The Capoeira Blog

You Don’t Have To Win American Idol To Sing In Capoeira
May 27, 2008, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Guest Posts, Music, Tips & Guides

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:

  1. Get over the fear of singing. If you can enter a roda and play you can stand up and sing.
  2. Try to sing louder than your fellow capoeiristas singing coro (to get used to singing loudly).
  3. Learn the pronunciation and the meaning of the lyrics.
  4. Start small and build to longer songs. Challenge yourself to learn one new song a week or month.
  5. 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.

Muito Axé.

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.


6 Keys to Building Upper-Body Strength
January 15, 2008, 11:39 am
Filed under: Guest Posts, Tips & Guides

Image by GNovak

This is a guest post by Joaninha who writes the always informative and interesting Mandingueira (capoeira from the female perspective). Combine these tips with my post about the 5 Best Strength Training Exercises and you’ll be a hard bodied capoeira machine in no time!

It’s no secret that upper-body strength is an asset in capoeira. Even though the essence of the game rests more in dialogue than in acrobatics, who hasn’t daydreamed about pulling off fancy floreios in the middle of a raging roda? Just keep these key things in mind for training your upper body, and you’ll be unlocking one-handed macacos before you know it.

Key #1: Anywhere, anytime—No room for excuses!

Although you will have much more selection at the gym, one of the great things about upper-body exercises is that many of them can be done outside of one. You don’t need special equipment either, although getting a pair of decent weights would go a very long way.

Need a break from staring at your computer screen while at your desk? Perfect time for a set of tricep dips, with either bent or straight legs. Chilling in the backyard? Hang from a sturdy, safety-confirmed, I-will-not-hunt-down-Joaninha-if-this-breaks tree branch for a series of pull-ups. (This also works for any sturdy, safety-confirmed, etc. bars inside your home.) If you don’t have either, head on over to a local playground. Of course, any few square metres of ground forms the perfect push-up apparatus, and click here for a few more ideas!

Key #2: Mind over Matter

I met a capoeirista once whose teacher made students drop and do twenty every time they dared utter two fatal words: “I can’t.” If you already believe you’ll fail, why are you trying? This is especially important for women, who are constantly touted as “the ones with no upper-body strength”, even though their muscles are physically just as strong as men’s. As a result, studies have shown that women consistently and significantly underestimate, to a greater degree than men do, the amount of work they can do while strength training.

If you want to significantly improve your strength, make sure you are really working at the limits of your physical capabilities. When doing rep exercises, for example, you should be thinking seriously about calling on ancestral spirits to finish that last one. Learn to push yourself beyond what you think you can do.

Key #3: Drop and do twenty (and don’t complain about it)!

Faisca covered this already in a previous post: “Push-ups are the quintessential exercise. It’s a full body workout that works your back, abs, chest, and arms all at the same time.” They’re really the work-out champion of “tried and true”; why do you think teachers and trainers like them so much?

A good trick is to do at least one set of push-ups everyday, whether it’s after class, before bed, or first thing in the morning. Even if you just start with five a day (like, ahem, yours truly), if you take care to do each individual push-up properly (arms at full 90-degrees, no stopping mid-set), and stick to it daily, you will see results (hello, proper queda de rins). Just don’t forget to increase the number as you get stronger.

For those who have already “been there, done that”, or wish to concentrate on their chest muscles, switch to push-ups with your hands either wide apart, or close together and touching. And if you really want a challenge, consider clapping [in between] push-ups or the Dive-Bomber Push-up.

Key #4: Form Equals Function

As a fellow capoeirista pointed out after one particularly esquiva-happy class: it’s really hard to maintain form when you have so many reps to do. The only problem is that in working out, to sacrifice form is to sacrifice function, meaning what you just did was useless. That’s why going all the way down to a full 90 degrees is so important in push-ups, and why raising yourself all the way back up is just as, if not more, important.

Another time, we were practicing “bananeira push-ups” against a wall, and our teacher that class said that if we couldn’t do the entire movement (down to ground and back up), it was better to go all the way down then kick off the wall and start all over, rather than go half-way down and back up because the latter could actually harm us. Taking your muscles through their full range of motion every time is essential to their proper development as well as to injury prevention. If you want to go all the way in strengthening your upper body, then really go all the way.

Key #5: Variety is the Spice of Life

Mix it up! If your body repeats something often enough, such as the same exercise, the same number of times, every time, it will get used to that, stunting your ability to improve. Change something every time you work out, whether it is the number of reps, the difficulty of each rep, or the movement altogether. There are countless exercises and variations available for each muscle group in your upper body, so try not to play favourites.

Key #6: Divide and Conquer

I realize telling capoeiristas to take a break from training may be an exercise in futility, but it really is necessary. That is, it’s necessary in strength-training, where your muscles need at least one day off per week to rest and renew, if not more. A good routine to get into is just varying the muscles or muscle groups you work on each day. Divide your work-outs into triceps, biceps, chest, shoulders, and (upper) back, or combination groups, and rotate through them accordingly. Alternatively, if you regularly work out your entire body, you could alternate between upper-body and lower-body exercises. Something as simple as letting your muscles take a break every so often will do a world of good in the long run.

Bonus: Train capoeira!

If you can train, you can strengthen your upper body. How? Think about it: Queda de rins. Bananeira. Negativa. Ponte. Even maculêlê (with a long, vigorous routine)! It’s not just the fancy moves that require upper-body strength, and odds are you can already do most of the basic ones. Exercises that involve holding them, or doing sets of “push-ups” while in some of those positions will definitely help you on your way, and touch up your capoeira technique while you’re at it!

In Life, Like In Capoeira, We Must Go With the Rhythm
October 17, 2007, 9:41 am
Filed under: Guest Posts, Music

Today’s post is a guest post by Frágil, who is the first to answer my call for guest writers. Frágil is also a budding blogger who writes over at Frágil’s Capoeira Blog, and a frequent commenter at this blog.

When I say I live a very “musically oriented life,” I am not lying. Besides the hours I put playing my piano, I can relate everything to music. Always having the urge to dance, I love almost all types of dance-able music. But, in the February of 2006, I found something that I had no idea was more than just a song and dance, I had found Capoeira the Afro-Brazilian martial art that looks just like a dance. For a couple months I went on thinking that Capoeira was just something cool to do, but after a year I never knew it could mean so much.

Before, I thought Capoeira was just something fun to do, just to be cool, do a kick, a flip, and call it a day. But, when I went to watch a class I immediately saw that this was something more. Capoeira is a dance, a song, a conversation between two capoeiristas, and I thought this would be something fun to get me in shape. So, I went to my first class ready to take on a challenge that I never knew was going to change my life.

I immediately realized from the first class that it was a lot harder than I thought. The first thing the teacher asked was, “Can you do a cartwheel?” I thought it would be simple, I mean, kids do it all the time, so why couldn’t I? Well, I found out that I couldn’t do one to save my life. After repeating the embarrassing cartwheel over and over, we started to do kicks. I was able to do these better, but I still felt foolish because I didn’t know what I was doing. After practicing our kicks and cartwheels, we got into a circle; my teacher explained that this circle was called a roda, and it is where people play Capoeira. I saw two people enter the “roda” and I saw how similar it is to a conversation.

The conversation in the game is dictated by the rhythm of the “berimbau”, a stringed instrument, which sets the mood of the game. The faster the rhythm, the faster you go, and either your moves can be flashy or more aggressive. The slower the rhythm, the slower you play which makes you hold your moves long, and making it so fun to play. Along with the berimbau there is a drum that gives a beat to the whole game, and is accompanied by the spectators who clap along to the rhythm. A song is sung about the times of slavery and the time period in which Capoeira was created in Brazil.

I felt like the more I involved myself in Capoeira, the more I realized that life is just like the berimbau and the drums. Also with the people clapping along with the instruments; I just have to go with what the rhythm is.

One problem I’ve always struggled with is that I am an introvert. In Capoeira, there is something called open roda (which means a game open to anyone that wants to play), where everyone knows everyone else. It’s so easy to get to know new people because you all have Capoeira in common. I remember the first open roda I went to because I was so nervous to play. But someone invited me to play with them, and it helped to break the ice. During the break people came up to me we got to know each other. Soon, I realized that it was that easy to do. Just a simple “Hi” and the conversation flows. Just like the game.

I had learned the moves, the music, and the people. Then, it hit me! This isn’t just a sport, it’s just like life. Life is just one big roda and that I just have to keep playing, Capoeira has been a big help in my life, and I will never stop practicing Capoeira. It has become a part of me.

The atabaque is my heart, life is my berimbau, and everyone is clapping to the rhythm.

Thanks to Frágil for giving us some insight into how much capoeira has affected his own life. Remember, if you want to share a personal story about capoeira, or if you have any other topic you want to write about, please feel free to contact me and you could be featured here on The Capoeira Blog.