Quintessentially Brazilian: Capoeira

First things first. What exactly is capoeira? Developed amongst Angolan slave populations in Brazil during the Portuguese Colonial age, capoeira is a multidisciplinary practice that encompasses martial arts, performance and musicality in competitive, collaborative, and combative ways. Accompanied by native instruments like the berimbau, pandeiro, atabaque, agôgô, and reco-reco, vibrant capoeira demonstrations have become a distinctive sight (and sound) across the world.

We spoke to contra mestre Hiram of the Capoeira Club London about the unique spirit of capoeira and its ability to engage capoeiristas on a global level. How has this localised practice that was prohibited in the 19th century managed to captivate so many?

© Bombril Edgar

“Capoeira has a huge variety of people: those who just enjoy themselves, or who want to get fit. Some people like the idea of the musicality, being able to learn a different instrument, or language. Because it gives us such a wide amount of tools that you can use and that you can connect with, people connect themselves in many different ways. There are people who only connect with certain aspects, which is okay. Every person is different, and it’s important to have this variety that makes capoeira richer.”

© Bombril Edgar

The Brazilian culture is the beating heart of capoeira, wherever it is in the world, and inevitably “the people who fall in love with capoeira, they fall in love with Brazil as well. They want to go to Bahia, to Rio de Janeiro, to Sao Paolo and live there and see the vibe, the energy.” Perhaps this physicality is key to its popularity. When people spend the majority of their days plugged in to get information, to learn, to work, the appeal of a physical activity with an oral history appeals to something primal. “You have to travel a lot to meet different mestres, to get knowledge from the past. They’re living sources, you can’t read it on the internet, you have to experience that moment and pass it on to others. It’s a pure cultural movement. If you are able to go to Bahia and talk to the old mestres, the connection they have is beyond just a sport.”

© Matthew Webb

Another unifying aspect is the music of capoeira. Despite the fact that many classes are conducted in Portuguese, and people start to pick up the language in this way, the real communicative forces are melodies and rhythms.

“Music gives a harmony to people, people can come from different backgrounds, but as soon as you put the berimbau in a well-balanced tune, you can give such a vibration to the room, that everyone in the room becomes in harmony with each other, it’s a way to draw people in, not just physically but energetically as well.”

As someone who has practiced capoeira from the age of 8, and founded London’s Capoeira Club, Hiram understands the long-term appeal of capoeira, beyond something which is considered a hobby or a sport: “because [people] see it’s way beyond a sport, they feel that and they want to understand more. The more you see the more you want to see, and you start digging in. I’ve seen mestres of 80 years old who say they’re still learning capoeira.”

© Matthew Webb

On a personal level, capoeira has not just been the means to introduce Londoners to Brazilian culture, but to cultivate a home from home by building a community based around the traditions he grew up with. “When I came to London I had two choices,” he explains. “The first was to become absorbed in the culture of the UK, and the second was to bring my culture to London. Despite being so far from home, I have become ever more immersed in my Brazilian culture. It was a way to feel closer to where I came from so I didn’t miss my home as much.”

One final word to convince you to try? “The magic of capoeira is you put in people from different religions and ethnicities and they are able to just be themselves.”

Capoeira Club London has an inclusive and joyous approach to capoeira, that maintains a sense of fun at the centre of its philosophy. You can find more information on their classes here.