Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art form that incorporates elements of music, song and dance. Although the details of capoeira’s early history are widely debated, it’s agreed that African slaves in Brazil are the originators of this art form. Historians believe that the slaves used song and dance elements to guise their combat and self defense training from oppressive slave owners.
Today, capoeira is the second biggest sport in Brazil (next to soccer) and is widely practiced as a form of playful entertainment called jogo de capoeira (game of capoeira) or simply jogo.
Tulane University details the basics of the tradition:
As a martial art, Capoeira uses primarily kicks, elbows and knees, headbutts, sweeps and takedowns in a style that places emphasis on deception, flexibility and fluidity. Direct force is primarily dealt with through evasion and timing. Rather than block every attack your opponent throws at you, the goal is to flow with their movement until the right moment of timed attack.
In Capoeira Angola [traditional capoeira], many of these movements begin from stances that are low to the ground in an intricate game characterized by deceptive ground movement, the strategic use of strikes and dynamic acrobatics. As a game, the action is continuous, exciting and beautiful as both players strive to outmaneuver each other. The creativity expressed in this freestyle allows one to develop both the physical and mental aspects inherent in conflict and acts as form of developing our reactions to it.
The jogo [game] takes place in a circle called the roda made up of the players and audience. Central to the roda and the practice of Capoeira is the music, which is made up of the bateria [orchestra]. The bateria consists of three berimbau [stringed bow-like instruments], pandeiros [tambourines], an agogo [bell],a reco-reco [small bamboo instrument] and an atabaque [drum].
Once the roda begins, the players begin by singing a ladainha, a ritual song of commencement, then a corrido, a call and response type of song, which is passed on to the musicians and played for the rest of the game.The music of Capoeira serves many purposes from commenting on, as well as controlling the action within the roda to teaching rythmn and timing to Capoeristas while inspiring the players. It is only when both the music and movements are combined that one begins to feel the true essence of Capoeira.