There exists a sport that flows to the sound of music – one that perfectly blends strength and flexibility. A martial art played to the classic sounds of Brazilian music, it was once practiced by the African slaves and is now the national sportof Brazil. It’s intense, it’s passionate and it’s in Malta – we’re talking about Capoeira.
Capoeira in a Nutshell
Originating from African slaves brought over to South America by the Portuguese over 500 years ago, it has been practiced on the continent ever since. It was how slaves trained for rebellion while under the observation of their masters, who mistook the practice for a dance. Once the slave masters looked away, the game took a deadly turn, involving violent kicks and bladed weapons. The movements of the sport can be traced back to the tribes of Angola and other places in Africa, however since slaves were kept illiterate there are no written records of what Capoeira used to look or sound like, which meant the tradition could only be passed down through song and dance.
Capoeira is unlike any martial art as it is considered a blend between a fight, a dance and a game. Capoeira is played in a roda (a circle of people) to the sound of live music. Players take turns in the center of the roda trying to gain the upper hand and show their moves.
The goal is to show up your opponent by attacking, dodging and deceiving them with combinations of kicks, lunges and acrobatic movements. Despite direct kicks at higher levels of play, there is generally no contact. The exception is the concept of malandragem, or trickery, where players intentionally, trip, smack or force the other player to the ground. Dropping your guard could mean you end up on the ground.
Music gives energy to the roda. A proper Capoeira Nagô roda includes an atabaque (an Afro-Brazilian drum), three berimbaus (a single string musical bow) and a pandeiro (atambourine). The order goes: first the berimbau plays, then the atabaque picks up and finally the pandeiro joins in. The circle of capoeiristas clap and echo the chorus the lead berimbau player sings. The result? A room filled with music, song and flowing expression that puts players into a sort of trance.
Where to start?
Begin exploring capoeira with a couple albums:
These will take you from the slower more Angolastyle songs all the way to the much more fast-paced, particularly regional, one of the variations practiced in Malta.
Classic Capoeira songs:
Ella te chama(A song written by Alf)
Capoeira in Malta
I have spent year training with the Malta capoeiristas with a club called Capoeira Nagô Malta. The club is in St. Julian’s and is run by Joao Paulo (known by his Capoeira name, Alf) who moved from Recife, Brazil over ten years ago. Nagô is a strand of this Brazilian sport practiced in events and workshops around the world. Alf has a big heart and is more than happy to introduce newcomers to his country’s national sport.
He has been practicing Capoeira for most of his life and has reached the second highest ranking in the sport contramestre, donning a black and brown belt. The style taught in his gym is regional one of the very fast paced variations of Capoeira.
The club operates out of a converted garage in St. Julians. Capoeira Nagô Malta holds two larger events throughout the year, interspersed with workshops, so there is always something coming up, meaning Joao is always pushing his students to train harder. This year is the 10th anniversary of Capoeira Nagô on the island and will be celebrated at the latest Batizadoon May 29 – June 3.
The roda or circle has an important role in human society and has always stood as a symbol of community and that is exactly what you feel when you play Capoeira with Alf and the Malta capoeiristas. The community accepts you with open arms like you are family and to another extent, a large extended global network of capoeiristasaround the world.
Classes are held every Monday 7:30PM, Wednesday 7PM, Friday 6:30PM and now soon on Saturdays in the afternoons. Alf also holds Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Salsa dancing and fitness classes.
Words by: Luc John Claude
Images courtesy of Capoeira Nago Malta