By Lindenberg Junior
On Friday, October 10, 2008, I received an email from one of Mestre Acordeon’s students, saying that the mayor of Berkeley, Tom Bates, will officially declare Oct. 18th as the “Mestre Acordeon Day”. Both the mayor and the City of Berkeley honored the worldrenowned Brazilian Bira Almeida – known also as Mestre Acordeon, for his 30 years of cultural contributions to the San Francisco Bay Area.
By coincidence, this same week of October has marked the 30th anniversary of Mestre Acordeoan teaching in the United States. For some time now, I had been waiting for this special message to talk about this charismatic Brazilian cultural ambassador and live capoeira legend. I immediately sent an email back to Ingrid Dries- Daffner and set up an interview with him.
SB – Mestre, first tell us where were you born and how did you first get involved in capoeira?
MA – “Eu nasci la na Bahia, cidade do Salvador Terra boa hospitaleira que todo mundo da valor Me criei na capoeira, escutando o berimbau Que gemia bem tocado, la no fundo do quintal Bimba foi meu professor, no Nordeste de Amaralina Quem me ensinou a malandragem de dobrar de uma esquina…”
* He answered with the beginning of a song he recorded in 1986. Of course it is in Portuguese, but, he said that he was born in Bahia, in the city of Salvador. Being that he grew up around the capoeira vibe, heard the sound of Berimbal and played together with Mestre Bimba – the eternal capoeira legend.
SB – How old are you, how long have you lived in U.S., and how many years have you been in Capoeira?
MA – I am 65 years old now, living for 30 years in America and with a total of 50 years of capoeira experience.
SB – What is your short description of Capoeira?
MA – Capoeira is an art form that involves movement, music, and elements of practical philosophy. Capoeira is the art of facing danger with a smile on one’s face.
SB – What was your feeling when you arrived in U.S. and how was the movement of capoeira 30 years ago?
MA – When I arrived here in 1978, I was convinced that capoeira was on decline, almost on the brink of extinction. Mestre Bimba, a famous capoeira teacher and one of the most well-respected African Brazilians from Bahia, had died shortly before, and capoeira seemed bereft. However, surprisingly, capoeira re-emerged nationally and on the international scene, it is more vital and relevant than ever. It prevailed over prejudice and shrugged off attempts to dilute its African-Brazilian roots at the same time that it brought people from all over the world together.
SB – Tell us a bit about the before and now, as well the internationalization of the game of capoeira?
MA – The practices of capoeira in foreign countries strongly resonated in Brazil and contributed towards the appearance of hundreds of new capoeira schools, capoeiristas, and teachers willing to make a living through capoeira. I have witnessed the status of capoeira transform from derogatorily being considered “coisa de negro” (“a thing of blacks”), rejected by the Brazilian upper class and prosecuted by law, to become an essential means of self-expression and survival for people from all walks of life. In addition to providing a savory interdisciplinary, stew for scholars of anthropology, philosophy, history, and ethnomusicology from around the world.
SB – How you see the internet in relation to capoeira in the aspect of helping capoeira to be disseminated and more exposed, but on other side its same tool maybe, also may drift away from the original capoeira,or bring a bit more distant from their roots and traditions?
MA – It is a good question. The impact of globalization did bring benefits and some consequences less interesting for capoeira. Meanwhile, capoeira has been proven to also be an art of survival, changing its “costume” in diverse steps of his history to answer a very diversification of personal questions. In conclusion, the truth is that capoeira is going very well and each day continues to strengthen.
SB – How you see capoeira in the future?
MA – With the help of all of us, pioneers of teaching capoeira both locally in Brazil as well abroad, as the new generation of mestres and capoeiristas, one way or another I can see the growth of capoeira to a new level of appreciation. In short words, a total success!
SB – Mestre, tell us now about the proclamation of the “Acordeon Day” and the recognition of your work in the city of Berkeley?
MA – I am very proud of this proclamation, but especially for the recognition of capoeira itself as a worldwide symbol of Brazilian culture. On October 18, 2008, Mayor Tom Bates of the city of Berkeley in California said: “Since his arrival in the bay area in 1978, he has and continues to touch the lives of children and adults from all walks of life. From his involvement in the first Carnaval parade in San Francisco to his Projeto Kirimure which provides educational programs to in need children in his home town of Salvador, Bahia, his selfless and relentless dedication to the arts is extraordinary”.
After ten years teaching capoeira at the Capoeira Arts Café in downtown Berkeley from 1997 to 2007 – it was demolished to give a home to a new theater, the United Capoeira Association now is located at the Brasarte World Dance Center at 1901 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94701. For more information about Mestre Acordeon and United Capoeira Association visit: www.capoeiraarts.com
* This article was re-published in 2018. Mestre Acordeon still lives and working and are now 75 years old.