Review: Capoeira Beyond Brazil

29 01 2009

Back to apologies mode…sorry, guys.  My new schedule thanks to work is insane, and I barely have time to cook and clean, let alone read or write anything of substance!  I may be going on another hiatus soon, but not before I release the Mandingueira Retrospect Magazine (only table of contents left!!!).  For now, here is my long-promised review of Capoeira Beyond Brazil!

Capoeira Beyond Brazil is written by Aniefre Essien and published by Blue Snake Books. I was really looking forward to reading this book because of the “international aspect” it seemed to have, and was really interested in seeing how capoeira would be treated in an international context.  Having said that, the book had both its ups and downs.

When I was in high school (please excuse the temporary non-sequitar; this is related, I swear!), our social studies teacher gave us a tour of the school library’s references section. There was Encyclopedia Britannica, World, Canadiana, etc., and there were racks of Time Magazine, as well.  Upon showing us the latter, our teacher told us, “Here we have Time World, which is about the United States, and here we have Time Canada, which is about the world.” (That’s still one of my all-time favourite quotes, by the way.)

Well, reading Capoeira Beyond Brazil, unfortunately, brings that quote to mind. I suppose you could say it goes beyond Brazil—but only as far as the United States (skipping over Mexico and Central America along the way). Maybe it was just me, but for some reason I’d been expecting a slightly more academic, ambitious piece with a larger scope than it had. I was expecting to read about capoeira in Asia, Australia, and (present-day!) Africa, about globalization or international relations (and capoeira’s influence from or on them, of course) and sociological theory more so than personal anecdotes and basic/typical introductory capoeira lore.

However, the book does have it good points, as well.  Essien touches interestingly on some topics that I don’t think I’ve seen quite touched on the same way before, such as the horridly ironic phenomenon of some capoeira teachers using capoeira as a “tool of oppression” on their students. The book is healthily “progressive” from a feminist point of view, and I enjoyed reading the capoeirista interviews at the end (though again, the interviews, similarly to the rest of the book, only feature “A Few U.S. Capoeiristas”).

One interview which especially resonated with me was the first one, by a former capoeirista who left the game because he felt that people were beginning to bring too much ugliness into the art and violating the spirit of the game. He said a lot of things that I found insightful and agreed with, especially in regards to fighting in the roda/in capoeira, mentioning how “students have been trained to fight in the name of the instructor, not necessarily because that student feels that s/he has to fight”. The capoeirista being interviewed concludes, “I have to separate the concept of capoeira from how it’s actually practiced by individuals who tend to bring in the element of machismo.”

Overall, Capoeira Beyond Brazil was an okay read. It just didn’t turn out to be what I’d expected it to be, which is the only reason I was disappointed. I think it would be an ideal gift to give to a beginner capoeira student, and even more so for an American beginner capoeira student. The writing itself is fine, Essien’s experience as a capoeirista and capoeira teacher shows through with no question, and I’m always up for a good capoeira anecdote, so in that respect the book is great.  For what I mentioned earlier, I guess I’ll just have to wait till some international affairs post-doc gets hooked on capoeira!

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What I Get Out of Capoeira

10 01 2009

This post is nearly verbatim from a personal Montreal blog I started for my friends back home. Capoeira doesn’t come up until about two-thirds of the way through, but it was kind of a revelation, and an important one for me about capoeira, so I thought I’d share it with you guys and see if it resonated with any of you at all.  Montreal, by the way, is awesome!  Work hasn’t started yet, but I’ve already started training with a new group, I love my place, my roommates are great, and I love being in this city.

SATURDAY JANUARY 10 | 3:28 am | Musings

So, I moved back into the living room because I’d thought everyone was done but somehow my two roommates had ended up in the living room drinking more wine and chatting, so thought it probably wasn’t a very good idea to miss out on roommate bonding right from the start.

Ended up having a really interesting talk with Annick, that was both slightly inspiring and slightly depressing.

I was telling them how I’ve been coming to realize that a lot of big things I’ve decided to do (living in France, moving to Montreal, going to Brazil) have been fueled by me looking for that life-changing metamorphosis that I feel people are supposed to get from going away to university and that I never got (due to never moving out and my university just being a bigger version of my high school). Not only that, but my life has always been pretty…stable. I’ve never needed an adjustment period for anything—starting university, moving to France, moving back to Canada, moving to Montreal—and these are supposed to be defining events, during formative years. If someone were to chart my emotional/life-living state on a graph, I feel like it would consist of shallow peaks and troughs all the way through, whereas with most other people it seems like there are at least intermittent spikes in both directions.

Take exchange, for instance. Most people I know LOVED LOVED LOVED exchange, and then were genuinely depressed upon returning home. I had fun and enjoyed myself, but I don’t yearn for or dream of France each night (…or at all), and as I said, I slipped back into my life at home within a day—it was, in fact, almost disconcertingly as if I’d never left at all. I was absolutely dismayed when the first thing someone said to me was, “Wow, you’re exactly the same as you were in high school. You haven’t changed at all.” So what was the point? I’m still looking for something big to happen to me, something exciting and if not life-changing, something-changing. So if Montreal doesn’t do it, there’s still Brazil.

At least, that’s what I told Annick. But she said this, something she’s learned now that she’s left her 20’s and gone well into her 30’s, and after working at a job that was going great and leaving it to travel around the world for a year: There is no major change. There is no one big thing that happens to you and then changes the person you are. At the very core, everyone is the same person at 30 as they are at 20, 5, and 90. It’s only gradual little changes that happen to us, day by day, until one day we look up and realize, “Wow, I’ve changed.” But even then, it’s not so much your personality that has changed, as your values and what you want and expect out of life.

But then, what about all those people you knew in high school and then barely recognize five years later? “Well, yes, teenagers they are still changing.”

EXACTLY. So now I’m just afraid that the “same at 90 same at 20” rule only starts applying at twenty. What if your formative years don’t stretch into your 20’s, but include only your teens? It’s as a teenager, after all, that most people start “practicing” for all of life’s major mechanisms: moving away from home (independence), getting their first job (self-sufficiency), dating people (mating? life companionship? perpetuating the species? throwback to Megan: negotiation and compromise?), etc. Does that mean the “window” for truly major change has closed, and that anything I do from now on will have but little effect on who I am, because I’ll always stay who I am anyway? I found the idea of gradual/minute but perpetual change inspiring/encouraging, but this last thought is kind of discouraging.

Plus, I still don’t know if I buy it. I think people can and do change.

Actually, I should take back what I said earlier. I think capoeira has come the closest to doing what I’ve been looking for. During dinner, Annick asked me what I get out of capoeira. I told her all the usual reasons—a good work-out, music, the endless variety, the atmosphere/people, etc. It wasn’t until later that I realized what’s probably been THE reason for my devotion to capoeira, the one thing I get out of it that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I know I’m not the same now as I was as a new beginner. In terms of experience/outlook and character, let alone physical changes, sticking to capoeira has probably contributed more to my development than France and Montreal will combined. If any changes occurred within me while in France, I can name them and they all came from my experiences doing French capoeira, not living in France alone.

One of my friends said that you don’t grow if you’re “comfortable” (a.k.a. “stable”) all the time. And I’ve had an almost shamefully comfortable childhood, in all senses of the word, and been comfortable with pretty much every major transition in life, including both inter- and transnational moves. But I’m pretty sure I have never, in my life, been more uncomfortable than during that first class at the community centre—followed by first roda-viewing at the academy—and probably every capoeira class following over the subsequent year.* So, if discomfort equals growing, then within the context of capoeira, I’ve grown a lot.

(*Actually, a berimbau-stringing incident my friend refers to as “getting banished to the storage room” in France might eke out a win in that one, but it was still capoeira.)

So, I think this is how I’ve finally put my finger on what it is about capoeira that completely sucks me in and holds me fast. But not even just clear, overt and internal personal growth/change, but also constant acknowledgement and affirmation of it, from your friends, your capoeira teachers, other capoeira students, and perhaps most importantly, yourself, empirically (i.e. by actually doing something you wouldn’t’ve been able or even dared to do at an earlier point in your life). What do you get out of capoeira? Why do you do it, really?





Mandingueira Holiday Giveaway Winners: Congratulations!

3 01 2009

Blue Snake Books

First off, thank you to everyone who participated in this contest!  It was genuinely nice to hear from all of you, and whether or not you participated this time, I hope all of you are further encouraged to comment for whatever reasons in the future. Now, without further ado…

The winner of the Mandingueira on Facebook exclusive draw is Isabella Chan.  Congratulations, Isabella! Please send me your mailing address ASAP so I may send you your copy of Capoeira Beyond Brazil.

As for the general draw…okay, well, so here’s the deal.  I thought I’d do something REALLY COOL, and actually filmed the draw (I used my cabaça as the receptacle) so you guys could watch and all be in on the process.  Unfortunately, everything but my camera refused to cooperate (i.e. WordPress, QuickTime, Youtube, and this other file management site I used to rely on), so I wasn’t able to upload the video. And believe me, I tried!  There was background capoeira music and a little “Congratulations!” sign at the end and everything!  So in (sad) lieu, please imagine the berimbau equivalent of a drum roll as you read the following:

UPDATE: IF ALL ELSE FAILS, TURN TO FACEBOOK!

Please click here to view the giveaway draw 😀

The winners are…

  • earthsoulmind[at]hotmail[dot]com

  • skymandr

  • ebcpirulito[at]gmail[dot]com

  • Inglijh

Congratulations to all the winners!  Please send me your mailing address BEFORE MONDAY so I can post your copies of Capoeira Beyond Brazil out to you before I leave for Montreal (again, my flight is on Wednesday and I would seriously appreciate not having to include 5 copies of the same book within my 23kg baggage limit!). If for whatever reason you don’t want or can’t have the book, also let me know ASAP, please, so I can draw a new winner. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy Capoeira Beyond Brazil, and to reiterate, I will be writing a review of it within the upcoming weeks.

Thank you so much again to everyone for participating. If you didn’t win this time, look on the bright side: the universe now owes you some other form of good karma. 🙂  Finally, thank you to Blue Snake Books for sponsoring this contest.

I look forward to hearing more from and meeting more of you in 2009!





Mandingueira Holiday Giveaway: CLOSED

2 01 2009

The contest for Mandingueira’s reader giveaway has now closed. I will select and notify winners before the end of this week, and hope to have the books sent out before the end of next week. Thank you very much to all who participated, and I look forward to seeing you again once Mandingueira’s “regular programming” has resumed!

p.s. And lest I forget: FELIZ ANO NOVO, CAMARA!