Trackin', Brazil Edition - Experiencing Capoeira in Salvador, Brazil

Capoeira is one of Brazil's gifts to the world. It is a martial art that vaguely resembles dance and is a product of the mixing of the cultures that is so much a part of what makes Brazil special. Capoeira can be traced back to movements brought by early African slaves. Salvador is considered the hometown for the development of capoeira, and you can find people "playing" capoeira in rodas (or circles) all over the city.

After lots of walking back and forth between my hotel in the very central Pelourinho district in Salvador, I noticed a lot of rodas in the streets. These were guys who didn't study capoeira, but learned it from their friends. There are groups like this in Salvador performing for tourists and showing off lots of acrobatic talent. I stopped to watch a little until they started to flirt with me (I blended in very well, maybe a little too well, in Salvador), and then I needed to go.

In the same square was this man:

We struck up a conversation, and I learned that he was in fact a capoeira mestre (master and instructor). By day, he sold capoeira-related souvenirs and trinkets in the square. One morning he called out to me, and we began one of our many stilted but surprisingly understandable Portuguese-English conversations. I have to admit that this was one of the fun and unexpected byproducts of traveling alone. I'm not sure that I would have met him if I was traveling with someone else.

After lots of back and forth, the Mestre (as I'll call him) decided to teach me how to play the berimbau, an important instrument in capoeira. When two people are in the circle "playing" capoeria, there are others outside keeping rhythm for their movements through instruments and song. The berimbau is probably the most unusual looking of the instruments because it resembles a bow and arrow.

A great pic of a berimbau with names of its parts

It looks easy and simple enough to play right? WRONG! There's a lot going on at the same time (make sure to reference the pic for the parts of the instrument I describe):

-Holding the berimbau upright with just your pinky and ring fingers.
-Depending on the tone you are trying to achieve, putting cabaca close to body or away from your body.
-Making sure that you are striking the arame with the vareta at the right rhythm while moving a pedra (a little 'ol rock) back and forth
-Plus, if you really want to get down :), shaking the caixixi while you're doing all of this.


Here I am taking a try! You don't see me grimacing through the pain of holding up the berimbau with my pink and ring fingers.

On one of my last days in Salvador, the Mestre invited me to see some of his students perform at the Mercado Modelo, an open air market for tourists (read: tourist trap but still worth the trip) in Salvador's Lower City.

I like seeing female capoeiristas since they are hard to come by. When women perform capoeria movements well, I actually think they look better than men. :)

Showing off for the tourists. Like me! :)

If you are interested in seeing capoeira full out, here are a few short videos.

Has anyone tried capoeira or any other martial arts? Have you ever met someone during a trip that helped you learn more about the local culture (thanks, Mestre!)?


lobster said...

That is so strange. I was just learning wahat capoeira is this morning from a coworker who found classes at the NY Capoeira Center.

BigAppleNosh said...

I've heard that capoeira is an amazing workout!

Mrs. Hot Cocoa said...

So cool. There's a capoeira group that practices at one of the dance studios I go to, and I love watching them.


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