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Rough Guide

The Rough Guide To Capoeira


Released 02 January 1970

Music provides the heartbeat of capoeira and sets the scene for this most captivating of martial arts. This Rough Guide features both the guardians of this musical tradition as well as some of today’s key innovators who continue to push the boundaries of the genre.


Capoeira is a Brazilian art form that developed from the combat games that enslaved Africans brought to Brazil during colonial times. Shrouded in mystery and often misunderstood, this unique discipline combines dance, martial arts and acrobatics as well as music, all of which is underpinned by a strong philosophy. The essence of capoeira is a graceful, flowing game played by two people inside a circle called the roda. The circle is formed by other participants who clap, sing and play instruments, while waiting their turn to play the game. A practitioner of the art is called a capoeirista.

Songs are recited in Portuguese and accompanied by percussive instruments, the most well-known being the berimbau, a single-string musical bow with its origins in Africa. Essentially, it’s the berimbau that leads the capoeiristas movement in the roda - the faster the berimbau is playing the faster the capoeirista moves in the game. To this effect, music is the key driving force behind capoeira which makes it so distinctive and captivating when compared to other martial arts and practices.

Often described as a martial art disguised as a dance, capoeira originally served not only as a form of self-defence, but also as a way of maintaining spirituality and culture. However, shortly after the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, capoeira was declared illegal. Its approval by the government as a socially acceptable sport had to wait until the early 1930s, when Mestre Bimba created a form of capoeira that held back on its spiritual elements and incorporated elements of jiu-jitsu, gymnastics and other sports. Come the 1970s and trailblazers such as Mestre Acordeon started bringing capoeira to the US and Europe, helping the art to become more internationally recognised and practiced.

This compilation provides a unique insight into and overview of today’s vibrant scene and highlights both the guardians of capoeira’s musical traditions as well as some of the pioneers who continue to push the boundaries of the genre. One such trailblazing project is Capoeira Experience, whose classic opener ‘Princesinha da Maré’ pays respect to tradition whilst incorporating the use of upbeat electronic elements and production techniques with spellbinding effect. Likewise, Tafari Roots chart new territory with their blend of capoeira and reggae. Formed in Rio de Janeiro in 1996 by the singer, songwriter and capoeirista Tandi Gebara, the band have performed at many key Brazilian festivals including the legendary Rock in Rio and have helped introduce a whole new audience to the genre.

Grupo Muzenza was founded in 1972 by Paulo Sérgio da Silva, better known as Mestre Paulão. Later lead by Mestre Burguês, the group expanded significantly in the 1990s, creating affiliated centres in many states in Brazil and abroad. Today, Muzenza has established itself as one of the largest capoeira groups in the world. Their featured track ’Paranauê – Paraná’ is a wonderful example of what is known as a corrido, the most common type of capoeira song usually consisting of short phrases/verses sung by the lead singer, to which the chorus respond in unison. In contrast, Capoeira Ultimate’s rendition of the corrido ‘Zum Zum Zum’ is an innovative electronic/dance adaptation of a traditional song whose lyrics signify that a person is in danger of harm. This is relayed by the action of fast kicks and the increasing tempo of the berimbau, with the words “Zum Zum Zum” imitating the symbolic warning sounds of a poisonous wasp.

The term Nago refers to the name given to groups of runaway slaves who had been brought to Brazil from Africa. In 2002, the Capoeira Nagô Cultural Sports Association was founded in Brazil, with the aim of supporting and facilitating Capoeira Nagô’s progress, promoting the principles and traditions of capoeira. In turn Capoeira Nagô has become one of the fastest growing capoeira groups in the world, whose vibrant spirit and love of the art is captured to great effect in both ‘Foi Dendê’ and ‘Capoeira No Sangue’. Similarly, Capoeira Guanabara is another group responsible for helping capoeira become a truly global practice through the dedication of its globetrotting founder Mestre Di Mola. Now based in Sweden, Di Mola serves up two wildly contrasting approaches to the same theme, with ‘Ingá Ingá’ being very much in the traditional mould, whilst the techno infused ‘Dendê Dendê’ gives the form a whole new musical dimension.