By Katia Moraes

Emilia Biancardi, director of “Viva Brasil”, the old Folk Ballet of Bahia, asked the young black guy’s name in one of the group’s meetings. “Joselito do Espírito Santo”, he answered. “Amém”, she said right away. That’s how the teenager “capoeirista” got his nickname. A spiritual nickname that demonstrates what the center of his cultural proposal is all about.

Amém was born on March 28. He is Aries and “Xangô” (his Orixá) leads his life. Amém is an “Ogan”, someone who plays and sings to enable the presence of the Orixás to the Candomblé temple. He grew up going to Terreiro da Mãe Xagi in Liberdade (neighborhood of Salvador in Bahia). His mother, as well as his father, was “Lekede”, someone who assists an Orixá when he manifests himself. His sister is a medium who receives Obaluaiê, the old man (also called Omolu and represents Saint Lazarus). He has three brothers and two sisters and was born in a very simple family that sometimes didn’t have anything to eat. But Dona Damiana Carmesina, Amém’s mother, felt that her son was a very curious boy and recognized that he had great potential. It was through Capoeira that Amém
grew as a human being.

In the 80’s Amém was performing with “Viva Brasil” in Germany and received an invitation to perform in a new project called “Brazilian Extravaganza” in New York with Martinho da Vila, Zezé Mota and Beth Carvalho. The promoter of the show, José dos Santos, recognized Amém’s potential and invited him to teach at the new Zumbi Cultural Center also in NY. The center flourished, but after a year José Santos passed away and Amém moved on to Washington D.C. and started all over again.

Unfortunately the cold weather and a very demanding girlfriend pushed the Baiano’s boundaries. In 1988 he put his clothes in his car and crossed the U.S. to California with a friend without knowing anybody on the West Coast. He slept many nights in his car and played Capoeira on Venice Beach to get some change.

One day he met the artist Bakari who introduced him to Maria Lucien. Maria used to promote Brazilian music and dance shows entitled “Samba e Saudade”, and was also the founder of the Brazilian Carnaval Ball in Los Angeles. She offered her house to Amém and from that point on he started teaching Capoeira in clubs, dance studios, and shows. He put together his first folk ballet and opened the Brasil Brasil Cultural Center in Santa Monica.

The BBCC also offers Portuguese, Samba, and other types of classes. Amém believes that the Brasil Brasil Cultural Center is an extension of his own experience at the Candomblé temple and of his “Ogan” initiation that took place years ago. “The Candomblé temple works as a cultural center and is a model for the community”, says Amém. “There, you can learn to sew, to dance, to play an instrument, to cook, or to receive herbal treatments from the Orixás”.

Amém enjoys “teaching people how to fish and not giving fish to people”, like Lula, former Brazilian president likes to say. He definitely learned how important it is to be given an opportunity. He wants to share this value with kids who don’t have a place to learn a craft, to dream and consequently to believe in themselves. Amém Santo  “Warrior Mission” continues studying and going deeper into his profession.

One of his projects is a book he wants to write about the spiritual side of Capoeira. He came back from his trip to Senegal with a stronger desire to write. One of the things that called his attention was the spiritual power of the Senegalese people and how proud they are of their culture. “The slavery in Brazil massacred the self esteem of a race and this became so obvious to me after this trip. We assume a lot of things in Brazil without having real knowledge. I had the privilege of traveling and learned a lot. In a way I feel guilty when I visit my family and see the kids in the street asking for money”.

Amém concluded he had a mission when he became an “Ogan” of Oxaguian (that is the younger warrior Oxalá). Because of that he created the Roots of Bahia Cultural Center in his birthplace of Liberdade with his brother. The center offers classes to children of the community, which are taught only by volunteers. Donations are very welcome. They are in need of shoes, clothes, and also of paper, computers, sewing machines and books that stimulate the kids’ curiosity.

Consider visiting the center when you go to Salvador. You can bring a gift or you can share your knowledge with them. If you can’t afford a trip to Bahia yet, then visit BBCC in Los Angeles. Amém believes everyone has a strong potential to learn. He, along with his three children and many friends will receive you with open arms – www.capoeirabatuque.org.

*Katia Moraes is a composer, singer, writer and long time Soul Brasil magazine contributor. She is a native from Rio and lives in Los Angeles – www.katiamoraes.com

** Special thanks to  Eve Elting for the English proofreading.