“My name is Waldemar Rodrigues da Paixão, I was born in 1916, learnt Capoeira from Siri de Mangue, Canário Pardo, Calabi de Periperi… I took 4 years learning, in 40 I was teaching on the Pero Vaz [street from Salvador, Bahia]. Then I kept teaching, now I stopped, I only handicraft my berimbaus.”
(From Paixão, Waldemar da, & Silva, Washington Bruno da, Mestre Waldemar e Mestre Canjiquinha, disco; 1984.)
Waldemar da Paixão was probably the last Capoeira Mestre teaching informaly. Meanwhile Mestres like Bimba and Pastinha were teaching in academies, he insisted in teaching his apprentices in his roda in the famous ‘Barracão de Waldemar’ (a hut covered with straw), using informal methods. He was already a very skilful and respected capoeira when he begun holding his rodas in the Corta-Braço slum (a very poor neighbourhood in Salvador Bahia), later known as Liberdade. Old age and Parkinson prevented him of playing the game, but he still sang in rodas and events in Bahia and Brazil and handicrafted his colorful berimbaus. Amongst other artists and scholars, Mario Cravo, Carybé and Pierre Verger were frequent in his Barracão. Thanks to that we have amazing sculptures, illustrations and pictures bearing the history of his capoeira.
In many ways Mestre Waldemar’s work reminds me of a recurrent topic in our bate-papos during events, also approached in my last post; the westernisation of Capoeira, or the inversion of Capoeira’s cultural values. For me his life and work singles out even more these inversions we are experiencing today as Capoeira spreads throughout the world in rapid pace and mostly via ‘corporation-like’ groups. Above all, Capoeira was done by people, not groups. People keen to meet, to sing, to play instruments, and to have fun in a game. It was their mean of expression, songs celebrating their lives and ancestors. A manifestation bearing the wisdom of passed generations, capable to transcend oppression into mutual help and a joyful way of life. It was their culture, leisure and entertainment.
Worthy of attention to our topic is that he introduces himself as “Waldemar Rodrigues da Paixão” student of Siri de Mangue, Canário Pardo and Calabi de Periperi, without using tittles or as belonging to the ‘Corta-Braço’ or ‘Liberdade group’. Throughout 40 years he was holding rodas and teaching in his neighbourhood. Capoeira pervaded his life, and his life was embedded in Brazilian culture.
Once Mestre Pesado, a capoeira from my home town very attached with the musical feature of the art, told me that he took 30 days off to pay Mestre Waldemar a visit. Mestre Pesado’s days in Salvador were almost ending, and despite listening many interesting stories and songs meanwhile helping Mestre Waldemar with his handicraft, he had no ‘formal’ lessons. As a young guy he was pretty anxious for some ‘real action’, for what he very humbly asked the old man: “- Mestre, aren’t you going to teach me any lessons?”. To what Mestre Waldemar promptly answered: “- My son, you have been living in my house for nearly a month and accompanying my life every day, if that didn’t taught you any Capoeira, nothing else will.”
Hearing this story from Mestre Pesado was very pleasant. It reinforced many other ‘informal lessons’ from other wise folks like Mestre Waldemar da Paixão. Capoeira is ‘the Brazilian’s people wisdom‘, is about life philosophy and culture. It is not about representing or belonging to ‘corporations’. It is about learning from wise Mestres how to transcend the every day lessons into a game of life full of ginga, negaças, mandinga e voltas por cima.
Fortunately for us, some scholars have recorded a few interviews and songs. He also recorded a LP, together with Mestre Canjiquinha, and we can still hear about his life and great commitment to Capoeira through other Mestres.
I leave here with you one of the examples I bear in mind when we talk about the inversion of cultural values in Capoeira; Mestre Waldemar da Paixão.
For more detailed information on his life and work see O Barracão de Mestre Waldemar by Frede de Abreu. Here you find an interesting article based on the book.
ps: As soon as I learn how to upload mp3 tracks I will attach a sample of his interviews in this post.