CAPOEIRA IN MESTRE WALDEMAR'S SHRINE
Any artist who wouldn’t believe that only the people are the everpresent creator, that from only them can come the force and the real possibility of artistic expression, should watch a [session] of bahian capoeira. There the creative force is seen, vigorous, free from the mean prejudices of the academism, having as primordial and sovereign law the life which is expressed in gestures, in music, in poetry. There the magnificient and beautiful life expresses itself, in nothing damaged by the limited capacity of the primitive musical instruments, to which it adapts without being diminished by them.
The sense of collective realization, the real essence of the art, shows itself in the three-way aspect of capoeira, which is a fusion of three arts: Music, Poetry and Coreography.
The dance of capoeira, in Bahia, is what it never stopped being – real art: not an amusement, but a necessity. As a matter of fact, this is one of the factors to which the force of folk art which is a thousand times vivid owes when compared to erudite music: this functional character, this aspect of imperious necessity which all art the people cultivate has. As time goes by the erudite music sounds every time more false, reveals itself as simply another sybarites’ orgasm, without function, unnecessary.
In Bahia, the art of capoeira is a Sunday’s activity, so normal and loved as our great national sport, football. And the ones who practise it are, in majority, the workers: the construction workers, market carriers, people of defined profession, who pass the entire week in hard at work, fighting to guarantee the everyday bread, for themselves and their family. The bahian capoeira is not like it is in Rio, art which is cultivated almost exclusively by the lumpen proletariat, art which is persecuted by the „morality“ police as dangerous, the cause for crimes and drinking. In Bahia it is cultivated by healthy people; is the art of combative people, wihtout anything morbid or harmful.
The ritual, the tradition to which the participant of capoeira obey, are very rigid. The master is the knower of the tradition. Therefore he is also the maximum authority. He supervises the whole group, determines the music, the proceedings, singing the songs or indicating a person who should sing them. He is also the one who determined the duration of every dance, with a stopper. The new competitors dance among themselves. But when a dancer stands out, the Master dances with him, pointing him out in the middle of this distinction to the attention of the veterans, newcomers and spectators. This authority of the Master is one of the most admirable and touching things that I have seen. The respect towards him shown by the community, the love which with they surround him, will make many conductors of the erudite music envious. The proof that the spirit of discipline is more alive among the simple and uneducated people of our land, when they organize themselves, than among the higher layers, which are already more customed to organization which comes from proper instruction and from exercising cultural activities and which for this reason had a bigger duty to understand the necessity and the importance of the discipline in the community. However it so happens that the Master never abuses his rights. He doesn’t attribute to himself dictatorial powers. He knows that his authority comes from the community and behaves as a part of it. I observed a nice example of modesty also in the bahian shrine, but I had already seen it years ago in the exterior of São Paulo, at an occasion of a „dance of S. Gonçalo“, which took place there. In that one, the female master was an old woman of seventy years, severe and untiring. But the „dance of S. Gonçalo“ will stay for another article.
Master Waldemar’s shrine is located in the famous working class neighborhood Liberdade. It’s a neighborbood that has a very dense population, without pretension, forgotten by the Town Hall that is preocupied with brightening up and taking care of those parts of the City of Salvador that meet the tourist’s eye. When it comes to the Liberdade neighborhood, it is not for the „gringo“ to see. As any working man’s neighborhood, it doesn’t have a sidewalk, is full of ditches, where during rains, the waters decay wrapped in clouds of mosquitos; its countless shacks in bad shape if standing, and if they are, then for pure stubborness. There are a lot of sale stands where you can by anything from dry meat to rum. It is a neighborhood replete of life and movement, corageous and revolted. On this sunny Sunday, the roads of Liberdade, where Alina Paim met hunger and misery of bahian abandoned children, who she became close of and who contributed alot to have her put her art at the service of the people, where even beautiful. The lively colours of Bahia continued in the Sunday clothes of the young people. The smiling clarity of the day reflected on the faces of the most rested workers and in the white smiles of the black scoundrels with washed faces from weekly baths, so difficult due to failing, practically inexistent sanitary installations...
When we arrived at the shrine capoeira had already begun. Two dancers were ready to attach close to the ground, while two berimbaus and three pandeiros accompanied with strange rhythms and sounds that magnificient and enchanting dance, of combative and strong people. The dancers at that moment were a porter from Água de Meninos market and a civil construction worker. The worker was all in white, shoes shining, shirt bleached. He was one of the best dancers. It was the habit of the cream of capoeiristas to dance like this: „in all white“ like it was said, to show their skill. They reached a height to dance with a hat and the competent dancers praised themselves of leaving from the dance without a stain of dirt on their clothes, clean and well-dressed as if not having yet entered in action.
The round of spectators, people of the neighborhood, friendly people of whom the only strangers were Maria Rosa Oliver and I, was soon electrified by the dance. We took notice of the time only during brief intervals between one dance and the next one; and so we found that the continuation delayed alot...
The dance of capoeira is the symbolical representation of the authentic ancient fights. In Capoeira de Angola, the dancers bent themselves almost close to the ground, making hand freezes, in horizontal positions, spinning, slipping like eels and escaping over the body of the adversary. The kicks are noticed with courtesy and by the exclamations of the watchers. As a matter of facts, if it weren’t for the precision of those movements, many of the kicks would be mortal. This is the case of the famous headbutts aimed against the chest and which impulse is stopped only at the final moment when the head
of one of the dancers already hit the body of the other. The latent violence never breaks loose and this extraordinary control of emotions keeps the spectators’ nerves incredibly tense, stimulating in all of them a type of collective hypnotism which is almost indescribable. Only those who have seen a demonstration of Capoeira de Angola can understand the monstrous force and control that are showed off to make any of these movements, without giving place to any kind of agression, without loosing the elegance and the feline grace of every gesture, absolutely measured, calculated by a type of instinct, since the acting members find themselves completely given to that art that is appearantly so impulsive and spontanious.
Another characteristic that makes bahian capoeira to stand out is the fact that both of the dancers, or the whole group, because sometimes there are many two-by-twos, acts with the same intensity. It is not like the capoeira of Rio de Janeiro, where one of the accomplices stays immobile, in a stance of defense, while the other one attacks, dancing around the enemy, aiming at him kick after kick. In capoeira de angola none of the two stay put. On the contrary, the move themselves like spindles, like shuttles! And the spirit of joy is always present. Despite a latent violence, the hostility doesn’t take over. In the middle of all this there is immense fraternity and rejoicing. The spirituous passes of the playful and smiling dancers take place, to make difficult and very dangerous movements and kicks. And among the spectators burst loud laughters... I never saw in any group dances, national or foreign, such enchanting beauty, allied to such agility, precision and repressed force, which is dominated by a whole discipline and lucidity.
We had an occasion to admire a seven year old boy who danced with the Master Waldemar himself, of whom he is a student of, and with that skillful worker of whom I already talked about. One can’t even imagine how much it was moving to accompany the fragil infantile figure, capable, convinced, to compete with the oldest man, on whose face an affectionate smile was lit up, although nothing obliging. Being concentrated, the boy gaave headbutts and leg-sweeps, escaping cunningly and quickly the leg-sweeps and headbutts of the master, concious of his dignity of a future capoeirista, of a future folk artist, imperturbable, in front of the eyes and exclamations of the spectators.
Lets go to another aspect now, to one which refers to the music.
In the first place I want to explain what is a berimbau. It looks like an indian bow. From one end to another of the stick, bending it, extends a metal chord, if I’m not mistaken, copper, very tense. Almost at the center of the stick, there is a hollow gourd, turned in the opposite direction of that where the metal chord is. The player takes the bow between the ring and the little finger of the left hand, using the support that is found in the inferior half of the instrument. Between the thumb and the index finger of the same hand he holds a copper coin, an old patacão-coin. The instrument is stricken with a little metal stick, that he holds in the right hand, together with the caxixi or caxiri, an indispensable percussion instrument, that looks like a little bell, but is made of woven straw and contains seeds, and which mouth is closed with a round of leather which is made just for it. The design of the instrument is very pretty. The instrumentalists care a lot for the berimbau which usually is painted in lively colors, enameled with red, iron blue, orange, gold or green. When the coin touches the chord, this makes a higher sound than the sound that is made when it is stricken without the interference of the coin. The quality of the sound, its tone, also varies, when the player distances the instrument from his body or puts the hollow part of the gourd against his stomach. In this last case, the instrument sounds profoundly. These are the resources of the instrument. Very well; to this primitive instrument the instrumentalist manage to attribute a definately musical quality, combining those two-by-two and in this way broadening to four the number of sounds. In this manner the extended quatrains alternate, seconded and in unison, a line is created where the tension and untension become very evident, extending in this way the level of expressiveness.
Notes [Ex. I — a e b]
Out of the three pandeiros one serves as a base. Made of snake skin, the bigger, with deep sound, underlining the peaking sounds of the accoumpaning berimbaus, only making itself heared on these instances, discontinously, to the pace that the two other pandeiros, lighter and drier, complete each-other, in more faster and agitated rhythm. When it comes to the caxixis, naturally subjected to the gestures of the berimbau player, these are lost in the sonorous complexity, fusing together the two groups, a – caxixis, berimbaus and the large pandeiro, set against the b – two drier pandeiros, in a superposition of three against four, very typical to our, brazilian, rhythm. This is without counting the new impulse to the rhythm which is breaking it with certain accentuations going against the binary symmetry that brings the monotony. See a little example, to give a clearer idea for those who can read musical notes.
Notes [ Ex. II ]
As a link between the percussion and the dance, crowning this rhythmic complexity, completing it, appears a melody, which is either following the rhythm of group a, or is passing to the other group, or even, completely frees itself from the boundary of the beat, following only the laws of movements that are dictated by the poetry of the folk artist who created it at that moment. The masculine voice, pure and deep, rose over the pulsation of the instrumental group, gentle and intense, many times modal, to give place only to the choir to repete a really recitative song,
Notes [ Ex. 3 — e a b ]
Later the voice continued, making flourishes over the same base, never repeating, making it almost impossible to note with exactness without the mechanical aid.
Notes [ Ex. 4 ]
The soloists changed, giving to the melody the real character of its human temperament. Some were more lively, more spirituous, while other where dreamers, simple. But, all the texts, were deeply poetic.
I remember well a voice that rose to sing the to the beauty of the sailing boats, praising the generous sea and the wind that drives them. He described the wind accumulating clouds to later break them apart, in drops of rains, above the white sail of the rocking sailing boats. It was the folk poetry that was present in the three-time splendor of the unique art that is Capoeira de Angola. And to this all, the choir continued to respond through the mouth of all of the spectators and participants: „Eh! Paraná, eh! Paraná, camará..." while the dancers proceeded moving like snakes, swirling, spinning, diverting the bodies from headbutts, laughing loudly, making jumps, as flexible as cats. And we, the prisoners of the beauty of the texts sung, that brought us tears to our eyes, prisoners of the people who, without want makes us love them, in that modest shrine in the Liberdade neighborhood and where ever they are met.
It is this that I had to tell about the most grandious and violent demonstration of folk art which I had watched and which gave me the biggest impression. From it I got a little more teachings, there I saw once again the force of expression of our people that gives itself to the art like a child would, ingenuously. But which is always simple, grandious, generous and prodigal of its infinite richness.
I wished a lot to see there my friends: Santoro, Guerra Peixe, Camargo Guarnieri that I had already seen and heared about more than us, Eduardo de Guarnieri that would well understand the message, a great one of the people’s artists in action.
Writers, painters, sculptors and poets need to be sought for in Bahia! The Peace that took me there, the Peace, the explorer of the ways of the culture and of the Hope, should take us to all, many times by this unending Brazil, full of creative people, of folklore being ignored or forgotten, full of social problems and fights of which we need to take part of.
I also wished to see there our enemies. Many europeans who are there, looking to Brazil from the top of their noses, creating confusion and thinking that folklore is only „A Little House“ and the curiousity to satisfy the cosmopolitan boredom of the „gringos“, tha it’s only the politics of Boa Vizinhança. Many artists who take advantage of the people to climb and who later go to give them kicks with the steel boots of their brilliantness...
If we all would meet together in that bahian shrine, friends and enemies, we who believe, that we could communicate by means of a simple smile and a proud look. And to others we crush with our hope to the future with the force of the people to which we belong and that is freeing itself. They will see that their world dies, while ours arises, full of splendor of Capoeiras de Angola, or S. Gonçalo dances, of Maracatus, Reizados, Divinity Feasts and more, much more of all that makes us „the next day that sings“ of what one day Paul Vaillant-Couturier spoke of.
Far away, behind the frontiers of the already-ended-world, we can perceive the impotent envy becoming visible in the looks of the cosmopolitan louses, despite the dark lenses of the „ray-bans“ behind which they search for an impossible shelter, in the blindness if those that don’t want to see...