Photo by Mauro (Flickr)
This is a guest post by Patrick aka Cotonete or Rato Branco. Cotonete has trained with Axe Capoeira for 3 1/2 years in Kansas City, MO. Like many capoeiristas of his generation, his gateway drug of choice was Only The Strong. When he’s not training capoeira, he works as a copywriter and blogger.
Music is a key element to Capoeira. That’s pretty basic knowledge to even the most novice player. The instruments, chief among them the berimbau, are the anchor to every roda. Our guides. The clapping of other capoeiristas raises the energy. But how many really understand the importance of the songs?
Of all the things I love about Capoeira the music and songs are high on my list. I love to play berimbau and often transcend to somewhere else when I sing (lead or coro). I belt out songs as loud and as passionately as I can, because that’s HOW THEY’RE MEANT TO BE SUNG. I’m not a professional singer – amateur at best. I’ve taken no class in singing or drumming or berimbau. Everything I’ve learned is from the instructors in my group and by trying to emulate my mestre and other great singers.
However, having a wonderful singing voice is second to passion. It’s easy to find passion in the movements, community and history of Capoeira. But I’ve seen many fellow capoeiristas struggle with or shrug off singing. Sometime I think it’s because no one wants to mess up the lyrics or maybe their singing voice…sucks. Sometimes. Those obstacles are easy to over come. Print the lyrics and learn them. Then come to class and sing the hell out of that song.
I’ve been training Capoeira steadily for three and a half years and in that time have had many opportunities to witness amazing games and music. I love music in general. But what gets me about the music we in the Capoeira community create and share is that it’s so powerful. Where else can music raise your heart rate so fast with lyrics as simple as “o la la lay la la lay la la lay la lai la”? No tickets or amps necessary. Simply put it’s the energy the singer puts into his or her singing. It’s amazing to be in a roda of 60 people all pumped up, fighting to enter the roda. And then someone starts to sing “Quando Meu Mestre Foi” and everyone goes nuts. Why? Because it’s a great song, yes, but more so because the singer puts his whole soul behind it. It’s even better when instead of 60 people you have fewer than 10 and get the exact same high energy.
Anyone can sing in a flat monotone way. Which sadly many capoeiristas do. Some figure that getting the words right is enough and think that the coro should have all the oomph, since it’s one person singing against 10 or more. But it’s called a LEAD for a reason. Yes, you sing more lyrics than the coro in a song like “Luanda E” but you also lead the pace, tempo and energy of that song. At that point you’re as responsible for the energy in the roda as the berimbaus. And responsibility is a heavy yoke when in a situation like that, but necessary for us all.
Another important note is volume. If you’re leading a song and no one can hear you two things occur. First, no one knows what the hell to do when the coro comes around, so more than one song could be sung and collide with one another into a jumble of foreign words. And second, the attention leaves the two players in the roda and centers on the singer, sapping their energy instead of feeding it. It works the same as a hole in the roda. If there’s a gap in people it’s like a hole in a bowl of water. Pretty soon nothing is left but empty space, a ruined bowl and a drained roda.
If you’re a beginner in Capoeira I strongly recommend that you spend equal time training music as you do movements. Practice playing pandeiro or atabaque as often as you can. Practice on your days off from training or if you get injured. No drum? Sit down or stand at a countertop and play. Get comfortable playing the instruments and singing AWAY from the roda. That’s not the place to learn. People rely on you to keep the game going. All it takes is one half-note change to alter the pace of every other instrument and then a nice smooth banguela game turns into regional. Buy CDs. Sing along to them and practice the long notes and different inflections. Capoeira isn’t Catholic mass with slow, lumbering, organ-led “Aaaaaaaaameeeeeeeeen” music. There are ups and downs and long powerful notes. Even Ladaihinas can give you chills. Hell, ESPECIALLY Ladaihinas. Sing in the shower. Sing in your car. Write lyrics. Learn the meanings of the songs (very important).
When you train the movements of Capoeira you feel active. When you’re in the roda you can physically feel a contribution to the game. Make that same contribution to the whole experience by sharpening your music and songs. Capoeira is not Karate or Tae Kwon Do – focused primarily on physical movements. Capoeira requires strength, agility, coordination, speed and power like other martial arts. But what sets it apart is the music, singing and culture woven into the games and fights.
Great Capoeira doesn’t occur in a vacuum or with one person. There’s no formula, only guidelines and those are always changing (look at the differences in gingas). It takes the contributions of a group to create a great roda. Solid games, solid music and solid singing. A tripod. It needs three legs to stand. Remove one and everything you’ve built topples over.
So, if you take nothing else from this post take these tidbits:
- Get over the fear of singing. If you can enter a roda and play you can stand up and sing.
- Try to sing louder than your fellow capoeiristas singing coro (to get used to singing loudly).
- Learn the pronunciation and the meaning of the lyrics.
- Start small and build to longer songs. Challenge yourself to learn one new song a week or month.
- Put some emotion into it. When you’re alone in the car and your favorite song comes on how do you sing it? Exactly.
Life is about contributing. You decide your own level of involvement. The same goes for Capoeira. You can stand and watch the games and listen to the music. Or, you can let them become a part of you and move you to give a part of yourself to the Jogo.
Thanks Cotonete aka Rato Branco aka Patrick for answering my call for guest posts. Remember, if you want to see your words here on The Capoeira Blog, just send me your submission.
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