Samba and Capoeira: transcendent resistance

Here it goes another ‘Samba post’ mixed with ‘Random thoughts’… The lyrics of the songs posted are part of the post’s rationale, so I posted links to them either immediately after their titles or at the end of the post. There won’t be any translated lyrics this time, sorry folks! On the other hand, however, I would be more than happy to help you out with any doubts you might have after working out your own translations.

Both Samba and Capoeira were born from intercultural relations in Brazil, and have been facing the same sort of persecution, prejudice, oppression and marginalisation. Throughout their development both have also been inhabiting the same cultural regions. It’s not by chance that there are so many similarities in between them. The spontaneity of the musicality in Rodas de Samba and Capoeira, or rather how they can begin spontaneously among some friends or in some places in Brazil, are one of the things I miss most.

The poet and composer Vinícius de Moares said in Samba da Benção (lyrics here), written with Baden Powell, that um bom samba é uma forma de oração”; a good samba is a kind of pray. The Testamento do Partideiro (The Partideiro’s Will – lyrics here), written by Candeia, and recorded by (the Samba group) Fundo de Quintal says exactly the same thing. Both songs express the human beings’ dimension of transcendence. They express the oppressed and marginalised peoples’ denial to be unhappy due to their lack of possessions, and/or their denial of being defined by materialist standards. At the core of Samba and Capoeira there is an attitude of resistance that aims to transcend the sum of an unjust past with an exclusionary present and build a better future.

The Samba community,  likewise the Capoeira community, is to a great extent divided into traditionalists and vanguards. Debates are very similar too. It’s presumed that only traditionalists resist oppression, and that vanguards are just a product of the market. In both manifestations things are much more greyer than counterparts can grasp at first. The truth is that the traditionalist/vanguard dichotomy is fake and does not account for the art’s socio-cultural reality. And in both Samba and Capoeira often there seems to be a lack of understanding that what is different it isn’t necessarily opposed.

Traditionalism is mischievous. It leads people to think that in adopting a radical attitude they’ll be upholding traditions. The problem is that in Brazil popular culture has always been based on interculturality, on syncretism, and on a deep sense of otherness. That’s ‘the tradition’ in Brazilian popular culture. ‘Totalitarianism’ came to play only after the global spreading of Capoeira. On the other hand, market oriented innovations are equally  harmful as well. Traditionalism, by the way, is one of these market oriented ‘innovations’.

Celebrating the day of Samba in Brazil last year, Ney Lopes wrote this post (Um Chope Preto pelo Dia do Samba). Let me quote part of his post to stress the similarities between Samba and Capoeira once more (translation mine):

“Even though Samba knows itself as a key component of the Brazilian Culture, it never demanded the rights given by the articles 215 and 216 of the [Brazilian] Constitution*. And it must do it. To have at its service artists and technicians who know how to fix and disseminate its peculiar sound with fidelity; recreate their dance in theatrical language, bring to discussion, to performances and recordings, in a decolonised but progressive way, all the broad spectrum of its repertoire. For who buries him/herself searching for roots, without seeing what happens on the surface, can die choking!

In short, these articles guarantee cultural rights to Brazilians. The safeguard, access, and diffusion of cultural manifestations considered to be the source of the national identity. They uphold indigenous and Afro-descendant cultures, and its ramifications as cultural heritage. Capoeira, despite understood as part of this cultural heritage, was granted similar rights in more recent laws.

Most importantly, however, is Lopes’ example. More of us capoeiras ought to be searching for ‘decolonised, but progressive’ ways to disseminate Capoeira and all the broad spectrum of its repertoire, instead of been arguing about authenticity and/or noble lineages.

Nobility and hierarchy, as they have been largely used in Capoeira, have a lot more to do with hegemonic and oppressive agendas than with indigenous and/or African philosophies.


For more on the history of Capoeira and Samba, and how both were developed out of intercultural relations, read also:
An insight into Samba de Roda and Capoeira: Traditionally an Intercultural Practice

Lyrics for Argumento, by Paulinho da Viola.

Understanding Capoeira through Brazilian music

You wanna learn about Brazilian history without going through the books, you can just listen to the music and you’ll understand everything…”

Continue reading Understanding Capoeira through Brazilian music