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Visiting Grupo Ondas

            In August 2004, Sarah and I decided to check out the controversial Grupo Ondas in Warwick, RI. This group and its instructor Tigri have often been attacked on the forums, many accusing Tigri of being unqualified to teach capoeira and of promoting a perverted version of the art, so we went to see for ourselves. I went in with a mixed mindset: ready to be wary of anything strange that Tigri might be teaching, but also looking forward to meeting an instructor who received most of his training as I have - not under one mestre, but here and there, bit by bit from various groups (something for which I occasionally get reprimanded by instructors). After visiting them, I have to say that I was blown away by how good the experience was: good capoeira, great energy, and very friendly people.


            What makes Grupo Ondas unique (and controversial) is the introduction and integration of Cape Verdean culture alongside the Afro-Brazilian. However, the capoeira they play is just like any other capoeira I've trained; they sing the same songs, do the same movements. I felt at home in their rodas, which typically started out with angola, sped up to benguela, then accelerated to fast regional. The Cape Verdean influence I observed was 1) in addition to the traditional capoeira songs, they sing some new songs that Tigri wrote in Creole; 2) sometimes the atabaque plays a Cape Verdean rhythm; and 3) in addition to capoeira, samba, and maculele, they practice batuku and other Cape Verdean dances. Tigri is not, as some would have you believe, claiming capoeira came from Cape Verde. I found the inclusion of the Cape Verdean elements subtle (as in not overbearing) but always acknowledged (i.e. he'd point out "this is a Cape Verdean rhythm," not trying to "sneak" the Cape Verdean stuff into capoeira and then pretend it was always there). It added some interesting spice to the capoeira without interfering in the least with its traditional practice.


            The other “questionable” element of Grupo Ondas involves Tigri's qualifications to teach: he has played capoeira for about 10 years in a mix of solo training and visiting/practicing with various groups. Though he is (naturally) not as skilled as a mestre with 30 years experience, he's quite a competent capoeirista and certainly knows enough to teach others. His website used to annoy people because it listed him as “mestre,” even though Tigri took the point of view that “mestre” means “teacher” not “master.” However, it now calls him “professor,” which I think is a smart change because it’s substantially less likely to stir up controversy. Anyway, Tigri is humble and doesn’t put himself “above” his students in any way. Believe me, I understand full well the danger of unqualified instructors, but in my opinion those who get their panties in a bunch because no mestre "licensed" Tigri to teach by giving him his red/blue/pink-with-purple-polka-dots "instructors' cord" need to remember that a century ago, before capoeira academies existed, everyone learned capoeira here and there the way Tigri did. Heck, it's the way I'm learning... does the fact that I train with anyone and everyone I find and that I don't have a cord, group, or mestre to call my own make me less of a capoeirista?


            Probably the only thing that turned me off slightly was Tigri’s not-so-great relationship with certain other people in the capoeira world: in private conversations he’d sometimes make comments that displayed a bit of dislike towards other mestres/instructors (though he never named names) who had mistreated him, who were only out for profit, etc. His website also describes how he was criticized, mocked, and rejected by some groups (again, no specific names are named). To be fair, I don’t know what happened, so I can’t pass judgment on the situation. I guess it’s just that, though I do understand that it’s true that not every capoeira instructor is a good person, I prefer to get along with everyone rather than hold grudges or harbor resentment.


            Anyway, three more things that really distinguished Grupo Ondas were their music, energy, and hospitality. Regarding music, they sing mostly traditional capoeira songs, but also some new ones that Tigri wrote (some are in Portuguese, others are in Creole). Tigri is a very skilled songwriter, and I bought the group’s CD because I liked their music so much. We spent a half hour in class just practicing the songs; Tigri gave a lot of attention to detail, making sure everyone understood the words, rhythm, melody, and harmony. The energy of Grupo Ondas is phenomenal – they love capoeira and it sure shows in their rodas! After the end of class, everyone stuck around for another hour or two to work on moves and play more. The open roda had consistently enthusiastic singing and playing, and good energy in the games; no bad vibes or fighting. Also, I noticed that everyone in the group helps and encourages each other in their capoeira; there didn’t seem to be the superiority complex of the more experienced students as I’ve seen in a few other groups. Finally, as a visitor, it was one of the warmest welcomes I’ve ever received from a capoeira group. Tigri let us stay at his place and gave us rides everywhere, and his students treated us like family.       


            Overall, it was a great weekend and I had a blast. If you're in the northeastern U.S., try to pay these guys a visit. As long as you don’t go in with a bad attitude, you’ll find them one of the nicest and most interesting capoeira groups out there.