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Academy of Joćo Pequeno

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By Luķs "Vitor" Castro Junior
Translation by Shayna McHugh

The Academy of Joćo Pequeno de Pastinha was inaugurated on May 2, 1982, with the aim of taking up Capoeira Angola’s line of transmission, in the way that it was preserved by Mestre Pastinha’s academy. This line of transmission was interrupted when the Academy of Mestre Pastinha was deactivated, after his death, in 1981. The tie of the Academy of Mestre Joćo with that of Mestre Pastinha is not limited exclusively to the forms of teaching and playing, but also extends to the associative spirit, in the sense that Mestre Joćo Pequeno rehabilitated the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola, an entity created by Mestre Pastinha, with the aim of gathering angoleiros to use common instruments of preservation and of expansion of Capoeira Angola, such as forms of social support for capoeiristas. It is necessary to emphasize that, at the time in which Mestre Joćo Pequeno rehabilitated the aforementioned Center, old mestres of capoeira were passing through socioeconomic difficulties. Some of them died penniless, including Pastinha.

The inauguration of the Academy of Joćo Pequeno was not the product of a particular and isolated idea of its founders. There were historical demands for its appearance. It arose as a recommendation of the Bahian capoeira community itself, of black movements, of government cultural institutions like the Department of Cultural Issues of the Town Hall of Salvador, the Cultural Foundation of the State of Bahia, Bahiatursa, IPAC – Institute of Artistic and Cultural Heritage – and the Pro-Memória, which together participated in the first Regional Seminar of Capoeira, in Salvador, in 1980. In the list of recommendations from that seminar there were indications that public institutions should facilitate the growth of new spaces for the practice of capoeira, with the participation of the old mestres, who would come to have the opportunities to open their academies.

In the 1980s, a cultural process of great vitality was already in progress in the city of Salvador, with the popular culture of Afro-Brazilian origin, which today has taken supremacy, as its mainspring. It has been capable of transforming Salvador into a cultural center of international renown. In this situation, capoeira as well as candomblé and Afro music and dance were seen as important activities, and the Academy of Joćo Pequeno has a role of great importance in various aspects of this situation.
Importance in the revitalization of Capoeira Angola
In the 1960s and 1970s, the movements of folklorization and sportization of capoeira, despite contributing moderately to the social affirmation and expansion of capoeira, altered the traditional form of playing capoeira, which integrated different aspects (like dance, music, fight, poetry) and not just choosing one of its varied aspects. This prejudiced fact resulted in the competition that the old capoeira mestres, legitimate heirs of the tradition, had to face in terms of the cultural market, losing spaces (and sometimes not even having the possibility of access to them) to managers of the branch of folklore and athletes with socioeconomic conditions to establish themselves according to the requirements of the market. This context seemed to verify the situation that Edison Cameiro foresaw in 1937: “Despite everything, - despite the great acclimation of the black man to the social environment of Brazil, despite political reaction, despite the advanced process of capoeira’s decomposition and of symbiosis in the face of other fighting forms – capoeira, and especially capoeira de Angola, reveals an enormous vitality. The progress gives it, however, earlier or later, the mercy gunshot. And capoeira, together with the many elements of black folklore, will retreat to the small places of the coast…”
In the beginning of the 1980s, Capoeira de Angola was reduced to two or three academies in the city of Salvador, which were really concerned with the diffusion of its teaching and not simply interested in the formation of folkloric groups. This shortage of academies gravely compromised the process of renovation of angoleiros, who were reduced to a small number at the time. The Academy of Joćo was installed, in this context, to combat this tendency, to reverse the restrictive picture and transform itself into a driving force of the revitalization of Angola, retaking the line of Mestre Pastinha.

The legitimacy of Joćo to conduct this process was delegated by Pastinha himself, according to his statement: “They (referring to Joćo Pequeno and Joćo Grande, his two contramestres of the time) will be the great capoeiristas of the future, and for that I worked and I fought with them and for them. They will be mestres, not professors of improvisation as those who exist around here and who only serve to destroy our tradition that is so beautiful. To these young men I taught everything that I know, even the pulo do gato (leap of the cat). Because of this I have the greatest hopes in their future” (Diįrio de Notķcias 3/10/1970).

Upon being established, the Academy of Joćo Pequeno energized itself as an organization, not losing its traditional ties, but aiming to modernize itself compared to the academy of Mestre Pastinha, in terms of its availability of services: class, roda, expositions, seminars, production of berimbaus, commercialization, according to the new necessities that capoeira faced. Satisfying this aspect, the academy became the main reference of capoeira angola, and its model of functioning became a multiplicative model for others. In little time, the Academy of Joćo Pequeno became one of the greatest in Salvador in number of students, and had the greatest frequency in terms of visitors to watch the capoeira rodas and participate in other activities that took place.

Compared to the Academy of Mestre Pastinha, two novelties were introduced: 1) the creation of an efficient method of teaching to accommodate the great number of students in classes (in the old times, in the Academy of Pastinha, according to his principle trainee Joćo, there were 3 or 4 students per class at most). 2) Differently from the Academy of Mestre Pastinha, which was culturally closed to thus defend capoeira Angola and avoid its discharacterization by other styles of capoeira, the capoeira rodas of the Academy of Joćo came to be frequented by practitioners of the various styles of capoeira.
Through this contact, Joćo came to influence other practices of capoeira, and was established as a reference not just for Capoeira Angola, but for everyone. While he developed these fronts of action, Joćo stayed attentive to the process of renovation of Capoeira Angola, dedicating special attention to the youth and to the process of formation of many agents of its practice. It must be added that two of the most important groups that would come to distinguish themselves in the revitalization process of Angola were organized here in Salvador, inside the Academy of Joćo: GCAP and the Academy of Curió.

Importance in the recuperation of the Historical Center of Salvador

Since its birth, Joćo’s Academy was involved with the recuperation of the Historical Center of Salvador. Concretely, this can be seen in the following way: in the 1980s, IPAC created the Center of Popular Culture (CCP) in the Forte de Santo Antōnio Além do Carmo, where the Academia of Joćo Pequeno de Pastinha and the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola function even today. This initiative of the IPAC was responsible for a series of cultural activities that had wide repercussions in Bahian cultural life such as: events, rehearsals of blocos (Ilź Aiyź), formation of cultural groups (Os Negões), craftsmanship fairs, musical shows, expositions…

Joćo’s Academy contributed so that the Forte did not remain being used exclusively by the inhabitants of the Santo Antōnio neighborhood, where it is located; and converted itself into a “happening scene” of the whole Bahian community. With the help of Joćo, the CCP came to be nationally and internationally known. People of other Brazilian States and other countries constantly come to study capoeira in Joćo’s Academy. His presence was important for the enlivening of the aforementioned Center, of events sponsored by IPAC, and of other cultural groups that were established inside the Forte de Santo Antōnio Além do Carmo, always participating freely in the activities.

Through Joćo and his Academy, a positive image of the Center of Popular Culture was carried in the media (television, video, films, books, newspapers, and magazines). IPAC always treated the mestre Joćo Pequeno with the deserved reverence, and valued the cultural program of his Academy. Even with the process of physical and social decomposition of the Forte de Santo Antōnio, where the Center of Popular Culture functioned, the Academy of the Mestre resisted and kept functioning, despite having suffered much. Today, despite all the degradation of the Forte, Joćo’s Academy maintains a beneficial physical aspect: it permits the formation and enabling of many agents of Capoeira Angola, and their activities continue being the most important reference of Capoeira Angola in Bahia. Mestre Joćo, by the recognition of his work, continues being honored in Bahia, in Brazil, and outside the country. He is constantly invited to carry out courses, participate in lectures, and play capoeira.

Importance in the recognition of Bahia as a cultural center of international reference

In the national scene, Bahia, in economic terms, is not classified among the states of greatest expression, even though it is one of the most important in cultural terms. For this it contributed in a decisive way the originality of its popular culture that makes this state a cultural center of international reference. That popular culture possesses a dynamic that has made possible the growth of a cultural industry, which comes to be more and more invigorated, and earns cultural and economic dividends for the State.

That is recorded in a historical period in which culture, on a global scale, wins a very great dimension, is given social prestige, permits the approximation of peoples. As one of the most important manifestations of popular culture, capoeira has become a primary activity. It is present in all Brazilian States and in many countries as a regular practice. It is the object of academic interest, considering the quantity of Brazilian and foreign students who study capoeira today.

In this aspect, the Academy of Joćo Pequeno acted in a very distinguished way: making itself present in diverse international events and in cultural tours on the American and European continents, and managing to attract many foreigners and people of other states who come to Bahia to practice capoeira with the Mestre.

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