Capoeira is an African-Brazilian martial art form. It is the art of a playful game combining dancing, fighting, acrobatics and live music. The style known as Capoeira Angola emphasizes the art form's roots in African culture, maintaining its traditions, rituals and training methods. It is an exciting art form enjoyed by all ages and levels. The International Capoeira Angola Foundation (ICAF) is a non-profit international organization dedicated to the practice, preservation and growth of Capoeira Angola.
What is capoeira?
(pronounced “cah-poe-ay-ra”, with a slight roll on the “r”)
Capoeira is a martial art that was created by African peoples in Brazil. Part dance, part fight, part acrobatics, it combines elements of numerous African cultures into a beautiful expression of art. Legend tells us that it was practiced in secrecy during the days of slavery, and that is was deadly when used to fight the slave owners. Today, capoeira is recognized as a “liberation art” and is played as a game. Training is demanding, but capoeira is more than a physical activity – one’s wits and creativity are just as important as a strong body. Its African heritage gives capoeira a unique style of movement that emphasizes connections to the earth. We often stay low to the ground, and sometimes move like snakes, monkeys, or other animals. Emphasized, as well, is the role of music and rhythm in the game. Those who play capoeira must not only be athletes, but musicians and singers too.
What are the songs about?
The songs we sing are about many different things, ranging from the pains of slavery to the beauty of a woman. Except for a special type of song that acts as a prayer at the beginning of a game, they all use the traditional African “call-and-response” song structure, where a lead singer “calls” out each verse while the rest of the group responds with the chorus. The lead singer will often choose to sing a certain song based on the action to those sitting or playing instruments. Many of the songs are hundreds of years old, and keeping them alive is one of the most important aspects of our style of capoeira.
In what language are we singing?
The official language of Brazil is Portuguese. The Portuguese language is of Latin origin, but Brazilian Portuguese, in particular, has a strong sampling of various African languages. It is a very beautiful, melodic language, which makes it natural for singing.
What instruments are used in capoeira?
The most important instrument is the berimbau (pronounced “bear-eem-bow”), which is basically made of a straight branch from a tree, a long piece of metal wire, and a hollowed-out gourd. This instrument controls the energy of the game – there are many different rhythms that are played by the berimbau, each with a specific purpose. Mastering the subtleties of this expressive instrument takes years of practice.
The pandeiro (pronounced “pahn-day-roo”, with a slight roll on the “r”) is otherwise known to
folks in the USA as a tambourine.
The large drum which supplies the backbone to the rhythm is an atabaque (pronounced “ah-tah-
bah-key” with no stress on the last syllable). This instrument is the heart of the capoeira game.
The agôgô (pronounced “ah-go-go”) is a two-toned bell, similar to a cowbell, and the reco-reco
(pronounced “heh-ko-heh-ko”) is a hollow tube with ridges that is scraped to produce rhythms.
Are there other examples of African traditions in Brazilian culture?
Outside of Africa, Brazil has the largest population of people with African ancestry than any
other country in the world. Brazilian culture is rich with many African traditions, from its food to
its music. African spiritual beliefs are the foundation of the Brazilian religions of candomblé
and macumba, which are the second only to Catholicism in terms of popularity. First-time
travelers to Brazil are often surprised by the influence of African culture throughout the country.
However, as a synthesis of various African games and rituals, capoeira is a uniquely Brazilian
art. While one may find, in Africa today, certain elements of dance, music, and fighting that are
similar, it was only in Brazil that they were so beautifully combined into the art of capoeira.