A Capoeira tem começo mas não tem fim.
Capoeira has a beginning, but no end – This was how Mestre Amén Santo began his workshop at our academy.
Founder of the group Capoeira Batuque, and artistic director for the Capoeira scenes in the cult film Only the Strong, Mestre Amén Santo is also renowned as a great musician and percussionist. In this interview he shares with us some highlights of his long history in the world of Capoeira.
The following is a lightly edited translation of the transcript of our interview with Mestre Amen Santo, which was featured in Episode 2 of the Papoeira Podcast.
How and When did you discover Capoeira?
I started Capoeira when I was 7 years old.
I lived in the Liberdade neighborhood of Salvador, and there in a shack there was the academy and berimbau factory of Mestre Waldemar da Paixão.
The first time I saw Capoeira I was 6 years old, I went to the supermarket called Mercado de Aguinelo, where there was a roda that Mestre Waldemar always did, right in front of the store.
I went to the supermarket with my mother, saw this roda, and out of curiosity I stopped to watch. Mestre Waldemar, for the first time, began to play Capoeira with me in the roda, and this was my introduction to Capoeira.
It was about six months later when I discovered that Master Waldemar had this berimbau factory that was practically behind my house. It was so close I could walk there. I started to go there with other boys who were there helping to make berimbaus, and from there came the informal teaching.
The Mestre showed something here, something there, but it was not really a Capoeira class, he just passed some movements.
Once I got the taste for Capoeira, I started looking for more, to train in other places.
I met Mestre Aguila and I trained a lot with him, but it was mainly training with the other capoeiristas that lived in the area, it was in the capoeira rodas… and so began my experience in capoeira.
Who do your consider your Mestre?
I’d say it was Mestre Waldemar who introduced me to Capoeira, but I also have a great deal of respect and admiration for Mestre Aguila.
Can you recount how it was training with these Grand Mestres?
The relationship with Mestre Waldemar was like that of grandfather and grandson, very affectionate, but also very tough.
It was a beautiful relationship that I do not think I fully appreciated at the time. I did not know the true value of this teaching back then… even if it was informal it was a life lesson for me.
With Mestre Aguila I trained with him there in the Duque de Caxias where he taught, and there we really trained hard, he was a very severe person.
I remember that I came to train one day and had a lot of chairs spread out across the room. He was stood talking in the middle of the chairs, and suddenly gave me a benção to the chest, and I flew backwards over the chairs, and everyone was laughing, but it was a way of inducting you to the academy. It was one of the tests they did to know if you really wanted to train capoeira, and to see if you would come back. And in the next class I was right back there.
How was the process of creating your own group?
My first group was called Ginga Bahia but later became Capoeira Batuque.
We are now celebrating 30 years of capoeira in the United States. Originally it was a collaboration with Mestre De Sola but as time went by Mestre De Sola followed another path to continue with his work, and I stayed with Capoeira Batuque.
I wanted to form a group that had a deep focus on research, as I like to research a lot, and I think a capoeirista is a teacher, he is a Mestre, but he is also a researcher who continues to learn.
There are many people who discovered Capoeira through the film “Only the Strong”. You were involved in the making of the film, how did that come about, and what did you think of the result?
To begin with Mark Dacascos was training with me before the movie. When it came to the project of the 20th Century Fox movie, they came to my gym, which was very small, very humble, they saw the class, they did the class and they liked it very much.
They asked me to be the script assistant for the movie, to do the choreography of the movie and to work on the Capoeira part.
I started working on it and as Mark Dacascos was already an actor, he also auditioned and passed. They wanted only Mark Dacascos and I to play capoeira, to have only two people playing capoeira and I said,
“Folks, if you’re going to make a Capoeira movie, you have to have a roda, you have to have a berimbau, that’s what Capoiera is”.
If you only film two people playing, it will not showy what Capoeira is. It took me about 3 months to convince the producers and the director until I had friends who lived in Florida, a great friend of Mestre Cesar from Alabama, Pele, Branca de Neve, a friend named Claudia, I called them and they came, we made a roda, and they loved it and they understood the context.
After this they worked a roda into the beginning and the end of the film. And then we worked with Mark the fight choreographies and Only the Strong became a reference in the world of Capoeira, where it really helped and transformed its visibility.
It has created great visibility, not only in Brazil, but throughout the world. And that’s when capoeira really expanded a lot.
It was only an introduction because it really could not fully show Capoeira, it’s a movie and film is illusion.
The film exaggerated some things, but it does not stray too far from reality.
You are a great percussionist as well as a capoeirista. Did you love for music come from capoeira or was it already there?
I was raised in a Terreiro de Candomblé. In this terreiro you have to play music. So I am Ogum in Candomblé, and we all played since childhood in the Batucada, boxes, bottles, plastics, anything you could get your hands on and make a sound, and all this developed my passion to play percussion. If you go to Salvador you will see children playing tin cans, this is something that is deep inside us.
And with all this I went practicing, having more experience. Working in the Olodum da Bahia group also helped me a lot because it gave me a more global, not only national or regional vision. Percussion has always been very close to me, I really like the music and so the music in Capoira for me is the secret of art.
How did you get your Apelido, Amén Santo?
My real name is Joselito do Espirito Santo. People used to say “Joselito do Espirito Santo, Amén” and the name stuck.
What would be your advice to someone just starting out in Capoeira?
I think Capoeira has many paths, and you have to see which path is right for you.
Each one has different tastes, so look at this. One thing I always tell beginners to never compare themselves with another person and want to do what another person does. You have to accept yourself as you are, understand that you have limits and also have things that you will do well that no one will be able to do. You have to accept yourself.
I think the biggest lesson is not wanting to copy and not wanting to be like another person, that happens a lot in capoeira. Ah, I like this movement, I want to be like him… it will never be the same.
Each one has their own personality, each has their own way of being.
I think the advice I would give is:
Look to see what works for you, what will make you happy, and get the best out of your capoeira.