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Viva La Fiesta, Viva Capoeira!

28 Feb

By Edbert Ragadio & Jeremy Kua SA 21 P

“So…Brazilian people.” “Yep, Brazilian people.” And so ended our last conversation before deciding to buy the tickets for the 2013 Brasilipinas at Rockwell, a large event, to say the least, that brought together schools of capoeira, samba, and other Brazilian influences to Filipino culture. As we’ve discovered along the way, the event wasn’t solely an excuse for practitioners and aspirants of the various arts to come together and drink the night away with free booze; it was also an event which commemorated two things: a) the tenth anniversary of Escola Brasileira Capoeira (EBC) , one of the largest capoeira schools in the country, and b) the Carnival of Brazil, an annual festival marking the beginning of Lent. To the two of us, however, it seemed like a refreshingly new experience, promising quite an interesting spin to the usual party club setting. We are happy to say that we weren’t disappointed.

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After a filling dinner from Pepper Lunch in Power Plant, we headed for the Rockwell Tent and were greeted by the loud thumping of bass drums. They came from a parade heading into the tent, stopping in front of it for around ten minutes, as various exhibitions took place. There were three pyro dancers performing their routines, and two soccer players freestyling with a ball, passing and tossing it to each other while keeping it off the ground, as if doing so was as easy as snapping fingers. It was in itself a sight to behold, something very new to the both of us.

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Not long after, we went into the tent, and met a crowd of six footers towering above us. We made the likely presumption that they were Brazilians, and moved along. We met with David, our key informant, and were briefed about the event. He ran us through the programme, and from that point onward, we figured this would be quite the unique party. Song and dance performances from the different arts schools would be followed by capoeira exhibitions from master practitioners themselves, including Professor Fantasma, a renowned guru. It didn’t take more than ten minutes before the room was filled up with even more foreigners, at which point David retreated into his own circle of friends, but not without assuring us that he’d always be ready to answer any questions we might have.

As we walked around the venue enjoying the sights and sounds, we checked out the stalls on the sides and corners. While most of them were selling beer and other liquor, we came across Bom Dia, which offers Brazilian snacks and desserts. They looked enticing and exotic, but our dinner hasn’t given up enough free space yet, so much to our sadness, we decided against buying. A few minutes later, the hosts introduced themselves and were up and at it; the show was about to begin.

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It opened with a performance from Escola de Samba de Manila , the only samba school in the country. Around twenty of them danced the samba jihoda, samba batucada, and other distinct subsets of the practice. Only a number of them were up on stage, and everyone else was on the dancefloor, inviting others to come and dance along. Fascinated as we were, we decided to join the fun, spiked pineapple juice drinks in hand. The steps were repetitive and focused on variations of wide arm swings along with hip twists and thrusts. It was very enjoyable, given that around twenty more people jumped in as well. Not to overstate anything, but it was liberating; stepping out of the comfort zone in the crowd and into the samba circle was well worth the contemplation.

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It was followed by a five-song set from a live jazz band. The songs were a beautiful, harmonious mix of Brazilian melody and Filipino lyrics, with the band members’ backgrounds told by the female vocalist as intermissions. At that point, it was safe to assume that everybody’s gotten to the drink bar at least twice, explaining the general increase in audience response and enthusiasm. The medley set the tone for the rest of the night, and the crowd was loving it. As the songs ended and the programme continued, the vocalist eventually left, leaving the band behind to play the background music for the next performances, but not without the crowd asking for more.

What happened next kicked off what the event was all about: capoeira. Performers from Escola Brasileira performed for a good twenty minutes or so, showcasing the art’s famous leg sweeps, threading, and smooth transitions between cartwheels and top rocking. The practitioners were topless, wearing nothing but long, white pants, revealing their physical prowess which we can assume were mostly from all their training.

This part of the program especially piqued our attention for two reasons. The first is the sheer amazement we had at their expertise. For two admittedly physically inept individuals, the mere prospect of doing a headstand can be quite difficult to imagine for ourselves. Despite that, there we were, looking at four muscular six footers incorporate karate and kung-fu style moves into a dance routine similar to what breakdancers and hip hoppers do with ease. The transitions were so fluid; after a low kick, the guy to which it was directed to avoided it with a cartwheel, ending in a standing position and retaliated with a kick of his own, which was also gracefully evaded. Time was no issue as the exchange was pleasantly and amusingly distracting.

The second reason deals with capoeira as a foreign concept made familiar. Before this project, what we knew about the subject came from little more than random articles, book definitions, and the like. It was something we were detached from; we accepted there were practitioners, but never really cared about what they actually did. But upon seeing the best of the best do their stuff live, almost immediately, we’ve latched ourselves upon an idea made real; it was indeed beautiful and mesmerizing, just as the writers and bloggers say. From capoeira being just a word, we saw it as a gateway into an amazing journey ― a lifestyle of its own, even ― that welcomed us warmly as it strikingly appealed to our senses.

All of that happening inside a party venue accentuated the experience effectively. The happy and ‘game’ vibe of everyone served to reinforce more and more participation, eventually having us join the dances that followed the exhibition. The lights were just bright and colorful enough to liven up the place, and the Brazilian DJ didn’t fall short of expectations. Instead of being a boring, self-indulgent session of masters strutting their stuff, it became a remarkably inviting event, enough to foster genuine interest in the two of us.

As the party came to a close with the hosts signing off and leaving the dancefloor to everybody, we approached David for some final clarifications and things he’d like to impart. He then talked about the history behind capoeira, like how it was an art the African slaves in Brazil created that got assimilated into mainstream culture and cultivated into the spectacle that it is now. Afterwards, he said we were welcome to drop by one of their training sessions in the Capoeira Club in Ateneo, an offer we’re still actually pondering on. It may not be in some fancy bar anymore , but learning the practice and their way of life might just be worth it.

Although I do have to admit: that Brazilian spiked pineapple juice was definitely the shit. IMG_0021

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1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
To be blunt, we found that participating served as a tool for us to verify what we had gathered as we were observing. As such, rather than say, guessing or speculating how fun and easy dancing Samba was based on somebody else’s stories, which essentially what would have happened if we only settled with observing, we were actually able to get a feel and subsequently, verify first-hand the things that made it so. (ie. Simple and repetitive dance steps, Catchy tunes and beats to dance to, and the liveliness of it all)
Moreover, it allowed us to appreciate the practice on a more personal level, allowing it to transform from simply being a distant idea into an experience that’s hard to forget.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Aside from describing what was happening at the said event, we found that having a key informant actually helped us learn the history behind many of things we got to observe there. (ie. Capoeira was actually a martial art that Africans, who were originally slaves in Brazil, created.) Also, he gave insights on how the moves were that way, given that the art was mainly for survival, and that they eventually attached meaning to it and turned it into a means of expression. Because of that, the steps became more than mere movements and rehearsed routines; we began seeing what the dances were trying to telling us, and as we were interpreting them, we realized that that whole process just added to the entire experience altogether. It was more than two guys taking notes; it was two guys living in the moment, not only seeing the observants’ world but interacting with them in it, making it more sincere.
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
For one thing, there are the feelings one can get from actually making use of participant observation as opposed to simply observing the activities we had during the event. For example, dancing the Brazilian dance form mentioned earlier, Samba. It was fun, exciting, and exhilarating to say the least. If a person was not able to participate in it, he or she would probably still have found it fun and maybe exciting, but it would most likely take them longer to do so and the degree of which they felt as such, could be way different from what we, who have gone through it, have felt. In a related matter, we wouldn’t have been able to understand the sense of merry-making a Brazilian Carnival is known for, had we not participated; Samba, after all, brings a certain “vibe” distinct from the typical dancing in clubs we have become so familiar to.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
a) Predictability – Whereas participant observation is based usually off of external factors that a certain event or experience may bring, questionnaires and interviews ,on the other hand, tend to depend mostly on questions presented by the person/s making use of it. This somewhat limits or constraints the possible answers that can come out from the interviewees, thus becoming more predictable than if one had to use the former.
b) Ease of Use – Now although questionnaires or interviews are basically less of a “hands-on” approach as compared to participant observation, it is hard to deny the fact that it could be done in the ‘comfort of your own home’, so to speak. What we mean by this is that, especially with the technology we have nowadays, it has become really simple, and easy to ask a person an interviewer wishes to ask. The interviewer could be at one place and his/her interviewee in another, yet it is very much possible to get things done otherwise. With regard to participant observation though, this tends to be the opposite. Often than not, making use of this method calls a considerable amount of time and effort from the people who wish to partake in them. Making use of this therefore, seems to be more taxing especially in urban areas where we’re all too familiar of how guarded people can be about their actions.
c) Objectivity – A bird’s eye view of an event or experience allows one to view it in the greater scheme of things. The context may not be fully understood when one is immersed in the activity, such as being a worker in a mall. One can say from several days of experience that they are being underpaid, exposed to unpleasant circumstances, and the like. However, that rests on the participant-observer’s own standards or criteria of what is fair pay and what is pleasant or unpleasant. That isn’t to say it’s not a perspective to consider; it’s arguably as valuable as any other. If one would wish to pursue the end of making policies or legislation based on such outcomes, however, a more contextualized, standardized, and thus objective set of results achieved through the use of effective surveying methods would be much more helpful.

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