"I never listened to this music in Brazil, but when you get here you feel a little bit homesick," says Sandro, a first-year business student at Fuqua. He heard about the Verde festa from Grupo Capoeira, the local Brazilian folkloric dance and martial arts collective he joined last fall.
Mestre Caxias, aka Alex Filadelfo, directs the capoeira classes offered at Beyond Fitness on 15-501 (across from the new Supertarget). He has been splitting his time between Durham and New York for the last five years now, assisted when he's away by Taturana (a capoeira name meaning "centipede"). A native of the "City of God" neighborhood that gave the recent film its name, Taturana says this highly gymnastic sport dating to colonial times is still common in the urban favelas of Rio.
"Capoeira is like soccer; it's the second most popular sport in Brazil." It looks a lot like breakdancing to the untrained eye, as dancers in loose pants do handstands, cartwheels and kicks that approximate mowing the grass--or shearing down one's enemies. As in hip hop, dancers improvise new styles as the art form evolves, and the discipline capoeira requires makes it more of a lifestyle or vocation than a hobby. "I've been training every day for 12 years, three or four times a day," says Taturana.
"In the old days, capoeira was only for men. Women in capoeira is new," says Filadelfo, who trains an impressive number of female students. Is it controversial? "No," says Filadelfo, explaining that women have always played a peripheral but key role in the survival of the practice, which was outlawed by colonial authorities in the 19th century. "Women used to stand in the circle and when the police would come, women would step in and do samba."
Though music initially helped camouflage the martial aspects of capoeira, it remains integral to the art form, says Filadelfo. Beginners in his classes "learn movement, music, and also Brazilian dances like samba and maculele." Capoeira uses three primary instruments: the berimbau (a rustic, one-stringed bass), atabaque (drum) and pandeiro. "This is all part of the Brazilian tradition. When we play the capoeira, we bring back the roots of our ancestors and we relieve stress."
The use of nicknames also dates back to the time when Afro-Brazilian slaves had to disguise capoeira's fighting moves and mental discipline as harmless diversion.
"When capoeira was outlawed in Brazil, they started going by nicknames so the police won't know your real identity," says Filadelfo. The tradition of secrecy continued until 1985, when Mestre Bimba performed openly for the Brazilian president and received permission to open the first national capoeira school.
Once a year, the new initiates are "baptized" and given a capoeira name. The next Batizado, slated for the week of April 10-15, will be a grand affair with workshops by visiting mestres from Europe and Brazil and a huge public party.
Class information is on the collective's Web site at www.duke.edu/~ga5/community.html.
Los Hombres Calientes & Bio Ritmo in Roanoke Los Hombres Calientes are the ultimate Caribbean hipsters. Performing Jan. 21 at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, Va., veteran percussionist Bill Summers (who played with Herbie Hancock in the '70s) and trumpet virtuoso Irvin Mayfield stocked their touring band with young all-stars from the New Orleans jazz scene. Whereas their albums are jam-packed with short teaser tracks (as if to document every nascent idea), in concert Los Hombres Calientes reign supreme as kings of the long, well planned out descarga. The program was all Latin, with a Basin Street twist, deeply informed by the historical connections with Cuba, Brazil, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It's no coincidence that Jelly Roll Morton gave jazz its blue note in New Orleans, with what he dubbed "the Spanish tinge."
Clave, the basis of Cuba's musica bailable, was almost a constant, but nobody danced, probably because they were just too busy listening. Some Latin jazz that leans on the dance repertoire can become formulaic, but not so here. They were laying down rhythmic combinations and 5/4 bars over, under and around the clave in ways nobody but the Cubans usually pull off this fearlessly. What's the secret of their tumbao? "It's the blues," says bassist David Palphus emphatically. Their sound is not a recipe of hybridized elements thrown into a pot and stirred; it's more like a map, a sub-Atlantic subway system or a time machine. As Mayfield puts it, he could not be cockier to be from New Orleans, "the northernmost Caribbean city."
Dancers didn't hold back at the after-party, hosted by Richmond salseros Bio Ritmo. Rei Alvarez was in good voice after a well-deserved vacation in Puerto Rico, following heavy gigging during the holidays. Fun new tunes like "Chuleta" are sounding polished, and bassist Cameron Ralston--who replaced Jonny Sullivan, with his punk fashions and synth pedals, over a year ago--is now locked solidly into the groove and throwing down some serious tumbao.
"He does some cool things with the harmonic changes, but it's subtle, you really have to listen for it," says Alvarez with approval. The all-important bassline tells the dancer when to move, so blessings are due upon the House of Ritmo for making this transition smoothly. Just the day before the Roanoke show, bass trombonist Stefan Demetriadis also left the band (by mutual arrangement), so the new year may bring more additions.
The Jefferson Center is an 883-seat hall with first class acoustics, beautifully renovated inside a historic school in Roanoke's downtown. Renting space to 19 other nonprofit tenants helps pay the bills, says director Janet Burrow, but they rely largely on private donors for institutional survival. (Burrow has some Triangle connections: Her daughter Amanda Phillips Burrow recently graduated from UNC-Public Health, and son-in-law Miguel Martinez is a local photographer with Hispanic media.) At least once a year the Center invites a big-name Latin star (last January it was Eddie Palmieri). Their next show is Dr. John on Feb. 9, and Wynton Marsalis plays a benefit on March 11. At a mere three hours' drive, jazz fans might want to add Roanoke to their excursion itinerary. Find them online at www.jeffcenter.org. Upcoming Live Music Feb. 4, 8 p.m. --Jack De Johnette Latin Project. Don't miss your chance to see Puerto Rican percussion prodigy Giovanni Hidalgo, along with Edsel Gomez, Luisito Quintero and others at Duke's Page Auditorium.
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