Students Staff

16 June 2014

Brazil, Angola and Capoeira - premiere for film celebrating cultural links between Africa and South America

Forget the World Cup this week sees the launch of a remarkable film focusing on another aspect of Brazil's rich culture and heritage. Jogo de Corpo/Body Games tells the story of combat games, dances and music which connect Brazil and Africa from the time of slavery to the present day and receives its international premiere at the Zanzibar Film Festival, one of the biggest festivals of its kind in Africa, on Thursday 19 June.

The film was created as part of a major three-year research project on the Angolan roots of Capoeira. Led by Dr Matthias Röhrig Assunção in the Department of History at the University of Essex the project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council with additional financial support from a crowd funding campaign supported by lovers of Capoeira around the world.

The project team included Mestre Cobra Mansa – the co-founder of the International Capoeira Angola Foundation (ICAF) who has helped to develop interest in Capoeira around the world, ethnomusicologist Christine Dettman, Namibian film director Richard Pakleppa and editor Catherine Meyburgh.

The film includes remarkable footage shot by the project team in Brazil and Angola and is driven by the thoughts and insights of Cobra Mansa and his need to understand the ancestry of his art form as part of a wider concern with his Afro-Brazilian heritage.

Cobra Mansa, who has developed a strong research partnership with Dr Röhrig Assunção, said: “Going to Angola I followed not only the real traces of movements and musical instruments related to Capoeira but was also confronted with the past of my people. I was retracing the steps of our Angolan ancestors who were taken to Brazil as slaves.

“In Brazil we filmed with Capoeira masters who shared their knowledge of the foundations and traditions of their art.

“Our film is a dialogue between traditions that have not been in direct contact for more than a century. This exchange is generating new insights about the relations between combat games of the African Diaspora.”

Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian art form that has taken the world by storm. It is a beautiful, mysterious, physical and spiritual practice that combines dance, combat, theatre and music. It creates a state of mind that attracts millions of people around the world and is the only international martial art with an African heritage.

For Cobra Mansa his travels with the research team through Brazil and Angola was a deeply personal journey. They encountered men and women whose combat games, dances and musical instruments bear striking similarities to the Brazilian Capoeira he has helped popularise. The team also brought together communities to share traditions at risk of being lost due to the impact of civil war and modernisation.

Cobra Mansa said: “In Angola we filmed our meetings and exchanges with practitioners of various combat games and dances. We also filmed people playing string instruments similar to the Berimbau played at Capoeira Rodas in Brazil. We documented the daily life and rituals of the family that introduced us to Engolo players. Through their eyes the social contexts of the combat games, music, lyrics and dances come to life. One of these filmed rituals is the female initiation known as Efiko, which provides an important context for the playing of combat games in Angola.”

The research team has transcribed and translated the core interviews and scenes from more than 140 hours of video footage, which constitute the basis of the 87 mins documentary.

They uncovered an Angola full of amazing characters amidst a culture rich with musical, dance and combat game traditions. By sharing Capoeira with Angolan Engolo and Kambangula dancers and fighters and by learning their movements, the team created a dialogue between Africa and Brazil that poetically develops themes of roots, origins, slavery, Africa, Brazil and the Black Atlantic.

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