Saturday, April 26, 2014

the power of capoeira

What if Slavery did not exist? What if this human evil never was? No African slaves in the Middle East. No Arabic eunuchs in historic China. No slaves in the Americas. No sex slaves in today’s Asia or central Europe. No slave-like work conditions in under developed countries around the world. No slavery. Period.

A beautiful thought. An alternative universe. Someone should write a novel about it. Yet it is risky to handle a topic that carries such heavy emotional weight. One very big geopolitical question immediately arises. Would the West have developed its current dominance without milking the colonies using slave labor? This question is of course interesting, in particular considering the countries B2B currently travels through, but for now I would like to concentrate on the “somewhat” less controversial connection to Capoeira.

Only one very simple, yet powerful question remains in this context. Would there be Capoeira? Would Capoeira, this art form that allows people everywhere to express themselves freely, that forms such strong communities wherever it goes, undergo this powerful diaspora out of Brazil?

You may believe that Afro Brazilian slaves fought their overseers using Capoeira, or that Capoeira developed much later in the harbor towns of Bahia. This complicated history is shrouded in undocumented mysteries. We mostly just don’t know. In the end what matters is that Capoeira’s roots reach back to Mae Afrika. The people who practiced Capoeira in Brazil, the way Capoeiristas move and the rhythms all point to that far away mother land.

When you ask a Capoeirista why they dedicate so much of their time to it - what makes Capoeira their home - it will not be long before they mention community and love. The group that supports them. The sisters they look up to as role models. The parents they had lost. The family. The Roda. Because of this community forming power and because many Capoeiristas discover new approaches to life through their practice we speak of Capoeira’s extraordinary ability to transform lives.

In Capoeira we travel to our brother and sister groups to attend their events, and they come to ours in return. During these events we treat each other like one big family. We don’t put them up in hotels and let them fend for themselves, the way it is if you attend a sports tournament. We ask them to sleep at our places, we cook for them, we pick them up from the airport and drive them around all day long. We show them the town, take them to cool night spots and try to meet all their needs. And we beat the stuffing out of each other in Capoeira workshops, eight hours a day. Do this for a few years, and suddenly your Capoeira family extends across the continent. Many of us can go to five different cities in the country and have people to hug and a place to stay. B2B in particular is blessed this way. There are no words that can describe the hospitality we receive on our journey. “Mi casa es su casa” simply does not do justice.

Yet the biggest transformation that Capoeira affects is not on a personal level. It is to transform a great human evil into a great human force for love, for positive change. Capoeira comes from slavery yet today spreads joy, art and community.

Born out of hatred, forged into love.

Even though Capoeira to this day is often carried to new shores via the dark and dangerous ghettos of Brazil, it arrives carrying a message of community and love. Maybe it is the pressure from the new environments that forces our Mestres to let the more martial aspects of Capoeira go. But we can not deny the all-enveloping family that these leaders attempt to create.

Inside of Capoeira we know this. It is our daily bread and salt. If you dedicate your life to our art you will end up spreading the good word to whoever will listen. You will start your own Capoeira school somewhere and hope there is fertile ground for it. If you are from Brazil you will pack your bags, move to Austria or Russia and bemoan your freezing bones. You will follow your dream to the USA, or to Australia and Asia, and you will wonder at the cold, distant nature of the strangers around you. Yet, you will start with a little seed of a germ of a plant of a tree of a Capoeira Akademia. You will BBQ and make Caipirinhas with your students, you will help each other move. You will be best men and brides maids at each other’s weddings and help raise each other’s children. Small communities will form around your Akademia. Every day you will sweat, kick each other and learn together. You will feel the power of focused synergistic human energy in the roda. Your group will become your tribe.

Born in shackles, forged into freedom.

Capoeira has room for all. There are as many styles of jingas as there are Capoeiristas. Although your Mestre will try his best, and for years, to teach you his correct version, in the end he will tell you that your Capoeira is your Capoeira. And that the way you express it is your freedom. It is a simple yet difficult to understand concept. The easiest way would be to watch a Roda and pay attention to the intention of the players. Their personalities emerge quickly. Don’t be distracted by the flashy moves and the backflips. Some smile constantly, as if something is tickling them. Others seem to be very playful but it is only a mask. Others yet again play very direct and to the point. For women, the great advantage of Capoeira is that they do not need to rely on pure strength for the effectiveness of their game. Speed, flexibility and use of space are just as valid a weapon. Some will never hit you, while others can’t wait for the chance. Know a person’s Capoeira and you will know them. And in that variety we all find our own personal expression, our freedom. Our opportunity to be ourselves in a much too straight-jacketed world.

Whatever race is yours, whatever creed you follow, whatever levels of individuality you adhere to, if you enter a Roda boa you will be a part of it for the rest of your life. It addresses a basic human need to be part of a kin in a deeply ritualistic and yet realistic manner. The process of making music, of focusing our combined energy, the sweat and blood we spend each day, bind us together. Why? That is probably better answered by ancient knowledge or simply through being human. The good thing is that you do not need to believe it to experience it. All you need to do is play.

And follow one of the Mestres eking out a living trying to get people to sing a damn song in Portuguese. So that there may grow a small seed of love in a barren concrete ghetto, in a soul-less school of drones, in a world that too easily forgets our tribal human roots.

Mestre Xuxo, in what must be an Austrian ball room

Maybe you are lucky and are in one of the 5 different Akademias across 4 different states in Austria that Mestre Xuxo teaches in and drives hundreds of kilometers to every week. Maybe you are an alumni of Mestre Pelourinho who managed to convince the United States of America immigration Agency, a notoriously flexible bunch, to give this amazingly bendy and impressive, big haired Brasilero a visa that enables him to teach both in Tijuana and San Diego on the same day.

Mestre Pelourinho in San Diego and Tijuana

Maybe you are part of one the tens, if not hundreds, of small capoeira groups across Central America who yearn for a Mestre but only have Mestre Youtube or themselves to learn from. Or you are Professor Arame, a stringy beanstalk-like Mexican Capoeirista, and you move to Lebanon and teach Capoeira to refugee children and battered, abused girls in NGOs across the Middle East.

Bidna Capoeira and Prof. Arame changing lives in the Middle East.

What these Capoeiristas all have in common is an astonishing appreciation for their students. They make their daily struggles worthwhile. As one they tell you “I do this for my students. I love to see them grow, change their approach to life and finally become Capoeiristas. I don’t need money, I don’t need fame. What I need is my family. And my freedom.”

Sunday, April 20, 2014

antropologia – experiences of a bicycling tribe

We ride our bikes a lot. Riding your bike a lot affords you a lot of hours, days even months with only the space between your ears to entertain you. It surprises us how much thinking we can do when we are not distracted by work emails, mom’s emails, Facebook status updates, twitter posts and old school music & TV. In a group of ten someone always seems to be hanging around, yet we spread out over miles during the day. You can ride with someone, but if you want to be alone it is only the push of a pedal away.

Right now many of us face internal tests of one kind or another. I recently felt I was missing my life in Seattle, my friends, my capoeira, my home. I have been living away from Austria for nearly 20 years but I never felt homesick. When I told my mom that I miss her the other day she said “Vell, but you get to see all zese zings zat other people never veell have a chance to see”. Mom’s the wonderful word.

We all miss our Capoeira routines because we don’t have the energy to ride and train. We did some rough riding recently – over tall mountains, back into the pacific side heat, long days with heavy head winds. And we have been on the road for nearly eight months. We feel physically exhausted. We miss home. The desire to keep riding is not as strong as it used to be. After going through eight countries, the newness of crossing borders is not as exciting as it used to be. This side of Centro Americo is dry. The other side is wet.

The work we do can be challenging. What to shoot? When to shoot? Is the light good right now? Often the sound is the deciding quality factor of a recording. Funneling the tons of material through various processes to be categorized and analyzed - hopefully, turning into stories at the end takes up much of our time.

Group dynamics also create difficult situations. We are a strange traveling bunch. You can not call it a democrazy, because in the end there is only one person that makes decisions about the direction of this journey. So it doesn’t happen that we fight over which ruins or city to visit or how long to stay at a beach instead of pushing on. These decisions are usually not up for discussion. It takes out a lot of potential conflict.

As a result, and because we all have a shared Capoeira background we understand each other well, except for some cultural differences that we usually resolve in the roda. However, no matter how well we understand each other - “No, it is my turn to get the bed”, how much we disregard our own opinions to follow our fearless leader - “Why did you not tell me that you would turn here”, at times we make each other mad “What, you are still here?!?”

Sometimes we need to get a way. This, most of you would agree, is completely normal. Spend 24/7 with a person for 8 months, throw in a mélange of personalities and cultures… If you don’t try to beat each other over the head every once in a while you are probably weirder than we are.

Today this made me think of cavewo/men. The closeness amongst us and the absolute amount of time that we spend together make at least me feel like I should be picking the lice out of someone’s fur. This is quite the modern day approximation to a hunter gatherer life style. How would science look at us? Would they make us fill out punch card type pages of questions, put us into focus groups, check our pulse during stressful interactions? If you follow the news loosely, it seems that in this beautiful brave new scientific world new sub categories like Genetic Anthropology, explaining our past, present and future sprout like mushrooms - the good kind. I am of course completely jealous of this as back in my day you could mostly stare at monkeys or dig around dusty bowls for bones ‘n shards if you were interested in unearthing some of our deep human past. The diversity of research fields available today is astounding. We are trying to understand your brain, the exact location of your soul and everything in between.

The articles you can read in popular science magazines make you think that Anthropologists have access to Stone Age GQ or Time Magazine, they tell us today what the trends were back then. I once saw a representation of an ancient vase. Beautiful, long-necked, had complicated patterns. Like a woman you love. Next to it was the one (!) shard that had let someone understand the entire design. But in reality, we have some rocks here, a shard of a spear tip there, and a couple of wall paintings spread around a few European caves. Shards, like the tops of icebergs.

From these measly evidential matters we presume to discover why humans have language. Why we like to laugh. Why we invent things. Why we cooperate, when evolution demands competition. And further mostest why we didn’t just stay up in the damn tree happily munching on mangoes instead of crawling down into cubes and boxes. Now we need to learn that happiness is living in the now and that it us who have to be ok with any situation. When your zen is centered the shittiest situation is paradise manifest. Michel Foucault would have a field day with this internalized discipline thing.

Anyway, back to the cavewo/men. Even presuming that anthropologists have added genetics, nucleus level microscopic examination and unfrozen Mammoths and Ötzis to their arsenal we still need to ask how much of this science comes from infusing the past with the present? Outside of geiko commercials when is the last time you observed a hunter gatherer tribe? What happened in that cave, when one tribe member just could not stand that dude smelling like rotten eggs anymore? Did he learn how to cooperate? Did he take the other guy’s cavegirl? Did he just punch him out? What happened?

So, dear Antropologia, when you write that article about the necessity of cooperation do you experience cooperation in the close quarters of a tribe? While you write of the past, that you have seen in the deep bones of the earth do you know the joys of no escape from your family - ever. We are not just speaking of your wife and kids, but also of drunken Uncle Jimmy who always loses your car keys and Aunty Betsy with her three baby daddies. While you speak to us of us, while you tell us why we need to desire the things that we need do you have the pleasure of experiencing body odor problems or is it a focused group that you observe? Have you lived this? This ancient that you speak of. Your truth that makes us so.

Did you see the shard of a spear tip?