Beauty in the Human Language: Capoeira & Connecting with Possibilities

By Njoli Brown

So, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to wrap my head around the entirety of my recent experience in Cuba.  Working with other artist-educators, exchanging ideas about this endless work of empowering youths in marginalized communities, all of it was tremendously inspiring and thought provoking.  I’ve been wanting to share that here but instead, in trying to encompass everything, I find myself spinning and inadequately capturing the profundity of things every time I try to put something on paper. I’ve decided I need to break this down for myself.  Over the next few weeks I figure I’ll take moments, pieces of that short but impactful time and engage in some explorations.

DSCF6965That being said I wanted to start by discussing the workshop I facilitated in Havana using capoeira as the medium.  My objectives were to explore the ideas and constructs that determine our process for valuating beauty. In addition I wanted to use this exercise as a catalyst for conversations on the concept of “embodying the spirit” and using the body as an efficient language tool.

We kicked it off by doing a brainstorm on popular concepts of beauty.  In part this was an opportunity for us to reflect on the ways in which social constructs sometimes diverge from our unqualified humanity.  When we moved into “ginga” I offered the structures as suggestions instead of rules. It was an interesting practice for me, to look at this form of engagement with laser focus on facilitating a journey of discovery instead of instructing a lesson.  A humbling thing to let go of my usual objectives and to hone in, much more deeply, on the method and process of sharing ideas.  We took the opportunity to explore the emotions tied to the tension and relaxation of muscles, the exploitation of the joints and the fear that is tied directly to the concept of equilibrium.

DSCF6983

Each individual then chose an emotion that they had recently engaged with, something to which they’d had a strong response and maintained vivid memories of the physical experience.  After a moment of meditating on this emotion they partnered off and used  ginga as a vessel through which they could embody this emotion and see how it might inform their interactions.  Our next step was to recall our conceptions of central figures in our lives, matriarchs, patriarchs, elders, youths and through each of these lenses we interacted with our emotion experiment in greater depth.

So, through this we were able to tap into an experience of beauty as a concept that exists in greater part due to its capacity to stimulate emotional resonance as opposed to a design which we accept as beautiful because particular language has been associated with it.

As a next step we DSCF7201decided to use the language of the body to investigate the experiences of our compeers.  In capoeira we often talk about the body conversation as a game of questions and answers.  As often as not though, a player may ask questions without giving truly intentional scrutiny to the merit of his/her camarada’s responses.  

It’s easy at times to get caught up in your own movement, in the power of inquisition, in the sound of your own voice.  But capoeira, as life entire, has the necessity of maintaining a balance between pressure and growth. We looked at our kicks and escapes as equal opportunities to observe ourselves as well as the our embodied identities of our counterparts.  We then processed the effects of the experience on our ideas about interpersonal communication.

How would we take this practice and apply it in our visual arts programming, our music, theater, writing? Did we gain some new DSCF7075connection to the somatic process underlying emotion?  How could this be relevant to the work we do with youths? What will it mean to create something “beautiful” in the future? 

Washington, You Break My Heart

Washington breaks my heart

It breaks my heart with its beauty

It is heart breaking hard and is protected with pillows wrapped in solar panels and decorated with barbs

It holds my love

robes it in bicycle chains and forgets itselfForgets that it is stitching with cold and water and kisses.

Washington breaks my heart

when it won’t let itself be whole

when it cuts itself to pieces

when it loves itself

when it liberates itself

when it riddles itself with caves and hidden places

and broken ladders

-Njoli-

 

This is No Kick-Flick: The Responsibilities of an Instructor Teaching Martial Arts to Youths

By Njoli Brown

First of all I want to start this by stating that I’ll be speaking from the perspective of someone who, when instructing youths, primarily works with young people in the middle to high school age range.  As much as I think it is a wonderful exposure for younger students, I also realize this kind of instruction as a distinctive skill set and would say that Picturemy experience has been nominal and insufficient to give any expansive and well founded opinions. That being said, there are many people who see the instruction of youths as a part of the culture of martial arts.  As in many cultural practices, young people hold the key to maintaining the legacy of oral wisdom passed from teacher to student.  But are you ready for the challenge?

So, I’m going to break this down into 3 guiding principles.  I’m sure there are many more which could be relevant to the work you intend but I’m going to focus on clarity, design & outcomes as the reference points to keep your program effective and satisfying both for teacher and student.

Clarity

Before beginning you need some time to reflect on your intentions. This may seem like a given but it’s assuredly worth stating.  Young people have a tremendous aptitude for recognizing your excitement, your enthusiasm and your dissatisfaction.  It’s up to you to create a project that has the space to evolve unexpectedly and also brings you joy.

Is your vision to create a fitness program? Recent statistics have the rate of childhood obesity skyrocketing.  Current count is something like 2:3 people are at weight related health risk in the Bronx and these numbers can be applied to communities all around the country.  If this is your goal, kudos to you.

Are you looking at this martial arts club as an occasion to connect youths to a new kind of cultural engagement?  Completely worthwhile.  Every time we expose our students to new ways of thinking we allow them the opportunity to debate, to reconcile and to measure their own beliefs.  By doing this they go through the practice of forming opinions and strategies which they can use in an ever more diverse and global landscape.

Is it real world self-defense? If you’re willing and able, I can’t imagine a better forum for talking about resolving conflict and facilitating conversations about violence in our communities. In addition, a self-defense class recognizes a very pragmatic desire on the part of kids and parents to look at the issues which threaten our safety and to think about how the incidents taking place in schools throughout the country are affecting the consciousness of students in the day-to-day.

Whatever your purpose might be.  Think about how you are reflecting this in the framing of your sessions. Are you making time to process and allowing your students to voice their opinions?  You are creating a community so that also means that at the same time that you guide it’s development, you are also taking it’s temperature and finding innovative ways of integrating the vision of its participants.  Making time for conversation, both on a group and individual basis, is key to understanding the players and for gaining their trust as they come to also understand the things that you find important.

Design

I am an advocate of the concept of flexible structure when it comes to planning.  For your sake, the sake of your students and the sake of the institution with which you are working creating some short and long term goals for your project gives structure to your vision. These goals may change, perhaps because of the nature or number of students or for a variety of other reasons, but recognizing the necessity of a plan causes you to invest a certain level of commitment to every engagement you have with your group. It also allows you to find ways to weave deeper context into your sessions.  Maybe you can introduce some supporting text.  Is there some video footage?  Are you planning a field trip at a time and place that is relevant to the stage you’ve reached?

In addition to all of this, I believe that my work with youths should be mutually supportive of parents and schools.  Through deliberate design you can have clear conversations with parents about your process and can ask pointed questions regarding the hopes these parents have for their child’s participation in your project.  You can also reflect on ways in which your work might inspire and highlight academic successes as well.  Have you taken some time to investigate the social and academic issues your school system is navigating? You might be surprised to find the ways in which your work is reinforcing (or negating) the educational objectives of your wards.  Learning the language and inquiring about the hurdles, obstacles and achievements of your local school system gives you an increased insight into the pressures that young people are encountering.Picture

Designing a first rate program requires not only content.  It
requires context.

Outcomes

So where is this all going?

Some of your students will decide to stay with you for years to come.  Some of them will be with you for a semester.  Many of them will be with you for any and all the increments in between. Depending on the type of project you are developing, your planning should account for each student’s sense of closure or completion.

Even if this means only the completion of a phase within their development, involving and partnering with your group members in the creation and survey of your design gives a realization of the landscape of their growth.  Performances are great, ceremonies are grand and most young people will carry fond memories of occasions when they have been publicly acknowledged in front of family and friends.  But even if  a large public event isn’t possible, an instructor should realize the import and gravitas which rites of passage hold.   A dinner, a special workshop, the presentation of an annual photo journal, recognize growth and change and young people will often dedicate themselves to its continuance.

Outcomes?  In many ways they are unpredictable.  But of all things I think there is a common sense that we, as instructors, are trying to help in the development of good people who recognize their own value and their roles in the societies in which they live.  This is no “kick flick,” no JCVD film where all the difficulties get sewn up in the end.  Instructing youths in the martial arts is the responsibility of mentors, friends, brothers and sisters who recognize that rocky trails lead to beautiful mountains… and more beautifully rocky trails.


I’ve included the short bio below, solely for the purpose of providing a sense of my reference point and the mediums which I use for this type of instruction.

Njoli Brown

10014694_301877176628584_502611539_nDirector of Martial Science Macto Bicallis, Head of Kali MaBi, Co-Lead of FICA New York

Pekiti Tirsia Kali / Capoeira Angola

http://www.martialsciencemb.com

Njoli Brown began his study of Capoeira in Denmark (1997). After two years of intensive study with group Quilombo do Norte came the decision to study the Angola style of capoeira with a master (mestre) of the art form. In 1999 came a move to Seattle to train with Mestre Jurandir Nascimento who, at the time, had recently moved to the northwest from southern Brazil to start a chapter of the International Capoeira Angola Foundation.

After spending some years in the northeast of Brazil to continue his study, Njoli moved home to New York City and began his work to collaboratively establish a FICA group, along with Treinel Michael”Ligerinho” Kranz, dedicated to training this beautiful art form throughout the 5 boroughs. Alongside this he spends his efforts developing and facilitating a multiplicity of youth and community programs, both domestically and internationally, centering around the use of Capoeira Angola as a tool for inspiring community action and social justice.

Njoli Brown’s practice in the Filipino martial arts began in the Philippines in 2009 with a focus on Lightning Scientific Kali, under the mentorship of Grandmaster Vic Sanchez (Kali Arnis International), and ( beginning in 2010) Pekiti Tirsia Kali, under the guidance of Mandala Kit Acenas (Kali Makati).  Over the years he has balanced his stateside practice between study with Brooklyn – PTK Elite and Kuntaw Kali Kruzada of NYC.  Njoli has the great fortune to spend extensive time, annually in the Philippines for work and study and this has provided the opportunity to connect with the art in dynamic ways, physically, emotionally and culturally.  In 2014 Njoli officially started Kali MaBi at the behest of his teacher Mandala Kit Acenas and works to spread the legacy of Pekiti Tirsia through classes and workshops in the tri-state area and the pacific northwest.

Awarded the title of Lakan (black belt) by Grand Master Vicente Sanchez of KAI in the summer of 2012.

Awarded the title of Lakan Guro by Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje of Pekiti Tirsia Kali in the spring of 2014

Awarded the Yondan (4th Dan) in Bujinkan Ninjutsu in the summer of 2000

Crossing Lines: Capoeira, Movement, Activism

I just want to drop a deep thank you to my man Jabr for sharing his thoughts and his purpose.  It’s a powerful experience he’s recently had in Palestine and it’s as much an inspiration to use our art as a means of empowering and connecting.  He gives us some solid questions to ask ourselves. Thanks brother, for letting us feature you in the OnBlast! section of NoPaper.

-Njoli-

Article by Jabr abu Jordan

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”

― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Muhammad Abu Thahr and Nadim Nuwara were shot down on May 15th of this year. Muhammad was 15 – Nadim was 17. Snipers of the Israeli Defense Forces assassinated them for protesting the military occupation of their country. Another 15-year-old child was shot in the left lung – inches from his heart – but survived the attempt on his life. His name is Mohammad Azzeh. I know him. He and his family lived just around the corner from me in Al-Bireh. He is a member of the Palestinian Circus School at Birzeit University, and had been preparing for an upcoming tour in Germany. I would sometimes see him outside his house, and he would flash a bright smile. He expressed an interest to learn Capoeira. I ate spaghetti with yogurt and drank mint tea at his house, talked with his father about calligraphy, got lost twice with his sister and friends on the way to performances of their dance troupe El Funoun in Jenin and Beit Umar, and had a beer with his cousin at a café in Ramallah. I met another cousin of his here in Washington, DC just after being detained and deported by the Israeli’s in November of last year.

The morning of May 16th I was looking at a picture of Hamoudeh – Mohammad Azzehs’ nickname – being carried to a waiting ambulance. He was bleeding profusely, and in obvious pain. A co-worker asked about the picture, and I told her that my friend was shot the day before protesting against the Israeli occupation. He is only 15 years old, and we don’t know if he’ll live or die, I told her. Apparently blind to the wounded, bleeding 15-year-old child in the picture, she replied coolly, “Yeah, but was it a peaceful protest?”

Mohammad Azzeh copy

Her response is an example of the casually, yet deeply held assumptions of most Americans regarding Palestine. Despite the grossly uneven contest between flak-jacketed, helmeted Israeli soldiers armed with an array of fully automatic weapons, small arms, tanks, armored vehicles, and sniper rifles, and the unprotected, unarmed teenaged children waving Palestinian flags and throwing stones with sling-shots, Palestinians are held guilty for any and all violence. Americans are conditioned to not see Palestinians, to not see Palestine. The only Palestine on Facebook is in Texas, the AAA will not issue an international drivers license for Palestine, and one cannot place a call to Palestine via Skype. Mention Palestine to most Americans, and they will think that you meant to say Pakistan. Palestine has been rendered invisible. How else is it possible for someone to look at that picture and not see a child in excruciating pain? How is it possible to not think about the agony that his mother, father, sisters and brothers are experiencing at that moment? How else is it possible to ask such a question with an air of cool scornfulness?

In Zora Neale Hurston’s’ novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie tells her friend Pheoby,

“… yuh got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God and they got tuh find out about livin fuh theyselves.”

 When I read that novel, I took this statement to heart. Zora Neale Hurston was telling me to not be satisfied with comfortable, received opinions. I heard the voice of my father telling me that heaven has no open door, no easy ‘Jesus-died-for-me’ way in. I wanted to go to Palestine and see for myself. I wanted to learn, and, perhaps naively, to help in some way. I applied to a London based charity to teach Capoeira in Ramallah was hired and spent 9 months teaching Capoeira in the West Bank.

I worked mainly in three refugee camps: Al Jalazone, Al Amari and Shu’fat. We also did classes and workshops all over Ramallah and Al Quds (Jerusalem in Arabic) including in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. We worked with volunteers at the Palestine Red Crescent, and I took part in rodas in the Old City of Jerusalem, Ramallah and in Haifa. Capoeira has a strong presence in Israel, Jerusalem and, sadly, in the Israeli settlements all over the West Bank. You will find Capoeira in Ramallah, Kafr ‘Aqab and Qalandya, but not many other places behind the Apartheid Wall. In Ramallah
there is the Freedom Capoeira Collective
and Bidna Capoeira, Roda in East Jerusalemand in Kafr “Aqab and Qalandya there are some people who train with Menino Bom, and others who are training acrobatics with “Coach.”

I can tell you that there is a lot of enthusiasm, desire and talent for Capoeira in Palestine. In Jalazone, there are some fearless children who fling themselves around with such abandon, that it makes you cringe in anticipation of them breaking some part of themselves. In the girl’s class, Aseel picked up percussion so quickly, that if she left the atabaque to go play in the roda the wheels would fall off of the rhythm. I would look at her pleadingly to get back on the atabaque. Fatia and Razan in Al Amari were natural talents at anything that involved standing on their hands, Kholud just had to have all eyes on her at all times, and Arwa is a natural polyglot. Her favorite song at the time was, “Sou Angoleiro, que vem de Angola”! I never taught that song in class, but she heard me singing it at a roda and picked it up on the spot.

I was invited to a roda in Beit Hanina in Jerusalem, and the kid on pandeiro started a corrido that I didn’t know. A 9-year-old child sitting next to me recognized the confused look on my face, and passed me the corrido. He gave me the thumbs up to make sure that I got the lyrics straight, then ran to other side of the roda so he could play me in the next game. At a roda in Beit Safafa, a game I was playing with a young girl developed into ‘who can be more creative with a head spin’. After one particularly amazing headspin of hers, I looked at the girls mother with the ‘damn, did she really just do that?” face, and her mother, smiling, simply shrugged and said, “Binti hek yani.” (My little girl is just like that).

Bota fogo na Qalandya

Despite the hard work of a very few dedicated people in Palestine, Capoeira there is suffering from a lack of attention. Many experienced Angoleiro’s and Regionalista’s regularly make trips to workshops and roda’s in Tel Aviv, Holon and Haifa. Some even go to teach in the settlements. But not many have ventured to East Jerusalem, and fewer still have dared to cross the Apartheid Wall. The Capoeira Freedom Collective hosted a weeklong tour of the West Bank to educate Capoeiristas about Palestine, her land, her culture and the effects of the ongoing military and economic occupation of this country that does not officially exist. Capoeiristas from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Brazil were in attendance, and traveled to Jenin, Al-Khalil (Hebron), Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. There was a beautiful roda in Jalazone camp. One of the subjects discussed was a possible BDS style boycott of Capoeira in the settlements and Israel. Those few capoeiristas in attendance have continued to support Palestine back in their own countries, but we have yet to see the BDS movement take root in the wider Capoeira community.

Why won’t more Capoeiristas travel to Palestine? Why won’t more Capoeiristas go to East Jerusalem, to Ramallah, to Jenin? Why won’t more of us take the time to learn about the thousands of years of Palestinian history, and the 66-year-old creation of the State of Israel? Why do so many people express an interest to know “both sides” of the conflict, but never actually read anything written by a Palestinian author, let alone talk to anyone from Palestine or the Palestinian Diaspora? How can we study and take to heart the narrative of Capoeira and its resistance to slavery and colonialism, yet turn a blind eye in support of Israeli settler-colonialism? What does it mean when it is possible to go to a roda in Israel, hear an Israeli group singing “Bota fogo no canavial / quero ver o patrão de raiva se queimar”, and know that some, if not all, of those singing this song have served, are serving in, or in one way or another support an army that violates the human rights of Palestinians everyday, protects those settlers who steal the homes of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, and incarcerates, tortures and kills defenseless Palestinian children?

Karam and Khaled - Freedom Capoeira Collective
Karam and Khaled – Freedom Capoeira Collective

We are facing difficult questions. We must begin asking them of ourselves, or risk complicity in the oppression of Palestine. We risk becoming that which we rail against in corrido after corrido. And the argument for being apolitical, or neutral, is not valid. There is no neutral position – not when more U.S. tax dollars are spent in support of the Israeli military than are spent on public education in this country. In one way or another, we have all been made complicit in this tragedy, either by paying our taxes, buying a coffee at Starbucks or getting that new Sodastream carbonator. And now, even our beloved art is being compromised. Que vai fazer?

In Memoria

Nadim Nuwara
Nadim Nuwara
Mohammad Azzeh
Mohammad Azzeh

 

 


Jabr abu Jordan

Jabr A. JordanA student of languages, literatures and histories with an interest in displacement, diaspora, émigrés and exile. A deep fear of paralysis, with an overriding passion for movement – likely born of a family fractured in early childhood – led to an interest in music, dance and martial arts. For me, as for many, many others, Capoeira Angola is as necessary as breathing.

Teaching Without Teachers

Sometimes I think the only way to be a teacher is to have no personal need for students, not the financial need, the egotistical need.  There only needs to be a desire for learning in order for teaching to occur.

…having the capacity to speak plainly and to be… plainly.

…teaching without teaching

…a dialogue between mutually respected peers in humanity

without dilution or fear

without the intention to incite

…letting go of the floors and ceilings

5 Questions: Soul & Music with Kojo Johnson

Kojo X Johnson of Bambu Station& FICA DC talks back to 5 Questions from Njoli Brown at NoPaper

I resist classifying my music. First it’s very hard to nail down. I feel like I’m all over the page sometimes when it comes to my inspirations. I have several approaches to music and I think each of them are a genuine reflection of who I am musically. Being multi-lingual/multi-cultural I tend to code switch a lot….maybe that’s what’s reflected in my music as well. …….
Back to the issue of classification, I think the term soul most fully identifies what I am influenced by and what I strive to give to my music. I am a soul singer, on a roots man trod if that makes sense. I’ve heard my self compared to soul singers like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, even Smokey Robinson  … A good friend and great singer/songwriter once said I was like Otis Redding (or some other soul singer) in Bob Marley’s band. I think that’s a colorful way to sum up what you’re hearing and when you think about it that’s a huge accolade.

My most natural stylistic instincts come mostly from the soul and gospel music I grew up on. as I’ve matured and expanded as an artist and as a person I’ve incorporated the influence music from other parts of the black diaspora like reggae, samba reggae, bossa nova, and even capoeira music. I feel completely comfortable flowing between what are considered “separate” genres because for me they all are expressions of diasporic soul. There’s a classification for you: diasporic soul. I think that’s the best yet.

kojoI think what reflects me the most in my music now are my lyrics. I spend a lot of effort trying have my lyrics reflect reality, to tell the truth about what I see, no matter how simple or massive. I can admit now that I probably wasted a lot of time struggling with writing because I was trying to sound as profound as possible while simultaneously trying to stay out of the middle of the story. I was trying to splash lyrical color without getting any on myself that would show everyone exactly who’s life, experiences, observations was behind the song. I think my creative honesty is what reflects more of who I am now. Also, I’m more confident of my purpose and my vision these days. I trust one-hundred percent the music coming from inside my head, from those higher regions. I know what it is i’m supposed to be saying musically and what it should sound like.

Many creative people will tell you that that’s where the battle begins, getting the end product to reflect and honor the inspiration for the project. Early on, when I found my medium of expression I was so overwhelmed at the gift and opportunity to be an artist somehow responsible for storytelling about the human condition the possibilities for expression seemed endless and it was hard to know which instinct to obey first. I think my creative processes reflect that I trust my instinct fully now, even when my ability takes a few steps to catch up.

In a vague fashion, I would say that my life’s experiences and personal struggles have really brought me to where I am. First, I think what I’ve learned through doing a lot of youth and community development work in the inner cities and even in the “out there” ( Brasil, the west indies, Cuba, Mexico and Africa, southern and west Africa) communities, the things I’ve seen in my work abroad have really changed me forever and burned certain messages into me that come out in my lyrics…some are reflections of what i saw and experienced directly (eg violence in the streets, police corruption, the floor of a foreign jail cell) some reflect peoples stories that i heard while working in the community as an anthropologist studying violence. as bad as things are, people still live such courageous lives of resistance and resilience.kojo j

Capoeira really inspired me to conquer my fear of public speaking  and singing.  The mestres of FICA (Fundação Internacional de Capoeira Angola) have always encouraged everyone to sing out, you know, put the feeling on the outside to generate and cultivate the axe of the roda.  I come from a family of gifted musicians, producers, and singers. I always wanted to make music like I saw my cousins doing in North and South Carolina (see: Lendon James, “Pappy” Mckoy, Gayle Fairley, Reel Mob Raab, Robert Fairley, Jr and sooo many others i haven’t named here) …music that moved and stirred people,…inspired them. ….. growing up on soul, gospel, country, bossa nova, rock, jazz, funk…. the little known truth is, I tried to run from being an artist at first, partly because of the negative stigma put on the artist around me at the time. as a young brother without much apparent support it just seemed like a hard trod to be a musician but still I knew I wanted to be a part of that divine calling, that elite society.

I’ve read that artists and healers feel the peaks and valleys of life more intensely than the average person… there have been when I’ve gone through so much pain it dragged me down. so far down that the music was the only thing that allowed thing that would carry me back to the heights. It got to the point where I had so much to reason about with people out there music was the only thing that allowed me . eventually, I kind of adopted songwriting and performing as a way to communicate what I was seeing and feeling since it allowed me the freedom and opportunity to reach out to so many people.

 


 

Who is Bambu Station?

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Bambú Station Band | bambustationband.com

Virgin Island roots reggae band Bambú Station was founded in 1996 by the impassioned lead singer Jalani Horton. After years of performing live, Bambú Station established its own recording studio and recorded and released its first album ”Congo Moon” (High Rotation Records, 1999). From the album the popular song “Heathen Fun”, was selected for a two-CD remix compilation entitled “Walking on Pennsylvania Avenue”, a major relief effort for children with AIDS in Washington, D.C. (www.opensource.com).

In 2000, Bambú Station independently released the critically acclaimed single “Amadou Diallo” in memory of the New York slained West African immigrant. The band personally presented the single to Diallo’s parents at the 2001 Anniversary of the March on Washington. In May 2002, Bambú Station reached global acclaim with their invigorating compilation “Bambú Station presents: Various Artists – Talkin’ Roots I” (Mt. Nebo Records). This groundbreaking album immediately charted worldwide, generating international praise from music critics and radio DJs, and was selected as “Compilation of the Year 2002” by Ireggae.com and won several music awards.

With the release of their album “One Day” in 2003, The Beat Magazine, Reggae Reviews, Urban Ambience Journal and countless other reviewer’s dubbed Bambú Station’s “One Day” as one of the most significant albums of the modern reggae scene. By the years end, with all the attention garnered,“One Day” was selected as “Album of the Year” by both the DC Annual Reggae Awards and Creation Steppin’ Radio. Additionally, the D.C. Annual Reggae Awards selected “One Day” as “Song of the Year 2003” and Bambú Station as “Producer of the Year 2003.” Fans, writers and industry experts all continue to praise the album as “classic”, “very powerful”, and “one for the ages.“

Since its first tour in July 2004, Bambú Station’s fan base has exploded beyond measure with every album and tour. Their Talkin’ Roots Tour 2004 was the first ever tour of a group of Virgin Island reggae artists on the U.S. mainland. The band also headlined at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, released “Break The Soil,” “Talkin’ Roots II,” “Chant of the Lions I” and toured the U.S. mainland solidifying their soul-stirring brand of music.

Through its Bambú Station Foundation, the band is proactive in efforts to positively impact the lives of families, with a focus on children. In November 2006, the prestigious Strathmore Music Arts Center in Bethesda, MD (www.strathmore.org) selected Bambú Station for its Artist In Residence Program, the first reggae band to be selected.

Bambú Station has since performed throughout South America, Europe, North Africa and the Caribbean and Pacific Islands. In 2012, Bambú Station released “Children of Exodus” and their first music video, “Leaning On Afreeka” in 2013.

In 2011, Bambú Station returned home to the Virgin Islands and opened Griotlife Studio in Rockas City, St. Thomas. Jalani Horton has been producing several projects and artists scheduled for release in 2014 namely, The INNER LIGHT PROJECT featuring Various Artists.

the Bambu Station Co.
P.O. Box 3981, St. Thomas, VI 00803 | 202-321-2263

A Search for Identity in Movement

By Njoli Brown

In this go around I just wanted to share some reflections I’ve been going through recently regarding this search for identity within the context of the martial arts I practice.  In reading it again, it occurred to me that this might be true for a person delving into any of the creative arts.

So we begin by seeing a performance, a demonstration, a display and imagining ourselves embodying that beautiful thing, identifying ourselves in the place of the performer.  We feel some force pulling us to pursue this idea, this vision and so we search out a teacher.  How do we choose a teacher, a mestre, a maestro, tuhon? Perhaps we look for someone who matches our image of the physical ideal.  Or maybe we search out someone who is a model for our intellectual or spiritual beliefs and who manifests them in his/her rendition of their art.  For whatever cause, there is some searching for a bit of ourselves and a bit of what we aspire to be.

And then we train… hard.  Practicing for endless hours, years, and sometimes doubting our own aspirations.  We put our selves in the cross hairs of judgement and are oft times burned under the lens of scrutiny.  Peers, teachers, family, they are all ave their own special magnetic force which draws on that desire to stay connected to the world.

Our bodies transform and muscles build, and change, and grow.  With as much energy as we spend on our physical development, our minds run through evolutions in comparable time.  And at some time we realize that we are searching for our sense of “self”  and that we express a beautiful human-ness through movement that is distinctly our own.

Maybe we realize this.  Maybe we encounter a teacher or mentor who provides a space for exploration. Maybe we learn to be brave. Maybe we recognize the role that paradigms play and how we fit into them or how we alter them.

There is an aspect of being a teacher that means recognizing our own studenthood.  We’re required to explore our own doubts and inhibitions and to embrace the prospect of letting go because identity lies on the other side of that.

There’s an aspect of being a student that means recognizing our role as teacher. Who else can show us how to be, can define for us what being is or can catalyze us to undertake the process?

“I certainly do not want to stop growing at the point designated as normal by our present society.  What after all is a normal person?  He is simply the perfectly programmed man, the one in whom the conditioning of society has been so successful that no crack still exists through which the light of any wider reality can shine.  The normal person in our time is a loyal, well-adjusted member of the team — rowing down the rapids onto the rocks.”

I AMness  by Ian Kent and William Nicholls

Street Dance Orixas

By Amy Campion

I’m so happy to feature my dear friend, Amy Campion, Los Angeles based activist and artist, in this month’s OnBlast! section of NoPaper mag.  Over the years I’ve been constantly awe-inspired by the way she’s been able to seamlessly weave together her art, her social & political passions and her deep caring for family, friends and community.  Gratitude, Aim, for dropping us creative bombshells.

-Njoli-

In 2012, I did a 3 month residency at the Sacatar Institute on the island of Itaparica in Bahia, Brazil.  While there, I researched, wrote, choreographed, and directed a short dance film called Street Dance Orixás.

From the streets of Salvador to a surreal windswept island and back again, seven street dancers from Bahia, Brazil incarnate powerful orixás (deities from the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble) through a hybrid of breakdancing, popping, and parkour movements.  Street Dance Orixás explores the intangible connections between Afro-Brazilian dance traditions and contemporary hip hop dance forms through rhythm, movement, stories, and colors.  The orixás manifest their divine qualities through alleyway acrobatics, sidewalk airflares, train station arm swings, and cobblestone footwork- each orixá in a location linked to his or her tradition.  Exú careens through crisscrossing alleys, vaulting over walls, his shirt changing from red to black in mid air.  Ogúm cuts down imaginary enemies along the train tracks, using breakdancing battle tactics to assert his presence.  Yansã toprocks through the cemetery, hair blowing in the wind.  Xangô explodes in a flash of flying feet in front of his demolished building. Oxúm’s irresistible charm glints in her gold sneakers as her footwork flows along the cobblestones. Oxóssi stalks his prey with intricate hits and finger tuts around an enormous urban tree.  Yemanjá arises from the ocean to offer her blessings in freezes and flares along the breakwater.  In a surreal sequence, the orixás are transported to an island made of sand where they dance out their dreams.  When they finally unite in a dance cypher (circle) on the streets of Salvador, Bahia, they are utterly stunning and unstoppable.

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As a B-Girl (woman who breakdances) and a capoeirista (person who practices the Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance of capoeira), I have long been curious about the connections, both historical and abstract, between capoeira and breakdancing.  Over my 15 years of studying breaking (breakdancing) and capoeira, I have noticed an uncanny number of similar movements and philosophies between the two.  Capoeira has deep roots in the Afro-Brazlian religions that believe in a pantheon of deities known as “orixás”.  Each orixá has a tradition of associated dance steps, drum rhythms, stories, colors, personalities etc.  In the Northern Hemisphere, African American and Latino American social dance have had a major influence on the urban dance practices that known today as “street dances” such as breaking, krumping, popping, etc.  While these various street dance forms are not commonly associated with a religion, many street dancers experience a deep spiritual connection through their practice.  Notably, there are many movements/steps which can be found both in the traditional orixá dances as well as various street dance forms.  I created Street Dance Orixás in order to explore the intangible connection between orixá traditions and hip hop dance forms through a contemporary interpretation of the orixás as performed by street dancers of different styles.

During my residency at the Sacatar Institute, I immersed myself in the local street dance community and researched Orixá myths and traditional dances under the guidance of Joelmo Teixeira.  I wrote the script, choreographed the movement, cast local Brazilian dancers, hired a local Brazilian film crew, scouted locations, rehearsed, directed, and shot the film in Salvador, Bahia and on the island of Itaparica on the beach near the Sacatar Institute.  The relationships that I developed with fellow international artist residents at the Sacatar Institute led to collaborations with Mexican composer/musician, Ernesto Diaz, who created the soundtrack and American painter/animator, Matt Sheridan, who created the animations.  I returned home to Los Angeles and began to work on post-production in 2013.  In Los Angeles, editor Noah Berlow contributed immensely to the overall vision and shaping of Street Dance Orixás.  Robert Crosby did the color correction and Evan Langley did the visual effects.  Street Dance Orixás was produced with the support of many individual donations throughUSAProjects.com.


And now I’m sure you want to know more about my long time homie, Amy Campion, so you can follow some of her amazing ongoing and future projects….

DSC_1272Amy “Catfox” Campion  

Antics Artistic Director

www.AnticsPerformance.com

Speaking the language of Hip Hop, Campion crosses artistic and social boundaries to unite diverse audiences, daring concepts and dynamic performances.  Her work draws on the expressive capacity of Hip Hop by weaving stories and ideas with breaking, krumping, popping, Capoiera, mc’ing, dj’ing, poetry, film, beatboxing, and theater. Campion manipulates the traditions of street dance to create moving visual metaphors that are a true urban hybrid of street dance styles.  Her choreography has been presented at the San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Fest, the J.U.i.C.E. Hip Hop Dance Festival, the B-Girl Be Festival in Minneapolis, the Ford Theatres in Hollywood, the REDCAT, the Music Center in Los Angeles, and the Esalen International Arts Festival, the Levitt Pavilion, the Skirball, the Los Angeles Theater Center, and the Bootleg Theater Dance Festival as well as on Ovation TV, Strife TV, PBS, KCET, and LA36.  Her dance films have been featured at the Dance on Camera Festival at the Lincoln Center in New York, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, the Dance for Camera Festival at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, and in 2014 at the VivaDança festival in Brazil.  She has been b-girling (breakdancing) and training Capoeira for 15 years and also studies hip hop, house dance, locking, popping, and salsa.  She received an MFA in Choreography from UCLA in 2006 and since then she has taught dance and arts activism at Loyola Marymount University, Cal State Northridge, El Camino College, Cerritos College, the Boys and Girls Club, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, and many others.  She has received awards from the Center for Cultural Innovation, the Durfee Foundation, and the Flourish Foundation, and participated in the Emerging Leaders Institute at APAP, in the LA Dance Advance initiative, and in Pentacle’s Help Desk.  As a dancer, Campion performed for Rennie Harris in “Heaven” and “1,000 Naked Locks” and was a founding member of Jacob “Kujo” Lyons Lux Aeterna Dance Company.  She danced in music videos for Genevieve Goings, Kana Shimanuki, Shaka Wear, and Open Mike Eagle and was featured on 1,000 Ways to Die, Voador (a capoeira film), and B-Boy the Movie.  She has appeared in print and in interviews in Dance Spirit Magazine, Dance Magazine, Ms. Magazine online, the photography book “Dancers Among Us” by Jordan Matter, and “Girls Got Kicks” by Lori Lobenstine.

”Amy ‘Catfox’ Campion… stands out in her Antics Performance troupe, as she does in any group, as the bad-ass, tiny, hard-rock dynamo who can b-boy with the best of them.”                                                                          

-Jessica Koslow, Neon Tommy

Meu Lepo Lepo: Reflections of a White Capoeirista Returning from Latin America

By Marian Dalke

It is a freezing cold night in Brooklyn. Disoriented after a 12-hour flight from Salvador, Brazil I seek refuge in a warm bowl of soup at a smoothie bar on 5th Ave. My lentils pale in comparison to the exotic foods advertised on the menu. Açai: superfood Brazilian berry and Pitaya: the newest anti-oxidant cure-all. I smile to myself. For the past four months I’ve been eating açai, pitaya, cupuaçu, abiu, jambu and other “exotic” fruits grown by my friends. Now all I want are some good old lentils.

I am reading a book in Portuguese, the men at the table next to me are speaking Spanish, and talking to me in English.

What world am I in?

What world have I been in?

Traveling through Mexico, Central America and Brazil for the past four months has kept my mind spinning in a mix of languages, foods, cultures and questions– about globalization, appropriation, race and humanity: who we are, what we are made of, and how we try to be different. I’d like to use this article as a space to explore some of the experiences and questions that came up for me, about how to preserve – and yet ethically exchange — traditional cultures in a globalized & commodified world.

I had been dreaming of this trip for 7 years. When I was eighteen, working and traveling in Central America for seven months, I had promised to return, to re-visit the people and places I had come to know. I told myself I wasn’t going to be another “irresponsible” tourist, showing up in someone else’s country, in someone else’s life, having an “experience” and then peacing out. As I fleshed out my plans, the trip adopted other purposes. Studying tropical plants and food traditions, improving my Spanish and Portuguese, and training Capoeira Angola (an Afro-Brazilian martial art) would all strengthen my work as a food justice organizer and ally in Philadelphia’s Latino communities.

While traveling, I inevitably crossed paths with many others like myself: people from the global north wintering or living in Latin America, claiming temporary residence there. I asked them, as I kept asking myself, “Why did you come to Guatemala? What are you looking for in Nicaragua?” “Why are you in Brazil?”

The sense I got from the answers to my questions was that we had come to the global south in search of a culture and life style we found lacking in our home countries. We had left corporate, isolated, stressful lives to learn and live a whole variety of alternative practices: permaculture, yoga, capoeira, tai chi. Some of us came for spiritual clarity by finding our Mayan astrological signs, or having our cards read by a bruja in Nicaraguan town of Diribá, or to speaking to the Pai Santo to grant us our Orixá. Some of us were looking to buy land, to start intentional communities, development projects or cooperatives – because land is too expensive in the US. I felt most challenged by foreigners who had bought land abroad. Do new ageists make up the next wave of manifest destiny, I wondered, with Latin America as ‘virgin’ territory? I mentioned this to a friend of mine back the states. “Why didn’t you stay there,” he joked, “Weren’t in the colonial mindset?”

There is also deep irony here. While people from the global north are flocking south to “find themselves,” many people living in these host countries continue to strive for the dominant u.s. culture that is constantly imported into their communities. I met many Latin Americans eager to practice their English, proud of buying their own cars, flat-screen TVs and Xboxs. I can’t tell you how many people were excited to bake pizza with me. Many prefer shopping at the supermarkets and shopping malls than the outdoor markets that I was eager to get lost in. Many were looking to leave behind the same cultural practices that folks from the u.s. were so desperate to adopt.

And of course there are those who are familiar with both sides of the border and both kinds of life. Enrique is a friend of mine from a tiny town outside Veracruz, Mexico who lived and worked in Northeastern Ohio for several years. I asked him how he thought the quality of life compared in the united states and Mexico. Enrique replied that it’s different. In the u.s. it’s better in regards to money and material wealth, while in Mexico health, lifestyle, and family unity lead to a better kind of quality of life. So again, those of us in the global north fed up with consumerism and unhealthy lifestyles flee south in search of a ‘better’ life while those in the global south, many with real material needs, continue to push north in search of material wealth to support their families and create a ‘better’ life.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around. Where do we draw the line between useful, mutual exchange between cultures and appropriation or exploitation? I’m not convinced that mutual exchange is even possible given the power inequities among countries, the histories of colonization, imperialism and resource extraction.

As someone who’s always been eager to learn about and engage with cultures different than my own, I believe that we need to shift from european dominance, to stop holding up european ideals as the measure of success. I believe it is important to understand and view our lives through other cultures and cosmologies. Even so, I’m continually challenged about how to do this ethically, without reinforcing imposition and oppression.

These questions are particularly acute for me as a white woman practicing Capoeira Angola. As part of my trip, I spent three weeks training in Bahia, the birthplace of this Afro-Brazilian martial art, dance, conversation, and resistance practice. Brazil is home the largest population of African-descendents outside of Africa, due to the slave trade that brought from anywhere from 4 to 10 million enslaved Africans to work in sugar plantations. Capoeira evolved from coming of age rituals practiced by peoples in Angola and other areas of Southwestern Africa and served as a means to disguise their training from the plantation owners and overseers.

Today, capoeira is a major export of Bahia. Tourists head home with tiny berimbau necklaces around their necks, pictures of themselves posing with capoeiristas doing backflips beside them, and caxixis made exclusively for the World Cup. The Mercado Modelo in Salvador, the site where enslaved people were detained before being sold, is now a tourist trap, with capoeira demonstrations out back and thousands of knick knacks to waste your money on. In an extremely blatant example of black face, you can stand in the Praça da Sé behind a mannequin of a Baiana, with all the ingredients for acarajé spread before you – another great photo-op for facebook.

In these ways, I saw capoeira being used in Bahia as a commodity. What does that mean for a cultural practice created by enslaved people to resist colonization and oppression? Once African enslaved people were treated as a commodity, and now their practice of cultural resistance has become one as well.

At the same time, this prevalence of capoeira can be seen as a celebration and embracing of Bahia’s African heritage. And the capoeiristas playing in the Terreiro de Jesus are entrepreneurs clever enough to capitalize on tourists’ curiosity to make a living by playing capoeira. There’s always a both/and way to view things.

There are those committed to preserving Capoeira in its original form and purpose. In an attempt to grant capoeira legitimacy, the late Mestre Pastinha is responsible for moving Capoeira Angola from the streets into the academy. In many ways in the US, this shift has taken capoeira from its base as a people’s art and made it elite, available only for those able to afford to attend classes (often in liberal arts colleges, which is how I began practicing it). Although establishing a place in the academy may help preserve Capoeira Angola, it has also confined it. Mestre Cobra Mansa of FICA spoke of how capoeira is losing its originality, with everyone training and learning the same form, the same movements. The creativity and spunk that came from the street is getting lost.

Another Mestre I met in Bahia dedicated to both preserving and propagating Capoeira Angola is Mestre Boca do Rio. I attended the “Voltas que o mundo da” event held to celebrate his return to Brazil after living in Spain for many years. Mestre Boca do Rio framed the conference around the theme of the globalization of capoeira. During a panel discussion, he expressed his concern with the quality of capoeira that is being exported and taught. Mestre complained of Brazilians traveling to other countries and falsely claiming to be experts in capoeira. With its global popularity, many imposters arise to fill the increased demand for teachers.

My critique of capoeira’s globalization centers more on all the white people practicing capoeira (myself included). I would like to participate in more discussion of this among our groups. What does it mean to be a European-descended person practicing an art form developed by enslaved people to resist white supremacy? Given the parallels between the u.s. and Brazil in their experience of slavery and racism, I find that it makes sense to me to practice Capoeira Angola here. In the united states, I find Capoeira Angola as site for anti-oppression work. Within my group, we form deep friendships of mutual aid and support through training together in this African-descended practice. In a recent interview, my teacher Contra Mestre Kamau shared his own thoughts on this:

Clearly, I’m an African and this is an African Brazilian martial art and it’s only right that you have people who share that lineage, culture and connection and spiritual energy in your circle.  I’ve always wanted that and I still want that but that’s not the only component to creating a positive and workable energy and it took me a lot of time and thought to gain the maturity to recognize and understand that.  That was a big thing for me.

What then, of capoeira in Europe, where groups are primarily white, and don’t share “that lineage, culture…and spiritual energy?” When I asked this of a French woman training in Bahia, she replied, “We all are enslaved to something,” she told me, “We all have things to be liberated from.” I believe this: we all have obstacles, challenges, and forces that hold us back. Capoeira can help gives us tools to confront such barriers. Yet the fields on which we play are not equal, in large part because of the awful, crushing violence and abuse of slavery and the resulting legacy of racism.

I witnessed lots of alternative lifestyles and resistance practices throughout my travels Latin America. Despite hip hop being a major capitalist industry, it is alive across the world as a form of resistance and justice. I witnessed a dope hip hop battle in Puebla, Mexico among three youth spitting about respect (though homophobia still was rampant in their lyrics). I was also excited to see another alternative culture taking root in Mexico, as I watched a troupe of roller girls out recruiting new members and lots of goth kids hanging out in the zócalo. One bizarre cross-cultural moment for me was practicing tai chi aerobics and eating vegetarian food with Salvadorean Taoists in San Salvador.

Aside from those adapting and embracing cultures from abroad, many of the friends I visited while traveling are actively preserving their own cultures. Werner teachs Nahuat, an indigenous language almost extinct in El Salvador. Roxana, who is proud to be a professional and a campesina in Nicaragua, prefers to cook with firewood and wash clothes by hand. Jerry buys stones mined ethically around Nicaragua and incorporates them into his jewelry. Paulinho is busy working to build a cultural center in his hometown in Northern Brazil as a venue for regional music and a platform to engage folks in community organizing.

I believe it’s important for us to know our own cultures and be grounded in them as we encounter and exchange with cultures different than ours. To have roots to return to. I must know my own history, and understand the reasons why I am interested in learning other cultures’ histories and practices.

This isn’t the kind of thing that will have a conclusion. It’s about conversations and wrestling with unjust power dynamics – on international and interpersonal levels – towards genuine mutual exchange and growth. It’s about sitting at the table with people who are like you and people who are different, be it in front of a bowl of açai or lentil soup, and working together to figure out who we are, and who we want to be, as individuals and as a world. I pray only–as people continue to travel, to search, to exchange and fuse cultural practices–that the source of revolution and resistance stays present and alive in the cultures we share.

OUTTAKES:

Exoticism. Early colonizers, anthropologists, studying the “Other” living with people different than them.

How is capoeira’s exportation different than that of yoga?

Yet sometimes being in another culture reinforces who you are. You aren’t cognizant of being US when you live in the US. Need to be an other to realize who you are.

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Even so, this search for ‘modernization’ can be deceiving. Take El Salvador for example. Long an unofficial colony of the States, El Salvador has used U.S. currency since 2001. People often attribute their economic decline to the americanization of the currency.  When I asked two friends what they were proud of their country, “nothing,” they both replied. They felt it had sold out, and had no more culture to respect. The presence of gang violence is so thick that people live in fear of picking up the phone, of going out. I heard countless stories of threats made on the phone, hold-ups on buses, shootings in internet cafes, kidnappings. And it’s known that this gang violence yet another U.S. export, as a result of racism experienced by Salvadorean immigrants in California in the 1980s (source from Karen?). “I like Nicaragua,” my friends told me, “it’s safer there. You can trust people.”

Nicaragua, in contrast to El Salvador, has a long history of resistance to U.S. imperialism, with resistance William Walker’s imposed government in the 1850s, to Sandino’s presence in the 1920s, to the contra wars in defense of the Sandista revolution. When I asked two friends from Nicaragua about their pride for their country, they stated they were proud of “our indigenous history” and “that we are free.” (Even so, Nicaragua is fast modernizing. Deal with china to build canal through lakes the open it to free market and more abuse- opinion that canal will just benefit china and not nicaragua)

What are we looking for? How can we possibly find ourselves in cultures different than our own?