Martial Arts: Capoeira Angola
By Njoli Brown
I arrived at capoeira in Denmark, as far away from Brazil or the African continent as you could be. As early on as that, I realized that the richness and value this art had to offer wasn’t bound up in it’s geographical placement but in it’s ability to maintain it’s objectives with authenticity and integrity.
Over the past long while I’ve been making regular visits to the Philippines, mostly to continue evolving my practice in the Filipino martial arts. But, as much, I return to reconnect with people who have become very dear to me.
I first connected with Jaime Benedicto sometime in 2013 (?). I was invited to teach a workshop for his Angola group, ECAMAR Philippines, which was still in it’s early stages. Since then, it’s been profound to see the growth of his work and so much of it because of the laser focus of his intentionality around working with young people in some of Manila’s most underserved communities.
His mentor is Mestre Roxinho of Ilha de Veracruz, Bahia in Brazil. With his international program, Project Bantu, “a therapeutic intervention that introduces Capoeira Angola to young people from Aboriginal or refugee backgrounds… combines the healing potential of musical and physical expression to produce a range of social and learning outcomes.” Jaime has taken this tool and created something so particularly relevant to the young people he works with, builds with and inspires with and it is abundantly clear by the depth of love he invests in his protégés. You see this in his work to facilitate the visas, passports and tickets and thus enable the participation of his students at an international capoeira gathering in Australia, in the responsibility he places on their shoulders regarding their school attendance, in teaching a few to drive his car and so inspiring a sense of autonomy and trust. Jaime and Project Bantu Philippines are embodying the essence of what Capoeira Angola can do as a platform for uplifting young people . It’s not a perfect road. Kids miss school, do irresponsible things, are forced to navigate social and societal complexities that, in a perfect world, would be far removed from their experience. But it’s inspiring to see a teacher in a process of growth along with the community he is actively serving and to see a legacy art being used to build contemporary lives.
Bonus track: Interview with Mestre Roxinho (in Portuguese)