Mestre Nenel is the son of Mestre Bimba, and author of the new book: Bimba. Um século da Capoeira Regional. (Bimba. A Century of Capoeira Regional).
Born in Salvador de Bahia on September 26, 1960, where he grew up in the world of Capoeira, though it was when he was six years old that he actually began to train.
In 1994 he founded the Mestre Bimba Foundation and all his work is focused on divulging and respecting the foundations and principles of Capoeira Regional.
You can listen to the original interview in Portuguese in Papoeira Podcast #5. Below is a lightly edited English Translation of the text.
How was your initiation into Capoeira?
Well, to talk about my career in capoeira, I can write a book only because my career is my whole life. But, in a nutshell, officially, I started in 1966, at the age of 6 years, 7 years, right … Before I was 7 in 1967 I graduated, I received my blue scarf, my medal of honor, for having finished the basic course of capoeira regional, and from there I began to be part of the demonstration group, there I already did capoeira, samba duro, maculelê, puxada de rede, etc.
I even started traveling at this time with the group with my father, for the interior of Brazil, some states of Bahia, and when we moved to Goiânia, my father began to get sick, my brother and I began to continue his classes there in Goiânia, in his place.
Then, as I had agreed, my father had asked my foster-sister to take me to Brasilia in case he passed away, and that’s what happened, I went to Brasilia and after 1 year in Brasilia I opened my first official school, I stayed 2 years in Brasilia, and then I went back to Salvador, though I spent a little time giving capoeira classes, I was more involved in groups of folkloric shows, street capoeira, other academies of capoeira, until in 84, at the invitation of a disciple of Bimba, he offered me a schedule at his school, and then I started to work capoeira little by little again.
At that time the capoeira there was all mixed, there was not a pure capoeira regional, at least in my vision, and I stayed 2 years or so working with the versions of capoeira they had.
Later I started the revival of capoeira really as I learned, regional capoeira. In 86 I registered my school, and began to take my first steps back to my origins.
Can you talk a little about your experience of being the son of such a legend in the world of Capoeira?
This has 2 sides, right. A side that helps and a side that mean … that complicates things for me sometimes, because I have an awful lot of responsibility.
Currently I’ve managed to overcome the difficulties, but I spent a phase that was kind of complicated for me to associate this thing with being the son of such an important figure.
And as for my father, as he was at home, he was just the same in the gym, my father never separated the teachings of capoeira with the form of educating people, as well as indoors with his own children of blood… there was not this separation of the master and father, everything was mixed. At the same time that he was a father, he was a mestre too.
What do you think of Capoeira’s Expansion across the world? How Capoeira has changed? If it has lost touch with its history and roots?
Look, it’s good to be aware that one thing is the expansion of capoeira itself, another thing is the expansion of regional capoeira.
Because from the death of my father, people began to have a [mistaken] definition of regional capoeira as a capoeira that one played standing, that is played fast and so on.
And I always say that this expansion of capoeira in general, is always welcome, my father wanted capoeira to spread through the world.
But not all of the capoeiras that call themselves “regional” are truly regional, because genuine capoeira regional is the method, the rituals and the principles of Mestre Bimba.
If you are not following these 3 parameters you are doing another methodology of capoeira that has similar values as regional capoeira.
How do you respond to criticisms of Capoeira Regional, both old and new?
Look, I do not quite understand, I really do not really understand what you mean. Because there are many criticisms of my father that are mistaken and especially if it is to speak of his method of teaching and his rituals, someone who usually speaks against something, some criticism, is certainly because he certainly did not know and did not knows the work of my father, the work of Mestre Bimba.
That’s why people talk, because they use the capoeira that is in the world, which is spread throughout the world, as you asked yourself in the expansion thing, so there is a lot of this expansion that has nothing to do with Bimba’s work, which has nothing to do with the Bimba philosophy, and people criticize that.
And in relation to some criticism of the past, which I know to date people who did not follow the path of Mestre Bimba, like Mestre Pastinha’s example, he never criticized Bimba… instead, even when a reporter kept forcing him say something he said
Look, who knows about the regional capoeira is Mestre Bimba, go and talk to him…
So there was no such thing in the past… today there is this separation, and these criticisms, but they are mistaken.
Has capoeira regional changed or evolved at all since it’s creation? Is today’s different to how it was 100 years ago?
Look, if we change, it’s not regional anymore. We develop the capoeira as my father always developed it, but with the feet on the ground, true to its origins, its roots, the matrix.
So our school continues to do the same thing, not at the same intensity, that my father was a genius, he was a phenomenon in the history of capoeira. So who am I to have the same capacity for evolution as he had. But we continue to evolve capoeira without mischaracterizing it. If you change things, it stops being what it is… it becomes something else.
Many groups today still use the 8 basic training sequences of Mestre Bimba, including those that aren’t strictly Capoeira Regional. Often they use variations, or change the sequences in some way. How do you use them in your group?
At our school we still do the same. Because the sequence is very basic movements, very simple, so if you modify it, it will no longer have the same meaning, the same objective that is to facilitate the development of people who do not know anything about capoeira.
So you can not change the sequence thinking that you are evolving it, because the sequence my father created was not for the experienced capoeirista, and the people today use the sequences to train capoeiristas… and this is an inversion of values.
My father created the sequence for those who know nothing. When you already know how to play capoeira it is a simple warm up, even as a basic training, but does not make much sense for those who are already capoeiristas.
So for us the traditional sequences are fundamental. In our classes always, we give a normal lesson and at the end we do the sequences, cinturas, and play capoeira to the sound of the berimbau rhythm são bento grande de regional, sometimes we play other rhythms, but the são bento grande every day, and the sequences (basic and cintura desprezada) has to be made every day in class.
Can you tell us a little about the book, and how it was writing it?
My dear, this book was born, the idea came into my head, because of this desire for knowledge from people just like you.
Every corner of the world that I visit, all the people that I meet in this world of capoeira always have questions like you have asked me here, and then I thought I had to find a way to write something, to serve, yeah, I’m getting older… that will serve for the future, will serve as a map for my disciples, and to help clarify these doubts in the world of capoeira there….
And for you, Master, particularly, what was it like? Because I imagine that it must have been very intense because it is remembering memories, which are not only the history of capoeira, which is a bit of your capoeira life, but also emotional, like your father. What was it like to remember and relive those stories?
In fact, it was neither remember nor relive, because I continue, 24 hours I am always with him in my head, though he is physically absent, he continues being my mestre, and everything I do in my life is influenced and is guided by him.
Often people do not understand when I say that my father lives and that I take my doubts and that I am maturing more and more and that I always learn with him.
People do not know how this happens, but that’s the way it is with me. All I do in my life my advisor is my father, it’s Bimba.
Thanks again so much to Mestre Nenel for taking the time to talk with us, it was a real pleasure. We’re very sorry we couldn’t be there in person! Thanks also to Tercinha and Asa without whom the interview wouldn’t have been possible.