Capoeira Angola is inextricably linked to the transatlantic slave trade. The artform was introduced in Brazil by the enslaved people who had been brought from Africa. The Portuguese colonizers of Brazil attempted to erase the cultural heritage of the people they had taken by converting them to Christianity, changing their names, making them speak Portuguese and generally forbidding any practices that were reminiscent of their motherland.
Capoeira Angola was born from a resistance to these rules and is heavily influenced by several martial dances that originated in West Africa. It evolved further within the “Quilombos” which were communities made up of people who had escaped slavery, indigenous people and some Europeans, being used as a form of defence and empowerment. These roots can still be seen today in the instruments, rhythms and movements of Capoeira Angola. The preservation of tradition is immensely important to the artform and is passed down from generation to generation of Capoeiristas orally by the “Mestres” (masters). Through the wisdom and tuition of the Mestres the integrity of the artform and a link with history is maintained. This is particularly important as most records were destroyed when slavery was finally abolished, resulting in many stories of slavery to go unheard.
Due to the nature of Capoeira Angola as a form of physical, mental and political resistance against oppression it remained an illegal activity in Brazil right up until the twentieth century. Following the abolition of slavery, unemployment and poverty led to many social problems in Brazil and some Capoeiristas used their skills for the purpose of crime – leading to Capoeira being regarded as a deviant practice by the rest of society.
Capoeira was eventually legalised in Brazil in the 1930’s when the govenment agreed that Capoeira could be taught within academies with significant changes made to all aspects of the music, movement and ritual of Capoeira. Many practitioners of Capoeira Angola believe that these changes were a deliberate dilution of the more African-rooted elements of the artform in order to serve the government’s political ends. Up until this time there was only one name for the artform – Capoeira, however following this splitting of styles practitioners of the traditional, unaltered form of Capoeira chose to refer to it as Capoeira Angola – to emphasise it’s roots to African culture.
Vicente Ferreira Pastinha (Commoly called Mestre Pastinha) (April 5, 1889, Salvador-Bahia, Brazil – November 13, 1981) was the first to record the philosophy of capoeira and teach it in a formal manner, making him the most prominent historical figure in capoeira angola in Brazil. He taught capoeira as an important cultural art form maintaining tradition and African ancestral ties. It is for this reason that members of ACCA BHZ choose to practice capoeira using Mestre Pastinha as a reference as accurately as possible.
The “bateria” is composed of percussion and string instruments commonly found in Brazil, some of which originated from Africa.
The reco-reco (an instrument played by rubbing it with a small stick).
The agogo (bells hit with a small stick)
Two pandeiros (tambourines)
An atabaque (drum played with the hands)
Three berimbaus (a one-stringed bow instrument). (Left to right)The Gunga (Lead berimbau), the Medio (plays oposite rythm to the Gunga), and the Viola (impravises within the base rythm)
The “roda” begins with music from the “bateria” and the Master or teacher will commence by singing the “ladainha” which is often a story recounting a part of the history of capoeira in Portuguese. Following this the singer is joined by all of the participants using a call and response style of singing. At this point, when all the participants are contributing their energy in music and song the games can begin.The first two players wait at the feet of the three berimbaus and when the Master or teacher directs them they move into the Center of the “roda” together, their bodies moving in synchronicity with the musical rhythms and at the same time complementing and responding to the movements of their partner. The actual movements of Capoeira are said to resemble a dialogue between two people, the first asking a question and the second giving a response and vice versa. The communication between the two players is quite complex because unlike a fight in which it is competitiveness and aggression that are often rewarded, in Capoeira Angola it is the attention to the aesthetics of the game, control of the body and use of wit and guile that are seen as positive attributes. Therefore a degree of co-operation and collaboration between the players is needed – without either of them letting down their guard or leaving themselves open to attack.
William Sousa is a Brazillian native and has devoted more than eighteen years of his life in the study and growth of Capoeira Angola. He started training Capoeira Angola with GCAP in Belo Horizonte as a teenager. In Brazil William worked on joint projects between local organisations and Capoeira Angola for around ten years.
Professor William Sousa arrived in England in January 2001 and through a partnership with Manchester College of Arts and Technology he started teaching Music, Capoeira Angola and working as a lecturer and social worker in local communities, Manchester University and for Manchester city council.
In September 2005 he started working at Leeds University as part of the Leeds University Union, for which he also has given lectures in Afro-Brazilian culture.
William Sousa has run seminars and a series of workshops in various locations in Europe such as London, Manchester, Leeds, Amsterdam (Holland), Paris (France) and Berlin (Germany). He has also organised various workshops and seminars inviting famous, well respected Masters such as Mestre Moraes (Salvador, Brazil), Mestre Leo (Belo Horizonte, Brazil) Mestre Carlao ( Rio,Brazil ), Mestre Boca do Rio (Salvador, Brazil) and Contra Mestre Rene (Belo Horizonte, Brazil).
In 2006 he founded The Associacao Cultural de Capoeira Angola -BHZ (ACCA-BHZ, and in 2010 he officially set up the ACCA-BHZ in his home town of Belo Horizonte – Brazil, which is now the head quarters of the Associacao Cultural de Capoeira Angola Belo Horizonte, Which and a part of the Capoeira classes. He also coordinates the BHZ CONNECTION (language project).