A-B, 2916 Frederick Douglass Blvd New York New York USA
Capoeira Angola, an ancient martial art of African origin, is one of the many cultural weapons used to break the chains of enslavement in Brazil. Played close to the ground, Capoeira Angola combines fluid, dance-like movements with kicks, head butts, tripping sweeps and the appearance of playfulness or vulnerability. Music is played on traditional instruments to accompany the players, to teach the rhythmic heart of the art, and also to mask its power. In the eyes of the enslavers it appeared to be a joking and playful acrobatic dance, but eventually its power was realized and Capoeira was outlawed. Death was the penalty paid by those caught playing Capoeira during the slavery era. For almost 400 years Capoeira Angola was taught and practiced in secret, and only in the 1930’s did this African martial art become legal to teach and practice.
Mestre João Grande, a Grand Master of Capoeira Angola with more than 50 years of experience, is a highly respected figure in the world of capoeira and has received numerous awards. These include a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Upsala College in East Orange, NJ in 1995, and in September of 2001 he was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, which is one of the most prestigious awards for practitioners of traditional arts in the US.
João Grande first learned Capoeira Angola from Mestre Pastinha, who continues to be his primary source of inspiration. Mestre Pastinha opened the first Capoeira Angola School, The Academia De Capoeira Angola, in 1941 in the city of Salvador, Bahia in the northeast of Brazil. Mestre Pastinha dedicated his school to preserving and continuing the long tradition of this African martial art, teaching Capoeira Angola as a path of self knowledge and mastery. Mestre Pastinha was the first Capoeira Mestre (master) to write a book on the history, philosophy and practice of Capoeira, simply entitled ‘Capoeira Angola.’ He went to Africa with his students to participate in the Festival of African Arts and Culture during the 1970’s and also produced albums promoting the unique musical component of this martial art.
Entering Mestre João Grande’s Academy, you can feel the energy of Capoeira Angola. The room is filled with berimbaus, the primary musical instrument of capoeira. Galleries of rare photos of Capoeira Angola’s storied past, as well as photos from Mestre’s travels around the globe, cover the walls. Mestre has a great appreciation for African culture, both from Africa itself and as it manifests in Brazil. Beautiful African sculptures, textiles and innumerable mementos from Bahia decorate the academy.
Mestre has travelled extensively in Africa, Europe, and Asia, throughout Brazil and the United States. He first travelled abroad in the 1970’s with Viva Bahia, one of the first groups to perform capoeira and other Afro-Brazilian folk arts outside of Brazil. He subsequently travelled to conduct Capoeira Angola workshops in Brazil and worldwide. He has taught for capoeira groups, universities, colleges, high schools, elementary schools, and civic organizations, amongst others. If you are interested in having Mestre João Grande teach at your school or organization,