Capoeira, only Angola
26th March 1969
Text by Maria Valdira
Photos by Teobaldo Santos
Photo 1: “Son of a fish, is a little fish”. Mestre Gato and his son Gato II in a capoeira exhibition.
Photo 2: Mestre Gato has the lightness of a feather in his jumps of “Pope of Capoeira”.
For someone who never heard of Mestre Gato, here is his record: birth name, José Gabriel Góes, born in Bahia of All the Saints and of "All the Gods" (as the presentation of his show in Brasília called it) a nice, calm, peaceful black guy, with a white smile, which hides from anybody the speed of a cat (that gave him the name), and an exceptional skill that conquered him, deservedly, the nickname "Pope of Capoeira" in Bahia. Mestre Gato is more on the slim side, and his body shows the lightness which he gives proof when he presents himself a great capoeirista that he is. Mestre Gato is a born capoeirista. He was born with it in the blood. So much so that his two sons, Sinésio Souza Góes, who is already known as "Gato II", eight years old [17, since he was born in September 1951], and José Souza Góes, "Gatinho", 7 years old [12, since he was born in April 1956], prove the old saying that "the fish's son is a little fish", and are the father's companions in the simple, but difficult art of the capoeira fight.
When he was only 8 years old, José Gabriel got from his companions the nickname "cat", during the hours of his incredible pranks and the escapades that he managed to make using the jumps of a mestre. The "mestre" came with time, but still when José Gabriel wasn't even an adolescent. Today, Mestre Gato who, in Bahia, teaches the kicks of capoeira in the Capoeira Angola Academy, in the Dance School of the University of Bahia and in the Visual Arts School, has already represented Brazil in diverse opportunities, conquering prizes for presenting the brazilian folklore; he has been in Rio for 5 times; in 1963 was in Brasília, in the Candango Feast; in Rio Grande do Sul, in 1962; Belo Horizonte, in 1959; in Pernambuco (1959), in Sergipe (1959), in Dacar, Africa, in the Black Arts Festival, when he then conquered for Brazil the 1st prize; in Paris, France (1966); in São Vicente de Portugal (1966); and now, in Brasília (where he showed, on 21st, 22nd and 23rd, in the University, in the Pilots College, in the Military Police barracks, in the Martins Penna Theatre and in Sobradinho). For the joy and the enchantment of children and adults. And for the bigger glory of the art, authentic and beautiful.
The spectacle starts with the first accords of a song that is at the same time nostalgic and shaking: The Capoeira Hymn, that came from Angola, with the captive negros:
„Bahia, my Bahia, city of Salvador;
who never went to Bahia, doesn't know what's important;
Capoeira, only Angola, that even the doctor learns;
learns a parlamentary, general and a senator.
Mister come to Bahia, to get to know the teachers,
Iê, alueandê, camarada…
Iê, rooster sang, camarada…
The capoeirista squats at the foot of the two berimbaus, while the mestre sings the hymn. Continue squatting; from there go to the jungle, squatting still. Following, the Mestre sings "Barravento", the two capoeiristas make a cross on the ground, bless themselves, shake each-others hands and go to the fight:
How's it going, what's up
How's it going
How's your health
I came to see you…“
And follows an abundance of „gingados“, „individuais“, „agachados“, „sapinhos“, „meias luas de frente“, „meias luas armadas“, „aus“, „saltos mortais“, „rolôs“, and „chamas“. These songs, full of mysticism, and this specific vocabulary make part of a afro-brazilian ritual, that is dance and is game and is fight at the same time: capoeira. Used by the slaves as an instrument of defence that didn't compromise them, capoeira acquired on brazilian lands nuances of an artist. The suffering imagination of the black slave unfolded the art of the defence and the attack to the point of turning capoeira, that appearantly is an innocent amusement and without consequences, into a mortal instrument, very dangerous. Prohibited from carrying any type of weapon, the enslaved blacks discovered that, with their own body, they could create fatal weapons. And they created capoeira, a beautiful fight, almost a fantastic ballet, with music and all. Capoeira has 360 kicks, divided into two parts: 180 kicks and 180 counter-kicks, having among these some, if applied fully, would cause the friend's death. From capoeira variations were born. And so, came to be maculelê, samba de roda, and capoeira in samba. As the hymn says, everybody can learn capoeira: not only parlamentary, general and senator, but also boys, girls and children. For the boys there are different kicks allowed, among them the „gingado“, the „individuais“, the „agachados“, the „sapinho“, the „meia lua de frente“ and the „armada“, the „au“, and the „salto mortal“. The girls can learn kicks of „rabo de arraia“, „martelo“, „benção de frente“, „rasteira“, „galopante“ and „gingado“. The children start with the "gingado", learning first to use the musical instruments (berimbau, pandeiro, reco-reco and agogô), and later learn some infantil ckicks, but they cannot use them on their colleges: „bênção de frente“, „defesa da bênção de frente“ (in this, a person is taken down on the ground), „rolô“, „meio salto mortal“, „au de lado“ and „chama“. The child can learn from the age of 7 years until 14. For the adults there is no age limit. A year is the learning time for the boys. A girl only get the capoeirista license after one year of learning. For a boy the learning time is longer: only with a year and a half, although with six months he is already capable to apply the most difficult kicks.
As it's not possible to imagine an idea of a samba without pandeiro, it's difficult to imagine a capoeira without berimbau. The berimbau, a simple instrument, but, maybe for exactly this, of great beauty, is the integral part of the spirit of capoeira. Hearing its sound the capoeiristas become inspired to apply their kicks that demand great ability and skill. Besides the Capoeira Hymn, that is the special music for the fight, there are melodies and rhythms for each phase of the exhibition. During the fight, a berimbau plays Angola while the other executes the „São Bento Grande“.
A gourd, a piece of beriba or pau d’arco, a piece of wire, a cana brava or a splint of dendê, some seeds of murungu and a coin or a piece of pure steel, these are what you make a berimbau with. The gourd is the resonance box and is called cumbuca. The stick, made of beriba, pau d'arco or taipoca, serves to give the jingle, when sticken on the berimbau chord; the chord is a steel wire; the berimbau stick is made of taipoca and the caxixi, of cana brava or a splint of dendê. The bottom of the caxixi is made from the neck of the gourd and inside it are put the banana-tree or murungu seeds. The original coin would be an old 40-real coin; when this is missing, a piece of pure steel serves to protect the resonance box. The caxixi protects the rhythm of the berimbau, the stick gives the jingle to the resonance box. The sound is given by the coin and from there come the rhythm of the berimbau. Such simplicity doesn't mean that anybody can play it. Not all have that indispensable rhythm to make from berimbau sound a work of art. Sixteen rhythms make a berimbau professional. 16 rhythms, and a very good ear to capture the beauty of sounds that exist in the universe.