Mestre Sabiá was introduced to capoeira by his brother in 1985 and his life was changed forever.
He is the founder of the Ginga Mundo group and president of the NGO Projeto Mandinga for young people in Salvador de Bahia.
His quest is to always continue learning with an open mind, while never forgetting the fundamentals.
English Translation of Interview with Mestre Sabiá, 11th March 2017
How did you get to know Capoeira and why did you start to train?
My brother Carcará introduced me to Capoeira when I was still a boy of about 10-11 years old. Now he has been living in Canada for about ten years but he no longer trains.
I started doing Capoeira because I liked martial arts, I already practiced Hapkido, a Korean fight. What captivated me about Capoeira was that informality that it has, that half-democratic climate, good vibes and relaxation, the fact that it has a little music, a little history, a little dance, a bit of fight… and above all the atmosphere of friendship that I found.
Who is your Mestre, were they always?
I started in Capoeira with Professor Falão, with whom I was until I was 17 when I met Mestre Camisa.
The Mestre is like a mother, we only have one. You can be angry, have some disagreement, some disappointments but the Mestre is the Mestre. Despite having chosen to take different paths, my master is Mestre Camisa, he has been my Mestre in my training as a capoeirista.
You are the Mestre of Ginga Mundo, how was the process of founding a group?
All life changes are a delicate learning process.
I founded the Ginga Mundo group 13 years ago, in 2004.
The group and my Master’s degree are processes under construction, it was not my intention to create a group when I founded it.
I left the Abada group in 2004 and it was not something that I had planned, but at that time it was something important for me. I considered it necessary to create a new Capoeira school, a new training school.
In truth we have an NGO called Projeto Mandinga, it was from this social project that the need to create a Capoeira professionalization school called Ginga Mundo came from.
More and more as time passes, I get more detached from this concept of groups within Capoeira. I try to convey to my students that Capoeira is something much greater than a group, and that what I pass to them is simply Capoeira. Capoeira is much bigger and stronger than any group.
At a certain point in history it was important to create groups to strengthen Capoeira and part of this was making it a business.
I think that today, however, Capoeira is awakening in its sensibility that it is important for us to all take each other’s hands and respect all differences and individualities, respect different points of view.
Capoeira is like a train that is going to leave and we are its passengers, the groups are also passengers on this train, and the only thing that will always remain is the train, Capoeira.
The possibility of creating the Mandinga Project to give opportunities to young people who have nothing, the possibility of meeting people within the entire universe of Capoeira, which is much larger than that of my group, than that of any group.
Capoeira is stronger and richer than all this. I keep betting on Capoeira regardless of any segment, that Ginga Mundo is clear that Capoeira is an open universe and that we must respect the particularities of each group.
Ginga Mundo’s style is very much in the line of Capoeira Regional. In the Vadeia Mundo Vadeia do 2016 however you invited a number of Great Angola Mestres such as Mestre João Grande & Mestre Lua Rasta to act as Judges, how did this come about?
I believe that my vision alone is very small. I believe that one has to have a much bigger vision than one’s own.
Since 11 years ago when we set up the Vadeia, or the Agosto de Capoeira, up to the partnership that was born with Red Bull and Paranauê, I have always believed that Capoeira has to be supported independently of its segment.
How could I present Capoeira to my students if I presented only my view, I would not be presenting Capoeira, I would just be presenting my version.
The first thing I do when I organise the Vadeia or any other event, first and foremost is to give the opportunity to my students to have a broader view.
Everyone will have their tendencies. It is not about if I have a preference towards Angola or Regional… First I have to be honest and show that Capoeira is much bigger than any individual branch. It is larger than just Angola, it is larger than just Regional, it is rich enough not to belong to either.
I think the great benefit of the Vadeia of any other event is the opportunity to present Capoeira in a much more naked way, in a very rich way. Capoeira is all that and so much more.
The second is that this mix of all styles becomes a great laboratory. In this laboratory, if you find things that you don’t like, you do not have to do it, but you can discover many new things that you have not seen yet.
Actually I always tell them that the Vadeia is a great laboratory for my head, it’s a great exercise because I see so many things that it’s impossible to process at the time.
When I can, I create a moment for my Capoeira students because Capoeira is not just a game, Capoeira is not just what the other plays, Capoeira is a little bit of what each one plays.
What is the environment that I can create for my students to see Capoeira? The best Capoeira is an environment where there are all kinds of Capoeira.
If there is a capoeira that I think plays well, a capoeira that in my view did not arrive but I think it plays well … that’s it, it was my concern and this, is to see Capoeira in a much more plural form than my view .
How did the Paranauê project come about, and why did you choose the name Paranauê?
The opportunity came to me via a phone call.
Firstly asking if I believed that it would be possible to do a Capoeira competition?
My first response was that I thought it would be, because I already participated in competition.
When I was in Abadá Capoeira I was a game champion, but I did not believe in it, I did not like the competition aspect. I thought Capoeira was a too rich a thing for you to frame in a single profile. I believed it was possible, but in another format.
Secondly they asked if I would be interested in creating a championship and organising competitions.
I said that I would be interested if it was in a different format, and if I would include the entire spectrum of Capoeira. It would have to include Capoeira Angola, Capoeira Regional, Capoeira de Rua, to include the most diverse views of Capoeira possible.
Everyone found it interesting, and it is also the legacy, the legacy that we will leave a legacy of training, social inclusion, a legacy for the community that does not enjoy the championships…
Which name? What name are we going to give it?
We considered several names, but we went with Paranauê because it’s so famous within Capoeira, if you’re going to ask what is the most sung song in the world of Capoeira it’s Paranauê.
Everyone can sing Paranauê, everyone will talk about Paranauê, a guy may not know what Capoeira is, but he knows Paranauê. There are several remixes with Paranauê, we could get a ride on various things with Paranauê. It was a name that caught on quickly.
In the competition I was not looking for who would be the best of Capoeira, I was not looking for the best, I was looking for the best for Capoeira.
Firstly, it was an opportunity to get Capoeira on the television in many different countries where it hadn’t been seen before, which was very interesting.
Secondly, the audience of Red Bull’s events is a young one, an interesting audience that we have been losing in the last few years.
We do not have kids of 14, 15, 16, 17 years doing Capoeira, and this is a very important audience. It’s the audience that will make a lot of difference in a few years.
We needed a supportive brand, that was an influencer of a young public. We needed that they believed in us and the project.
We had 16 participants who each had a week of classes with the chosen Mestres who were all very well renowned, people who had a long history in Capoeira. They then became transmitters of this information. We have rescued some traditions like the rhythm Iuna played in the original way, with the balões.
I played my entire life Iuna clapping and making floreos, doing flips, but I never did balões, so I thought it was an opportunity for a future generation and an opportunity for my generation as well.
I thought it was the only rhythm that Master Bimba created, in fact the others came from the old Capoeira, he just gave a few adaptations, the only rhythm he created from scratch was the one that we totally mischaracterized, so I thought it was the way to leave a legacy of information.
The rhythm of Jogo de Dentro was also a rhythm that Mestre Suassuna had made an adaptation of and made the Miudinho, and the original was pure folklore, one we had only ever heard about but never seen. It was a way to bring back the original Jogo de Dentro with its traditional characteristics.
It was a way of leaving a legacy of information, to open the door to the research of each one and to look for its truth, to open a discussion and to bring visibility to a Brazilian Capoeira, to the whole Capoeira world.
We wanted 16 athletes, 16 capoeiristas who had different characteristics, that was my great concern. I did not want to have a limited view, a contemporary capoeirista, a more stylized Capoeira, or the look of a very traditional capoeirista or a capoeirista of Angola.
We wanted a Capoeira Diversa, someone who played Angola, who played contemporary, who played traditional .. and we had with the 16 of a mix of Brazilian Capoeira. A guy who presented Capoeira de São Paulo, a guy who presented the Capoeira of Rio de Janeiro, we had a diversity in Capoeira. A
nd I was very satisfied with the mix because what I really wanted was a mix and someone who presented well who verbalized well, who could speak in the interviews well, we got coverage in the major media in Brazil where they never gave the opportunity to the Capoeira appear.
Normally only with bad news, the capoeirista is arrested, the poor capoeirista, the capoeirista begs… we gave news of a capoeirista champion of a capoeirista winner.
We had business people watching, we had politicians watching Capoeira. We had Red Bull the sponsor there. We had 3,500 people in the hot sun watching Capoeira.
We managed to create a new model, that is not the only successful model, which is not the only correct model, but is a different model.
Can better models emerge than this? Of course they will! But at the time I needed a different model, and for now I think this is a good one. It was important that it was not the best nor the worst, but simply a different one.
And I think there will come other different models. Because Capoeira does not deserve mediocrity, it deserves the boldness to try different things, to try original things.
It has a winning story, a manifestation of slave origin conquered the world, more than 60 countries, spreading the Portuguese language, in universities, in schools, a very large universal social process, a child leaving the favelas and now teaching in universities worldwide.
She has a much prettier story to be told than to appear with the face of the poor, begging, this face no longer fits Capoeira.
I think the story of Red Bull Paranauê is a winning story but that is not the final story. Other great stories open the outlook for other companies.
Capoeira is not only sport, it is culture, it is the the view of each one. For one it is this, for the other it is that… and she does not define herself in anyone’s gaze because she is rich enough not to be imprisoned in any one view.
Who were the Mestres who gave the courses the week before Paranae?
Mestre João Grande, Mestre Jogo de Dentro, Mestre Capixaba, Mestre Paulinho Sabiá, Mestre Nenel, gave the courses. Mestre Itapuã was there too, Mestre Virgílio… all of them were there, Jair Moura gave a lecture too.
I tried to give a historical context, we weren’t the first to do championships, they began in the 1930s with Mestre Bimba and Capoeira Regional. It was a history with which I wasn’t familiar, but began to study before entering into the project.
Jair Moura, for whom I have great respect, was a great help with the research side. But it was also important to recognise that, the world is not what it was like in the 1930, we are in 2017 the culture has changed a lot, and we also had to work with the TV companies and the sponsor Red Bull.
Red Bull is already a very successful company that has great programs, what do they have to bring me too, what am I going to learn from them, what is their view, and what is the view that I can not lose of history, of tradition? They have capoeira, but they also have skateboard, have surf, have basketball, Formula 1… I only have Capoeira so I can not get lost in this structure, this is my root, Capoeira.
We have to walk into the future without losing sight of tradition.
But which traditions? Modern Capoeira starts in 1909, in the 1930’s, there begins the history of the uniform. We decided against having any uniforms, so as not to bring focus onto the different groups of Capoeira.
It’s Capoeira, who is the capoeirista who won? He’s a capoeirista, if he wants to, he can talk about his Master, and if he wants to, he’ll talk about his group, his school, but if he does not want to, he’ll just talk about himself.
Let’s go back to the more primitive Capoeira in a more modern way, of course, no one today wears a suit and tie or a white linen sneaker but he dresses up spontaneously in his modern clothes, which they find beautiful, just as the ancients thought it was beautiful, but today’s beautiful is different. Nobody wears linen sneakers any more, they will wear a more modern outfit, and they will introduce themselves in the way that they think is cool.
If a guy wants to play shirtless, that’s their choice. If they want to wear a certain brand because they are sponsored, shouldn’t that be their choice? That’s a new notion for Capoeira – all other sports have sponsorship? Why not Capoeira? Why this prejudice for Capoeira? Why do we have so many stars in skateboarding, surfing, Formula 1, MMA, but not in Capoeira? Why do our idols have to die penniless?
The era in which Capoeira has arrived to more than 160 countries, has spread, the Portuguese language across the globe, and yet we still have to be asking for money to bury our idols… This not compatible with the reality that Capoeira has achieved.
I think we can have a more daring story. There are fears that Capoeira
will turn into a sport, but Capoeira is culture. Capoeira has a great history of cutting across social boundaries. A boy that comes out of a favela, he comes to Europe to teach the daughter of a Princess, the son of Michael Schumacher, a boy who comes from humble origin!
They have strong values but they need to have strong structures, and this strong structure we have to learn to build. We do not just have to talk big, we have to really be strong.
There is nothing wrong with receiving some support, some sponsorship. What I think is wrong and we do not know how to organise, how to focus on our young people, focus on our Mestres.
Mestre João Grande is 85 and he continues to travel and work in a very clear and remains a helpful person, continues to earn his money. This is very cool but at the same time not everyone can continue working until they are 85 years old.
It was a question the Red Bull people asked me:
Who are your idols? All the skateboarding kids ask their idols to sign their skateboards, the surfers their surfboards – what’s the trend in Capoeira?
Occasionally people ask for autographs, but nobody gets stopped on the street, and I got home very bothered by it. Because it’s real, we have to transform our idols in more solid ways.
It’s a complicated topic, with contradictory opinions, but we need to find a new format. We can’t have our Great Mestres dying in poverty!
Mestre Pastinha’s academy was called Capoeira Angola Sports Center, but the Capoeira of Mestre Pastinha was still cultural it represented a whole history, ancestry… He used the name because it was an important way for him to gain credibility.
Mestre Bimba would not have achieved what he did, had he not opened up Capoeira for the students, for the university, the whole society of the north east Amaralina. He did it not just out of necessity, but as he really wanted society to know the black culture, he wanted society to know the community, as it was, he had a much bigger goal because if he had aimed small he would not have made such a big leap for Capoeira.
What would be your tip for someone who is just starting in Capoeira?
Do Capoeira, play and train every aspect. Try not to get too much into all these politics that surround Capoeira, look to see the good part that Capoeira has.
Capoeira is very rich, very complex, but focus on the simpler parts, the most pleasant parts, whichever aspect it is that seduces you. If it is the music go for it, if it is the physical part go for it, practice the Capoeira that do you best. If it is Mestre So-and-so that you like, train with them, if it’s the Capoeira de Angola that you like, go to Angola, if Regional go to Regional…
Complications arise because the human being makes it so difficult, creates so much politics, creates so much difficulty, and yet Capoeira is so simple, in fact all the difficulty that it has is ours.
What’s your name? What is your nickname and why was it given?
My name is Jair Oliveira de Faria Junior, my nickname is Sabiá and it was given because I started in Capoeira after my brother and he was called Carcará.
I was skinny, the little one, had thin little legs and the name Sabiá stuck. I did not even sing well, and still don’t, but there stuck the name Sabia. To this day, even my mother calls me Sabiá, no one else calls me by my real name!