Interview with Mestra Nega Uara – Grupo Senzala

Photo by Sofie Hajenius

From a very young age, Alessandra AKA Mestra Nega, began to show that strong character and energy that she is renowned for.

Who besides Nega would have dared to begin to teach classes in a favela at only 12 years old?

Pure adrenaline and a huge heart have led the capoeirista community to adore her. She travels the world to share what she has learned training with her family, and through her time with Mestre Peixinho.

Interview with Mestra Nega Uara – June 2017 Barcelona

This is a lightly edited English translation of the original interview transcript. You can listen to the original audio in Portuguese here.

(Note: At the time of the interview Mestra Nega was still Contra Mestra, she graduated as Mestra a couple of months later)

How and when did you get into Capoeira?

My name is Alessandra and my nickname is Nega.

I started in the world of capoeira in ’86 when I was 7 years old. At that time I was the only black girl in the Senzala Group so my friend Loba (she is from Rio de Janeiro) started calling me Nega, and since then that is how they know me in the world of Capoeira.

I come from a family of capoeiristas, my father, my mother who continued training after the death of my father, and my brothers. I am the third generation of capoeiristas in my family.

Capoeira has taken me to travel all over the world, the first time I came to Europe was in 2007 for the celebration of the 20 years of the Senzala Group. On that occasion I went through 9 countries before returning and as soon as I arrived again to Brazil I knew that I had to return to Europe. So in 2008 I came back to stay, I met my husband, I got married and I became a housewife … (laughs)

Now 7 years ago I started my work here and I travel every weekend, I am very happy that Capoeira and my fellow capoeiristas have accepted me, it is difficult for a woman. Now there is a certain awareness of inviting women to events. When I travel and I see that there are no women I say, hey! Where are the girls!?

In Capoeira there are several stages, if you treat her with affection she will respond with affection, and although for a woman sometimes it is difficult is not impossible! If difficulty will stop you, imagine the impossible!

Life is an infinite evolution, I am very happy for the number of women that there are today in Capoeira, here in Europe there are many! I think that this difference of European capoeira has also influenced the one of Brazil.

There are masters who consider that a woman has to train just like a man, and it is true that women want equality but do not forget that we are more fragile and that not all women are prepared for or want to enter into a street fight.

The Mestres have had to adapt to the arrival of so many women, because what were they going to do? Well, graduate them! Because anyway they would continue training.

Coming from a family of capoeiristas I started to live Capoeira from a very young age and today I am very saddened to hear Mestres or Contra Mestres who have very closed opinions and who believe they have the absolute truth.

For me this disrespects Capoeira. Or some women who when they reach a certain graduation believe that they have to keep distance with their students … I do not agree with all this.

We are all on the same quest, we are all the same and we have the same pains. I think the differences between Angola or Regional, Black and White, enrich us, if we were all the same would be very boring!

We are all Capoeira and Capoeira has neither race nor color. Capoeira is much more than a game, more than a berimbau playing or the stories that people tell, it is a very powerful spiritual current.

In the end Contra Mestre de capoeira is just a title, you realize that the road is more difficult after you graduate. A Mestre in truth is starting all over again.

I want to know how the women who were part of that story were, I’m not here by chance. There were many women who created legends in the times of Bimba and Pastinha, I want to find out more information about them.

Capoeira is wonderful, it is the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat; every day a new emotion.

What was it like to start teaching so young?

I was always a leader, I was not born to be led and this is something I learned recently.

As a child, I put myself forward to prepare a presentation about capoeira at school and, even though my mother told me that I was not prepared, my sheer determination made it a great success, that resulted in me teaching Capoeira classes for children and young people in the favelas at only 12 years old.

The project was supported by an evangelical church that had several activities, and when I arrived the other children played better and were stronger than me!

But it was an incredible experience in my life because it started to open my mind. I remember one day when I asked them, do you want a berimbau? And I took them all to the bush to pick wood and make our own berimbaus.

We brought the wood to the school, but I had never made a berimbau before, I have always been more int training than crafts. Despite the improvisation in the technique of construction though, it turned out to be an unforgettable experience.

When I look at my CV I still cannot believe all the places I have taught, I’m still young but I started very young. For me the important thing is to enter history through work and being part of it, the rest is all ego. Nobody needs the ego or a status because when we reach the end of our lives none of that goes with you.

Could you describe the time you spent near M Peixinho?

That time was very good for me, he was very fair, a Mestre of Mestres. Mestre Peixinho was very wise and taught me many things in the time that I shared with him.

He was my father, or at least I saw him as such, he taught me what I could do and what not, what I had to do to keep growing and learning, and that sometimes I had to calm down since I was alway hyper!

He trained me, I quarreled and even talked a lot but at that time he was the only person who understood me. To me if I do not like a person I can not stand it, but he understood me and had a lot of patience with me. One of the things that drew my brothers to join the Senzala group was that trust that Peixinho relayed to them.

I was raised by my mother alone, she was my mother and father at the same time. In Brazil, in the suburbs where I grew up, it was not easy for single mothers to raise a son or daughter who did not end up being a delinquent or prostitute. My mother was always worried and she was scared every time we went out, so for her it was a relief to meet Mestre Peixinho.

My life was not easy but the Mestre always told me that I was a determined person and that if I wanted I could get wherever I wanted, that if I trusted in him, he would take me wherever I wanted in Capoeira.

Mestre Peixinho was a person with a giant heart, he was always helping people. How many times I went to Rio de Janeiro because he bought me the ticket!

The first time was when I was 14 years old and I went alone to Rio, when he arrived he took me to Morro and he told me: Your story begins today. Now you’re going to have to train hard and play. He never let me down, protected me and had a paternal love for me.

We talked a lot, every time I came to São Paulo, when I went to Rio and went to the beach, he made my history and I would not be who I am today if it were not for him, because he believed in me.

All that happened was thanks to my family but if he had not pushed me I would not have come here since I’m a person who gets tired of things quickly, when I start to get tired of something I leave.

That is my worst flaw. There are many things that I have put aside during my life, and every time I told the Mestre that I was going to leave Capoeira he would pull me, tell me that he needed me, or that there was an event that was very important…

I do not like talking about him since we had a very strong relationship, father and daughter, Mestre de Capoeira and student. One day I said, I want to be a disciple and that’s why you have to stay here.

He took me on the right path, the love that we used to have… just before passing away he sent me a message saying: Oh Nega, I want to talk to you, when do you come? And I said good that I did not know if I would make it … and he said: Yes you will get it, you have to come to Brazil.

I went in the month of April, and as soon as he sat with me, I understood what his purpose had been with me, why he was pounding me so hard, always wanted him me train hard: because he did not want me to go to the favela.

Sometimes when I did not do what he said, and came back late from a party he’d wake me up early and would make me run to the next city, or if not running on a bike.

Before he died we spent a whole day talking and it was then when he explained what he wanted from me.

Nega, I’m very happy with where you’ve arrived, but even more happy with where are you’re going. You can not even imagine where you can go, because you are a very insecure person but you have a lot of tools to succeed.

What I am asking you now that I am leaving this life is that you never forget my name. That you do not let the memories vanish, because a photo will not keep the intensity of the time we have spent together.

You can not be insecure anymore, that girl will not cry anymore, she has to fight and write her story with me or without me. I’ve always wanted you to be a capoeirista and not the woman of so-and-so or the sister of Menganito…

I want you to be a capoeirista of the Senzala Group and I want you to be part of this. Many women have not arrived where you have, the community has adopted you, continue with your story, continue with my story now that I can no longer.

He wanted me to be a capoeirista and not give up in this battle, his biggest fear was that I give up. He was my teacher, my Mestre, my protector and my friend.

My brothers are my great Capoeira masters and they are part of my life, I am a piece of them but Peixinho was different, I was dazzled the way he talked, he was the only person who could talk to me since I was impossible at the time. He told me I was very crazy, but he understood because I was just a girl, but that I would become a woman and progress…

But sometimes I forgot that I was little more than a girl. In spite of everything I managed to understand his teachings and today I have set my mind. It was just after that conversation with him when I put my foot down, ever to lift it again.

I miss him, I feel as if I had been orphaned, doubly orphan since I did not know my father and I also lost the person who adopted me.

Do you consider him your Mestre?

Yes, I consider Mestre Peixinho my Mestre.

To be honest my first Mestres were my brothers since I started training with Flávio and the one who is training me is Ulisses, I am a student of Ulisses, but of course I consider Peixinho as my Mestre.

He helped me a lot in the way of Capoeira, he helped me a lot as a woman and he taught me all the cards I had been dealt, and he taught me how to play them.

What advice would you give to a student who is just starting in Capoeira?

In the beginning it is difficult but one has to start and let things flow.

At first you never know if you are going to stay. I think you have to see Capoeria as something that makes you feel good, if Capoeira becomes something that gives you well-being, you will never leave it.

My advice for people who start is this, that Capoeira should make you feel good on a spiritual, mental and physical level.

Sometimes I also see Capoeira as a sport because I need to do cardio, when someone is a bit above their ideal weight, I also tell them that Capoeira is good for being healthy; You do not see obesity in capoeira.

Capoeira is a spirit of life, when you start to learn you run into difficulties because everyone has their own insecurities, their ghosts … but when you become a capoeirista you do not get stuck.

This also helps you in your personal life, something may seem difficult but you have to try. Capoeira gives you freedom of expression and spiritual freedom, it has that mystical aspect.

If you start doing Capoeira just for sport you will not stay as it is much more than that, you have to sing while playing music, play music while singing and also clapping, playing capoeira, and back to clapping and playing music!

And besides all this is also very physical, I train other sports but when I train Capoeira .. wow it is very hard.

For people who seek something else, who have that desire to evolve spiritually, for them, Capoeira is the way.

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