Mestre Waldemar da Paixão

Barracão de M. Waldemar

“My name is Waldemar Rodrigues da Paixão, I was born in 1916, learnt Capoeira from Siri de Mangue, Canário Pardo, Calabi de Periperi… I took 4 years learning, in 40 I was teaching on the Pero Vaz [street from Salvador, Bahia]. Then I kept teaching, now I stopped, I only handicraft my berimbaus.”

(From Paixão, Waldemar da, & Silva, Washington Bruno da, Mestre Waldemar e Mestre Canjiquinha, disco; 1984.)


Waldemar da Paixão was probably the last Capoeira Mestre teaching informaly. Meanwhile Mestres like Bimba and Pastinha were teaching in academies, he insisted in teaching his apprentices in his roda in the famous ‘Barracão de Waldemar’ (a hut covered with straw), using informal methods. He was already a very skilful and respected capoeira when he begun holding his rodas in the Corta-Braço slum (a very poor neighbourhood in Salvador Bahia), later known as Liberdade. Old age and Parkinson prevented him of playing the game, but he still sang in rodas and events in Bahia and Brazil and handicrafted his colorful berimbaus. Amongst other artists and scholars, Mario Cravo, Carybé and Pierre Verger were frequent in his Barracão. Thanks to that we have amazing sculptures, illustrations and pictures bearing the history of his capoeira.

In many ways Mestre Waldemar’s work reminds me of a recurrent topic in our bate-papos during events, also approached in my last post; the westernisation of Capoeira, or the inversion of Capoeira’s cultural values. For me his life and work singles out even more these inversions we are experiencing today as Capoeira spreads throughout the world in rapid pace and mostly via ‘corporation-like’ groups. Above all, Capoeira was done by people, not groups. People keen to meet, to sing, to play instruments, and to have fun in a game. It was their mean of expression, songs celebrating their lives and ancestors. A manifestation bearing the wisdom of passed generations, capable to transcend oppression into mutual help and a joyful way of life. It was their culture, leisure and entertainment.

Worthy of attention to our topic is that he introduces himself as “Waldemar Rodrigues da Paixão” student of Siri de Mangue, Canário Pardo and Calabi de Periperi, without using tittles or as belonging to the ‘Corta-Braço’ or ‘Liberdade group’. Throughout 40 years he was holding rodas and teaching in his neighbourhood. Capoeira pervaded his life, and his life was embedded in Brazilian culture.

Once Mestre Pesado, a capoeira from my home town very attached with the musical feature of the art, told me that he took 30 days off to pay Mestre Waldemar a visit. Mestre Pesado’s days in Salvador were almost ending, and despite listening many interesting stories and songs meanwhile helping Mestre Waldemar with his handicraft, he had no ‘formal’ lessons. As a young guy he was pretty anxious for some ‘real action’, for what he very humbly asked the old man: “- Mestre, aren’t you going to teach me any lessons?”. To what Mestre Waldemar promptly answered: “- My son, you have been living in my house for nearly a month and accompanying my life every day, if that didn’t taught you any Capoeira, nothing else will.”

Hearing this story from Mestre Pesado was very pleasant. It reinforced many other ‘informal lessons’ from other wise folks like Mestre Waldemar da Paixão. Capoeira is ‘the Brazilian’s people wisdom‘, is about life philosophy and culture. It is not about representing or belonging to ‘corporations’. It is about learning from wise Mestres how to transcend the every day lessons into a game of life full of ginga, negaças, mandinga e voltas por cima.

Fortunately for us, some scholars have recorded a few interviews and songs. He also recorded a LP, together with Mestre Canjiquinha, and we can still hear about his life and great commitment to Capoeira through other Mestres.

I leave here with you one of the examples I bear in mind when we talk about the inversion of cultural values in Capoeira; Mestre Waldemar da Paixão.


For more detailed information on his life and work see O Barracão de Mestre Waldemar by Frede de Abreu. Here you find an interesting article based on the book.

ps: As soon as I learn how to upload mp3 tracks I will attach a sample of his interviews in this post.

13 thoughts on “Mestre Waldemar da Paixão”

  1. Eurico
    Great article about Waldemar – I like the linking to westernization of Capoeira which I will have to read later. I always felt that capoeira was run by people not groups. The groups have flourished recently and many people practice almost like a sport – I believe this will change with time because capoeira is capoeira and those that protect there students by not letting them visit etc will loose those that are curious and artistic. I hope this makes sense – I’m a little pressed for time.

  2. Fantasma,
    Thaks for your comment. I agree with you, but I believe we do are fighting against the flow of corporation-like groups influencing the way the majority of practitioners are behaving and understanding the art worldwide.
    The work and life of Mestre Waldemar is a great example. He taught for 40 years only through his Roda (without formal classes) and always privileging his poor neighbourhood. Great lesson in times which globalization affects all cultures.

  3. Eurico,
    I also believe that capoeira will take care of its self. My job has give me the ability to travel around the world and because of my love for capoeira I make an effort to visit any group that will let me stop in to train while I am in there in their city. You can tell from the vibe of some schools that they are not use to having visitors from other groups. I complete the class for that evening and play in the roda. Sometimes people fell threated when an “outsider” comes to visit and the games can be a bit aggressive, but a afterwards I am well received. It is almost like a feeling of enlightenment for those who trapped inside of their group. “oh, capoeira does exist outside of these walls.” My point is that a visitor can spark curiousity. If a group keeps its doors closed, one day a ray of light will shine in and some of those people inside might want to see where that light came from.


  4. Ganga,

    Indeed, Capoeira has been finding its way throughout time and different societies still delivering most of its inner principles (otherness, interactivity, playfulness, etc).
    However, the process of westernisation that the Art is going through is serious and causes a lot inversions in its values and cultural concepts.

    So, I believe we cannot simply rely on the fact that so far Capoeira have found its way. We must have more people visiting each other, ‘enlightening’ those closed groups, as much as we need to talk about the reasons why most groups insist in teaching a ‘closed’ version of Capoeira.

    Why do you think the increasing trend is to base teachings in group mannerisms rather than in a broader concept of culture?

    Which one do you think it happens more often, visitors behaving like you, or groups operatoing like ‘closed versions of culture’? Why?

    Axé Ganga!


  5. Eurico,
    I believe that that some groups operate in a closed fashion in order to maintain what they believe to be the groups existence. Once a group has established a reliable following, they may decide to teach in a manner that would keep the members of the group from, “straying”. More like a business than a place of learning or cultural exchange.
    I think capoeira appeals to our basic need to belong or be a part of a group/family, so when someone or something comes a long that may seem to upset the balance of that need then it could be view initially as a bad thing. Especially, if the group functions as a close minded corporation. In my brief experience in traveling with capoeira, I have found that most groups are open to some form of exchange. Even if only to,”test their style of capoeira and to disprove mine.”

    1. Oi Ganga,

      I’m interested in learning to what extent capoeira groups can provide a sense of belonging (“group/family” as you say) but still keep its culture open to new contacts, interactions, and new procedures.

      If the majority of the groups only open their doors to interactions aiming to draw the “us and them” limits, then a broader sense of social inclusion will be compromised.

      Would you like to share your experience as a travelling capoeira around the world? You seem to have good contributions to share. If you would like to share them, just go to “Capoeira Narratives” at the blog’s pages menu and post your experience. Others might like to learn and/or comment over it. That would be nice.


  6. C.M Eurico,
    I’m wandering why we don’t follow Mestre Valdemar then:it is simple ,effective , consistent and it has the potential to keep us on the railway, but , like the train does, we could pick up other people.
    As you know I like Mestre Valdemar : I’m a fundamentalist organic.

    1. Oi Vovô,

      It’s difficult to follow the real radicals… Most people goes to churches, but rarely they live their lives like Jesus lived his (poor, with unconditional love, going against all dogmatic institutions in his time, etc.)

      It’s not that different in Capoeira. Most groups uses the ‘Old Mestres’ names and lives to build their twisted (mostly money-driven) view of Capoeira, but do not want their students to express their practice like these wise people once did…

      Axé Vovô!

      1. but I’ m sure you should ( allow your students and yourself free to express practise similar to that of M.Valdemar).What I mean is that M.Valdemar was playing rodas with his poor people living in slums. He was celebrating Capoeira every day as well as all the ancestors ,killed or survivors, There was not the problem of the modern capoeira conceived as sport “to show up”. Of course he thought that Capoeira was good for both the phisical and the spiritual aspects, of his “students”.
        We cannot pick up on our shoulders the mission to convert everybody in the world to a more conscious approach and to stop him/herself to practise capoeira just on the skin,without thinking where it comes from , why it exists etc..
        What should we do with all these exhibitionists, more over dangerous superego-mankind” representatives?

        1. Vovô,
          I believe every approach of Capoeira is worthwhile. The problem lies, I think, when people and institutions try to become rules. Capoeira is made by everyone’s participation, but it doesn’t actually belong to no one. As for the big egos, I believe our best shot is to better prepare the next generations so that they can recognise oppressive behaviours and fight them since from the beginning. Paulo Freire warns about this… The oppressor must be freed by the oppressed. In their fight for freedom, the oppressed, turns out to free everyone; including their oppressors.
          Axé Vovô!
          Até breve!

  7. Mestri moti obrigado mestre Waldemar. He like mestre Pastinha and Bimba. Mestre Bimba have Regional still and Mestre Pastinha have Angola still This Mestre’s is Hero at the moment.

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