The ABC of M João Grande
1933 - Was born on the 15th January in Itagi, Bahia.
1953 - Arrived in Salvador, met M Pastinha in Candeal Pequeno in Brotas and started to learn with him.
1954 - Met M Boca Rica and M Canjiquinha in a roda in Monte Serrat.
1963 - He appears on the photos of O Cruzeiro with M Pastinha and his other students.
1966 - Participated in the I Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, Senegal together with M Pastinha, M Camaféu de Oxossi, M Gato Preto, M Roberto Satanás and M Gildo Alfinete.
1968 - Participated in the film Dança de Guerra.
1974 - Took part of the excursion of the folkloric group Viva Bahia around Europe and Middle East.
1986 - Was redescovered working in a petrol station in Salvador. See the article about it below.
1989 - M Jelon launched his CD with the participation of M João Grande, M João Pequneo and M Bobó.
1990 - Was invited to participate in the Black Arts Festival of Atlanta, USA.
1992 - Moved to New York.
1995 - Was given the Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Upsala, New Jersey, USA.
1996 - Particiated on the CD of M Moraes's GCAP.
2001 - Recorded his CD called Capoeira Angola (listen above). Also received the National Heritage Fellowship Award in the White House.
2005 - Participated with his roda in the american movie The Interpreter.
2015 - Received from the minister Juca Ferreira the Order of Cultural Merit, in the class of Grand-Cross, the highest condecoration of brazilian culture, in a cerimony in the Planalto Palace with the presence of the president Dilma Rousseff.
Is travelling annually around the world giving classes in various countries.
M João Grande in the roda, 1997
Angola. The resistance of capoeira
Tribuna da Bahia, Caderno de Cultura
Valber Roberto Carneiro
One day Sérgio Porto, the famous Stanislaw Ponte Preta, met on a luxorious street of Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro the composer Cartola washing cars on the sidewalk and flipped out. Until last November, before going on a pension, who passed through the gas station in Mataripe, in Retiro, had also a huge motive to flip out. At 55 years of age, one of the greatest masters of capoeira in the world, wasted his physical energy, his mobility and his cunning, not to ginga and pass his teaching to new capoeiristas, but to shine the trunks of dirty cars that stopped in the station. Things of Brazil.
Today, for the joy of the "angoleiros" and everyone that like capoeira as a folk culture, João Grande returned to give classes every day at the academy of the Capoeira Angola Pelourinho Grouo, of teachers Moraes and Cobrinha. João Grande only went there during the week at night, when he could. On Sundays he was always present, in the morning. Now, the almost legendary master will live capoeira every day, all day. During the week, the beginners of capoeira angola can "feel" his cunning from 6 til 8 PM. From 8 til 10 PM it's time for the iniciated to have João Grande close-by. This is a unique opportunity.
“In the academy there're two boys/ called João/ one is a tame snake/ the other a hawk/ one plays high up/ the other bends on the floor/..." These verses created by Mestre Pastinha for his two favourite pupils ended up becoming a song in the capoeira rodas in the historical academy of Pelourinho. The two "grandsons" were called João; to separate them Pastinha called one Grande, the other Pequeno.
Born in Itagi, in the South of Bahia, under the earth sign of the Capricorn, João Grande is used to rule very close to the ground, almost crouching, in the typical position of the "angoleiros" to go on from there in the rapid aerial counter-attacks with leg-kicks and movements that capoeira angola, the most "roots" of them all, imported from the animals. Kicks, headbutts and rabo-de-arraias were imitated from the analogous movements that the natural defence instinct of the animals improved during thousands of years. That's why capoeira angola is the closest possible capoeira to the "original", played by the slaves in the form of an inoffensive dance (to fool their masters) in the cut down forests of the North East known as capoeiras, that later started to be served as reference for those that practised it. "Where is the negro?", asked the oppressor. "He is in the capoeira", his brothers responded. In little time they became the "capoeiras". The name stayed.
Son of worker-parents, João Grande, arrived in Salvador being 15 years old to live in Tororó. In the beginning, to make a living, he started working as a carrier in a cachaça warehouse. It's ironic that he doesn't smoke or drink till today, his cachaça is capoeira angola which he feels is every day more and more sieged by the official insensibility and the distorted consciences that are armed against the angoleiros. The sad reality is that for every 10 students only one prefers capoeira angola, the other nine are going to practise regional. A variation of style created by Mestre Bimba, played standing up that allows the incorporation of kicks coming from other fights. "Regional is the evolution of capoeira", its students say. The angoleiros think otherwise. "They say we need to evolve, but we want the tradition of the rhythm, of singing, of the game and the philosophy, this is what capoeira is", the angoleiros accuse.
Discussions aside, only eight great master-angoleiros are still alive: Canjiquinha, Paulo dos Anjos, Curió, Virgílio da Fazenda Grande, Bobó, Bom Cabrito and the two Joãos. And the two last ones are in activity. In other words, the quintessence of capoeira angola can still be learned. Not reading books, but talking and living the fight with the great masters. "The masters aren't worried with philosophy and tradition any more", declares João Grande and "are letting their angola students to do a thousand strange things with capoeira".
In the book called Capoeira Angola, by Waldeloir Rego, the author affirms that Pastinha wasn't a good capoeirista. João Grande opposes: "The best I saw ever play, he was great. That time he made a movement, drew it and afterwards sent to Jorge Amado to write about it in his books", he remembers.
The beginning was interesting. On a Sunday afternoon in a place known as Roça do Lobo, more or less where today the Instituto Pedro Melo is located on Av. Centenário. It was 1953 and he was 20 years old. He saw a capoeira roda, João Pequeno's. The other João had already played for two years in Pastinha's Academy. "João, where is your academy?" "In Candeal Pequeno". "On what days?" "Sunday afternoon, Tuesday and Friday at night". "How much to pay?" 2 thousand réis (he earned 10 a month). Next Sunday he went there to enroll. He became known, today he's almost a living legend.
He neve had friction with the police as it did happen duing Pastinha's time, also never fought on the street. "I've already met the people who've bumped into me, I left it behind", he confesses. Today he admits that the people, many of them, learn to play to fight. There is no more of that respect of the old times and everyone learns a little and want to become a master right away. "Today there are more masters than students", he accuses remembering that out of respect he had to wait Pastinha to pass away in November 1981 to pass from contra-mestre to mestre or to do as João Pequeno did, who asked authorization from Pastinha himself to be able to open his academy. As a coinsidence the two academies are located today in the same Fortress of Santo Antônio, ex-House of Detention, being that João Grande together with Moraes and Cobrinha are not accepting that a student bring no kick from "outside", that isn't exclusively from "capoeira angola".
Capoeira angola works alot with the conscience of capoeira as the black culture of the "roots". Through there come the details of the african oral tradition that don't move through books. "Only living together and talking with the great masters", reminds mestre Cobrinha being enthusiastic getting to know more about the tradition that he practises with the constant presence of João Grande in the academy. "We are sometimes having a talk with someone who says to be angoleiro and don't see anything there", warns Cobrinha, going to Caribbeans where he intends to return from in August to the Workshop and Show of Capoeira Angola in the Fortress of Santo Antônio.
The workshop will reunite angoleiros from Bahia and other states such as Rio de Janeiro, Minas and Goiás, ex-students of mestre Moraes who in his turn was a student of João Grande. The name has already been chosen: Capoeira Angola, Resistence to the False Abolition and until it's not taken place they get together each week in the preparatory seminars for the workshop, every Saturday afternoon in the same place where the academy is.
To finish up João Grande lets sociologist Waldeloir Rego know that he was not Cobrinha Verde's student as he mentions in the book called Capoeira Angola. His only master was the deceased Pastinha. As the life is used to play tricks on people so is his destiny playing tricks on him: he's been fighting with and for capoeira for 35 years and there was a time he only slept for an hour a day between washing the cars in the petrol station and the folkloric shows in Moenda Restaurant. Today, retired, he is returning to do only what he likes, fighting for the "life" of capoeira angola against the inflitrations of other fights, however, out of his six sons no-one likes capoeira. "Only boxing and cock-fighting, capoeira - they say - doesn't give anything back", he concludes. But there will still be many aú-s ahead.