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Follow a Capoeirista’s Journey From the Bay Area to Brazil

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When capoeirista Ricky Lawson II teaches new students in the Afro-Brazilian art form of capoeira, he often speaks about the deep spiritual energy in capoeira’s birthplace—Salvador, Bahia.

“It’s an ancestral energy, and it’s seen and felt and heard in the music, the songs that we sing, and in the movement. People who are more connected, when they move, they move from the soul,” says the founder of Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira, Bay Area, who has trained thousands of students in the Bay.

A group of capoeiristas are playing in the circle on a beach in Salvador, Brazil.
Capoeiristas play in the roda at the Ribeira Beach in Salvador, Brazil. (Wendel Assis, Maria Correia)

Lawson, better known as Malandro in the Bay Area capoeira community, has traveled to Bahia nearly a dozen times since he began training more than 20 years ago in the art form that combines elements of martial arts, dance, music, philosophy and history. Each trip has deepened his practice and relationships with some of capoeira’s most important tradition bearers, including Mestre Nenel, the son of the late Mestre Bimba, who is considered the king of capoeira and helped bring it back from near extinction.

A group of people are playing capoeira in a small room indoors.
Malandro plays in the roda with Mestra Preguiça (right), the first and only woman to earn the white scarf — the highest level of achievement in Capoeira Regional. (Wendel Assis, Maria Correia)

Enslaved Africans in Brazil developed capoeira, and the art form has evolved and survived through the generations, despite attempts over the years to outlaw and eliminate the practice after the abolition of slavery in 1888. Today one of the main lineages practiced is called Capoeira Regional, created by Mestre Bimba.

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Watch Malandro on a recent trip to the mecca of capoeira and experience what’s considered the most African city outside of the continent, including scenes from one of Salvador’s historic districts, the Pelourinho, and a roda (circle) of capoeiristas playing at the idyllic Ribeira Beach. Learn more about the origins of the art form from the direct descendants of Mestre Bimba, culture keepers who continue to protect both his legacy and the art form he championed.

Check out part one of this special two-part installment exploring how the Bay Area became a West Coast hub for capoeira and why If Cities Could Dance Producer Chinwe Oniah thinks more Black Americans should try it.

Join our YouTube Live, Sept. 14, 2022, 6pm, with Chinwe Oniah, capoeira student and filmmaker, who will answer your questions and share what it was like to direct and produce two If Cities Could Dance episodes on the art form she loves so much.

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