Interviewing a Capoeira Legend

IMG_20150621_170812450by Gaya Nikolsky

Legacy, history and mythology are essential when forming a social group or a community. And for capoeira, its history and the story of its liberation are important aspects in the meaning given to capoeira nowadays.Until 1930 capoeira was illegal in Brazil. The man who succeeded in legalizing and institutionalizing capoeira was Mestre Bimba. He is one of the key figures who made capoeira what it is today. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a capoeira workshop by the group CPPA where an old student of the legendary Mestre Bimba was present, Mestre Acordeon.

I have been practicing capoeira for two years now, the same time that I have been studying anthropology. I have to say, that every single theme I have encountered in my anthropology studies can in one form or another be related to capoeira. From politics and the hierarchical structure within the capoeira world, to endless rituals that you encounter in the roda (a circle that is formed as part of the sport. In the middle two people practice capoeira together while the people standing around clap and sing). From religion, to community forming, to the nationalistic connection to Brazil and development work that tries to help people through capoeira. As an anthropology student, practicing capoeira has been very helpful. It has been like a reference point. Whatever I learned at university, I could contextualize within capoeira.

When I heard that I will get the chance to meet Mestre Acordeon, I decided to work the other way around and apply anthropology to capoeira. I came to the workshop with the purpose of interviewing Mestre Acordeon, and indeed managed to achieve my purpose. During the roda at the end of the first day, I saw the Mestre leave. Shortly after I also left, and went up to him and asked if I could interview him this weekend. After a slight hesitation he asked if I have time now, to which I enthusiastically responded that I do and quickly went and got my prepared interview question and tape recorder. So now for the rest of my life I can say that I succeeded to interview Mestre Acordeon. I am well aware, of course, that I am just a bachelor student in Anthropology. I have some experience with interviewing, but honestly, in the last two years, the assigned interviews that I had to do can almost be counted on two hands. Nevertheless I was not going to let this chance slip by and I tried to apply everything that I have learned so far. I have to say, this was the most difficult interview I have ever conducted.

There I was, sitting next to a capoeira legend, with my little notebook, a stolen pen of my university and a recording device on my lap. I was sitting next to someone who has probably partaken in hundreds of interview before I was even born. But determined to apply all of my experience I started the interview. I quickly notices that the interview tricks which I learned during my studies, like silent probes etc. do not work when interviewing someone like Mestre Acordeon. I have read many interviews that have been conducted with Acordeon and I tried not to focus on the ‘practical’ aspects of what he has done, but to get as much of his world view as possible. In spite of some struggles and difficulties I am happy with the interview and I feel that I got many valuable things from it. The way that he answered each question was unbelievable. He had a beautifully well constructed narrative about everything.

As for me as an anthropologist, I quickly realized that I have to let go. Because of the relatively little experience that I had, I couldn’t pretend to know more than I did. Though I was the one interviewing I felt that this man could read me like a book. Once I felt this, I loosened up the interview. Beforehand I have read my questionnaire many times, so I had everything I needed in my mind. I started to listen and to react to his answers. And this was when I felt that the interview became smoother and deeper.

I am very lucky for having had this opportunity and I would like to thank Mestre Acordeon, Mestre Porquinho who organised the event and my teacher contra mestre Miojo.

I have written a blog post about this experience, where I go more into details of the interview itself. So for those interested, you are welcome to visit my blog.

-Charmosa

Gaya Nikolsky is a second year bachelor student cultural anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit.

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