"The roots don't depend on the tree. The tree depends on the roots." / "As raizes não dependem da árvore. A árvore depende da raíz."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Engaging Black Communities in Capoeira Angola (Part 2)

True love is unconditional, cleansing fire is impartial. Burn that weak heart from out of your chest! 
                              - Low Country Capoeira Angola Society

Now is the perfect time to plant the seed of Capoeira Angola in the Black communities of the United States. Desire, commitment, development, and wisdom are the attributes which will root Capoeira Angola within these communities.  However, I believe there are four things we should keep in mind and adhere to:

1. When teaching in Black communities, our skills must be impeccable.

In order for the roots of Capoeira Angola to grow strong in the Black communities of the United States, it must be respected by the communities in which it is taught.  If we tell the communities we are working in that Capoeira Angola is a danced fight done to music, many community members will expect our Capoeira Angola to demonstrate grace and power, intelligence and strength, fearlessness and funk.  As such, if one is interested in bringing Capoeira Angola to the Black communities of the United States he or she has to train hard every day!  Black communities deserve the absolute best that Capoeira Angola has to offer.

2. Students must be required to attend at least two classes and one roda every week.

By establishing an order in which at least four hours of class time and two hours of roda are required each week, we will ensure the steady growth of group cohesiveness and individual development within the communities we work.  It also sends a clear message to our communities that Capoeira Angola is serious business, and only serious people need apply.

Within some groups treinels in their late 20’s and early 30’s are so overweight and out of shape that they cannot demonstrate the movements they are supposed to teach.  In other groups, elder students only attend rodas.  Refusing or unable to take training seriously, these elder students and treinels display an empty, lax type of Capoeira Angola that bears witness to their laziness and arrogance, while undermining the overall quality of Capoeira Angola in the United States. However, if we are to successfully root Capoeira Angola in the Black communities of the United States, we can be neither lazy nor arrogant. 

As for the roda, we must not fall into the traps of having it once a month or becoming discouraged when there are five people or less attending.  The roda is the group’s paycheck, party, and spa all rolled into one.  The roda is where lessons learned during the week are reinforced.  It is also the place that the community should be invited to see the work you are doing.  Bring food to your roda, acknowledge births, graduations, sons getting out of jail, new jobs, marriages, and transitions at your roda.  Every roda should be a celebration, and your group should feel that the most important roda in the world is the one they are at.

3. Do not hire teachers from outside of your community to teach in your community.

Hiring outside mestres or teachers to teach will not in any way help maintain the health of your group, let alone help Capoeira Angola become rooted within the Black communities of the United States.  By outside mestres or teachers I mean those who are not involved in the day to day struggles of the group with which you work.  In other words, if your group sees a mestre or teacher only three to five times a year, then he or she is an outside mestre or teacher as far as your community is concerned.  This applies even if your group wears the same t-shirt as the mestre or teacher you are hiring to teach, or if the outside mestre or teacher you hire is the one who taught you Capoeira Angola.

On its face this may seem counterintuitive.  Many of those interested in bringing Capoeira Angola to the Black communities of the United States have through the years looked upon this or that mestre with awe and admiration.  Often, these mestres and teachers are affable, charismatic, and extremely knowledgeable about Capoeira Angola.  However, at some point those interested in doing the serious work of planting the roots of Capoeira Angola in the Black communities of the United States have to put emotions to the side, and do the knowledge.   The question is, in what direct way has hiring outside mestres or teachers helped to root Capoeira Angola in Black communities?

As a case in point we can look at the ICAF group in Atlanta.  Over several years ICAF Atlanta hired Cobrinha, Mestre Valmir, Mestre Jurandir, Contra Mestre Alcione, Treinel Beto, and others to teach classes or workshops.  However, even with all of the in and out of these various teachers, today the ICAF group in Atlanta is defunct.  The LA branch of ICAF, which has also closed down, has a similar story.  In both cases hiring mestres to come “support” these groups could not make up for either of these two groups’ lack of vision and weak leadership.  I would argue that in some ways both groups had their growth stunted by looking to mestres and teachers from outside of their communities for leadership, instead of developing strong leadership from within.

It is important to note that hiring these outside mestres and teachers is not the root of the problem, but symptomatic of the lack of self-confidence that plagues many Black communities in the United States. As stated earlier, in most cases these outside mestres and teachers are incredible sources of Capoeira Angola knowledge.  I recommend that serious angoleiros go visit these mestres and teachers in their own academies as much as possible, and bring the knowledge they gain back to the community in which they work.  Likewise, these mestres and teachers should be welcome to visit your weekly open roda whenever they desire.

Those interested in rooting  Capoeira Angola in the Black communities of the United States need to do more than teach their communities to do the movements of our art, play the berimbau, and sing in Portuguese.  The Black communities of the United States need Capoeira Angola to be used as a tool to foster self confidence and promote community healing.

Any group that consistently hires outside mestres or teachers models a lack of self-confidence to the community at large.  It subtly conveys the message that Black communities must look outside of themselves for energy.  It also diverts precious internal resources that should be utilized for skill development, towards event planning and fund raising.  Allowing Black communities in the United States to become part of the Capoeira Angola teachers’ workshop/conference circuit that has developed over the past several years is dishonorable and unsustainable.  If we are committed to helping Capoeira Angola take root in the Black communities of the United States, our investment must be towards a daily passion and long term commitment that builds our communities’ Capoeira Angola from the inside out.  We should avoid attending showy events and hiring name brands unless we can justify how doing so will serve our communities’ needs.

4.  Teach For Free!

Besides the cost needed to maintain or rent a space, we should not charge Black communities in the United States money to practice Capoeira Angola.  To engage in this type of pioneering work one must have a sense of urgency and a spirit of sacrifice.  Capoeira Angola is magic, money is mundane.  At this early stage of helping to root Capoeira Angola in the Black communities of the United States, the only currency we should trade in is mutual love and respect.

Written by Chicago.  Chicago is a member of the Low Country Capoeira Angola Society, located in Philadelphia, PA, USA.  He can be reached at Lccapoeira@yahoo.com or (912)596-2142.


  1. The man talks the talk and he walks the walk, i can personally attest to the number of youths, families,family heads,single mothers,mentally sick,physically sick, spiritually lost, culturally disconnected,emotionally unstable brothers and sisters in the black community he has empowered,myself included. The future for Capoeira Angola within the black communities of the United States is bright because the Low Country Angola Society is truly doing the work, from the new babies we have yearly, to the young teachers that are being developed. In the words of Marcus Garvey "the pen is mightier than the sword,but the tongue is mightier than both."Chicago your words cut to the truth,and your actions give them power..keep on keepin on....fiya for da weak hearts!!!

  2. Thanks to Chicago and Capoeira Africana for bringing this very important subject and very difficult task to the foreground.

    The most important point in the article for me is that the "Black communities of the United States need Capoeira Angola to be used as a tool to foster self confidence and promote community healing." Living in a community where death by violence perpetrated by community members is unacceptably common, Capoeira Angola's power and beauty can be good medicine for changing the minds and culture of our communities where intra-community violence is not only fairly common, but often extolled as virtuous. 19 young people associated with Chuco's Justice Center (where we train on the boundary of Los Angeles & Inglewood) have been killed in the last 14 months, through gang violence, police violence, suicide and other violent community tragidies.

    The greatest challenge, as i see it, is making the game and philosophy of Capoeira Angola accessable and acceptable to our people. In our community, sometimes it appears that if it is not popular, it is neither acceptable nor desireable. Teenagers and young adults come to class only when accompanied by a friend. If the friend doesn't come, neither will they. If it is not on TV or the movies, it doesn't exist. If they do see capoeira in the media, it is usually contemporary capoeira portrayed as a joke and worthless as a martial art. Older folks tend to have a greater appreciation and respect for Capoeira Angola, but see it as too extraordinarily difficult to do.

    It takes effort to change the misperceptions about Capoeira Angola, but well worth it. Sometimes all it takes is a history lesson, a demonstration, a roda or a plain talk explanation of philosophies relating to Capoeira Angola. Folks need to know that it is not anything to fear or disregard as useless.

    The challenge is there, i hope that we all are committed to meeting it. Further work and discussion is necessary to firmly build a strong foundation for Capoeira Angola in the Black community. Let us build together!

  3. When I first met Chicago years ago at a workshop, he would often repeat "If you aren't teaching your community, your Capoeira Angola will grow polluted." To this day, Chicago continues to live by this mantra and inspires others to be self-less in their pursuit, protection, preservation, and proliferation of Capoeira Angola. As a proud member of Low Country, InI can attest that these are not just words in an article but a philosophy of a movement. We have evolved from a "group" to a "society." Beyond capoeira, we function as a nation. Do not copy or blindly follow the model presented here. Learn from it. Manifest it for your community. All Capoeira Angola groups here in the US are called out to step their game up. If you are lacking youth native to the community you teach in, the responsibility is YOURS. It is not enough to just continue to observe "what a shame it is more black folk don't train." That's old, outdated. It's time for a new conversation. Capoeira Angola is slowly turning into western commercialized yoga, a cute fad to do keep in shape without having to do the real work. Everybody want to do yoga but no one wants to be a yogi. Step it up. Give thanks, Chicago,for holding up a mirror and a road map. -Ras Angola Tafari

  4. Hi there, Chicago! Thank you for writing this series. I do agree with several points of Part 1 and Part 2, especially with focusing efforts on local community and developing loyalty and inspiration. The people within your immediate surroundings and the relationships with them will be your salvation within the rough times. I feel that the struggles within the black communities have more to do with class rather than race. It is the divide of the "haves" vs. "have nots". How do you compete with the materialism and glitz/glamour of modern culture with sweaty, achy effective training of the body, spirit and mind?? (This is the current trend, sad, but true) The youth of current culture are especially susceptible to losing the art of focus, hard work and passion (fire). The leadership that you speak of needs to be approached from a foundation of confidence, especially (it seems to me) within black communities and ANY race of teenage youth ( I am a mother of a teenager). Capoeira skills grow and flourish when tested against the unfamiliar. That is what is needed, especially in a modern culture and world such as this. It is a time to focus your local efforts as much as possible but also to learn and understand as much from the outside world as you can, while you can. Peace.Light.Love. Hera

  5. Erik is a Master Artist and brings expressive passion to others via his Capoeira craft. His discipline is without question and his dedication to the artform is absolute. I have watched him grow from the beginning and know that he is a true Artist.