Category: Old Malandros

Mestre Leopoldina – part 3

By Nestor Capoeira

The disciple

I met Leopoldina in 1965, at the age of 18. He was 31 and, and despite being in great shape, full of energy, with a lean and muscular body that was very toned, his face looked like that of a much older man. The curious thing is that as the years passed, his face and body remained almost the same.

I was attending the UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) School of Engineering, located on an island in the Guanabara Bay called Ilha do Fundão. Leopoldina taught capoeira in Atlética, the sports department there.

Leopoldina was kind and friendly to students. He did not allow an older or more experienced student to hit a beginner. He carried the most interested of his students to samba, candomblé and umbanda, to the hills and to the carnival parades on Avenida Presidente Vargas.

He was a great Master without even trying to be one, who introduced those university students, myself among them, to Brazilian “popular” culture; to the philosophy of high-spirited roguery – “good business is good for everyone” (as opposed to the so-called Gérson Law, “I take the best from all”, the 171 fraudsters and ordinary scammers); and with a radical and revolutionary approach towards women and sex as compared to bourgeois morality and sexist approaches: “No one belongs to anyone”.

Mestres Leopoldina, André Lacé, Artur Emídio e Celso do Engenho da Rainha at Apoteose – Sambódromo, Rio de Janeiro. Photo collection André Lacé.

 Leopoldina thought that capoeira classes should only be taught twice a week, and that they should last one hour; the rest of the time would be for rodas and games.

His teaching method consisted of a brief warm-up (a run around the room and some jumping jacks), some strikes and counter strikes in pairs of students (similar to those he learned from Artur Emídio, who in turn based this on Mestre Bimba’s exercises). Occasionally there would be training of kicks, with students approaching a chair in a row and giving a blow over the chair one by one, and at the end of the class, there would be a fifteen to twenty minutes roda. The classes generally had four to eight students. Leopoldina has never been what would be considered “successful” in terms of student numbers, nor did he teach for more than five years in the same location.

In fact, when I met him in 1965, although he was known and beloved amidst capoeira practitioners, Leopoldina was not as renowned as Artur Emídio was or, later, the Senzala capoeira group. His fame grew slowly over time, on the trips he constantly made to São Paulo and on the friends he made among the Grupo Senzala, which became hegemonic in Rio at the time. This was mainly due to his high-spirited and positive personality, as he was someone who only made friends and avoided enmities, and was liked even more for his capoeira songs which, while being inventive with the lyrics and especially in harmony, appealed even to the players that wanted to remain closest to tradition.

Gradually, his figure began to be associated (and rightly so) with the last of the “good rogues” and Zé Pelintra himself, a spiritual entity from the Afro-Brazilian religion Umbanda.

In 2005, when he was over 70 years old, he was still in great physical shape, playing at a fast pace with four or more young capoeiristas, one game followed by the next. He was one of the best-known masters of our time, along with Mestres João Pequeno and João Grande (former students of Mestre Pastinha from Salvador).

His greatest interests were women, capoeira, samba, big cars (which he bought and equipped with a lot of chrome and painting), trips around Brazil and abroad (where he started to go around 1990), parties, friendships – in short, he enjoyed the small pleasures of life.

To see more

The documentary Mestre Leopoldina – o último bom malandro brings an interview Leopoldina gave to Nestor Capoeira. Click here the third part.

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Mestre Leopoldina – part 2

By Nestor Capoeira

Master

Quinzinho (approx.1925-1950) was a dreaded and well-known young outcast in his day. Drauzio Varela, the doctor from the Carandiru Penitentiary who wrote a highly successful book which later became a film, mentions Quinzinho in his Estação Carandiru (SP, Cia. Das Letras, 1999, p. 270):

Mr Valdomiro is a mulatto with a creased face and gray patches on his frizzy hair… Seventy years and countless prison stories alongside legendary bandits such as Meneguetti, Quinzinho, Sete Dedos, Luz Vermelha, e Promessinha made Mr Valdo a respected man in the prison.

Leopoldina recounted (in a testimony to Nestor Capoeira, included in the film Mestre Leopoldina, the last good trickster (2005) how he met his first master, Joaquim Felix, or Quinzinho, around 1950; Leopoldina was about 18 years old and Quinzinho was maybe 23 years old.

Leopoldina: “I would look at him [Quinzinho], look at the guys around, and he would scream at me ‘Flip!’. When I prepared to attack, he would do these things with his body. I thought: ‘I’m going to kill him!’ Inside the Central Train Station, hidden under the tracks, I had an 8 inch knife that I used to hide there. At dawn I would take the knife and fall back into the night. So I left Quinzinho and went to Central Station to get that knife. At that moment, a newsboy I had never seen before, I think he is dead now, called Rosa Branca, asked me: ‘what is going on?’. He saw me very agitated and asked: ‘what is going on?’. I said, ‘Quinzinho stole my hat and I’ll give him a facada conversada’ (a stab in conversation)

Leopoldina explained what the facada conversada was:

The facada conversada is this: I’d have to wait for the moment when he was drinking, approach from behind, and tap his shoulder for him to turn around. When he turned I would stab him from the front, not the back. Because if I was arrested later this is how I would be thought of in jail: ‘This is a rascal, he gave the guy a facada conversada’. But if I stabbed him in the back, they would say, ‘Coward,’ and they would beat me.

Luckily for Leopoldina, White Rose calmed him down and he didn’t go looking for Quinzinho. Shortly after, Leopoldina was at a bus stop and found Quinzinho once again:

Leopoldina: “Mineiro Bate Pau, another guy named Peão, Testa de Ferro they also got off the bus, and then, Quinzinho. When I saw Quinzinho, I froze and thought, ‘This is it!’ But no one there knew what happened between us and they started talking to me. Quinzinho, seeing that I was respected and a friend of the rogues, approached me and said: ‘I don’t want trouble with you, because you’re also a trickster’. He was holding a cuíca and passed it to one of the guys. He went through his cuica and suddenly gave me a geral (searching someone for weapons)! Just imagine. He said, ‘I don’t want trouble with you because you’re a rascal, etcetera and all,’ and then gave me a geral! ”

The weeks go by and Leopoldina, who is eager to learn capoeira, is slowly working up to approaching Quinzinho:

Leopoldina: “I said, ‘Quinzinho, I want to ask you a favor’. ‘What?’ He replied suspiciously. ‘I want you to teach me capoeira’. ‘Then go to Morro da Favela tomorrow’. Gosh, I wouldn’t be so happy if someone gave me a million reais. That first day, I went back to Morro do São Carlos and went to sleep on a mat. The next day I could not get up. My whole body was hurting. And at the same time, I was worried that he wouldn’t want to teach me anymore. ‘How will I go?’ And in the Favela I still had to climb over a hundred steps. So I went the next day and said to Quinzinho: ‘I couldn’t come because I was hurt’. And he, without giving me any trouble said: “It’s okay, it’s okay”. And he started to teach me: ‘do it like this …. do it like that.’

Then one day Juvenil appeared. He said hello, looked at me and said: ‘Let’s play?’ I looked at Quinzinho and as he said nothing, I said: ‘Let’s go’. Juvenil took off his hat, vest, tie, and stood naked from the waist up, and we started to play. But as soon as we started playing, he gave me a kick that grazed me on the head. Quinzinho was sitting with a 7.65 tucked into his waist. He was in shorts. At that time (approx. 1955) we wore football shorts and not the swimwear of today. Everyone wore shorts. And he had a handkerchief in his lap, hiding the pistol. When the Juvenil shot that kick, Quinzinho stood up and pointed the pistol in Juvenil’s face: ‘Don’t do that! Don’t do that, or he’ll become a coward!’

Elegance in dress and care in berimbau: Mestre Leopoldina. Photo collection André Lacé.

The outcast and the master

I find this story, told by Leopoldina, amazing. You see, Quinzinho was a dangerous young outcast, a gang leader. When the then young Leopoldina met him, around 1950, Quinzinho already had some deaths on his conscience and had already served time in the penal colony. We could think of Quinzinho as a kind of heir to the violent capoeira practiced by the carioca gangs in the 1800s.

Quinzinho didn’t really have a structured teaching method; as this method already existed in Bahia, with Mestre Bimba, since 1930; or with Sinhozinho, in Rio, in the same period. Leopoldina explained how Quinzinho taught: he was playing with the apprentice and saying, “Do it like this … Do it like this.” However, when he embodied the “capoeira master”, Quinzinho had an impeccable work ethic. Even more impeccable, because at that time, in Rio in the 1950s, students learned capoeira taking beatings to “get smart”. And even today, even if the teacher doesn’t hit apprentices (some do), it is common for more experienced (and / or stronger) students to beat beginners (and / or weaker ones).

I see this story as something very emblematic of the complexity of the capoeira world, with its bizarre paradoxes, which, in fact, do not seem so strange to those who have the body and the head shaped by the foundations of capoeira malice.

Artur Emídio teaching method

Mestre Leopoldina told me that Artur Emidio’s teaching method was based on sequences similar to those of Bimba, but performed to the sound of berimbau played at a fast pace.

At first, according to Leopoldina, it was Mestre Paraná who played the berimbau at Artur’s academy, another Bahian who became well-known in Rio and was the teacher of, among others, Mestre Mintirinha. Artur only started playing berimbau later on.

Artur, like every Mestre, worried about the continuation of his style. Around 1963, Leopoldina began to attend an informal circle of angoleiros, estevedores of the docks in the harbour, which was held in their backyards in the suburbs of Rio. Arhur complained that Leopoldina was getting “very slow,” letting himself be influenced by Angola when, according to Artur, Leopoldina should “impose his capoeira.”

To see more

The documentary Mestre Leopoldina – o último bom malandro brings an interview Leopoldina gave to Nestor Capoeira. Click here the second part.

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Master Leopoldina – Part 1

By Nestor Capoeira

I was in my first year of UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) School of Engineering, in the distant (in relation to Copacabana, where I lived with my parents and brothers) Ilha do Fundão. One day, I was in the schoolyard talking to some friends when I saw a man on the road pedalling at full speed.

As I approached, I began to notice the details of the figure’s clothing: a short-brimmed hoodie worn by sambistas; a red vest with white polka dots, completely open over his bare chest, which swayed in the wind like a bird’s wings; striped pistachio green and gray bell-bottoms and a wide black leather belt with a huge buckle at the waist; 3-cm-high platform soles, studded with silver stars.

He entered the courtyard at full speed and then skid, spinning, ended up standing beside a pillar, where he calmly left the bicycle after jumping. Then I noticed something even stranger: he was carrying, between his lips, a kind of twig painted black, red and white, about 30 or 40 centimetres long. Suddenly, the twig began to move and wrapped itself around the strange person’s neck: Leopoldina raised snakes at home, and this one – a milk snake – was one of his favourites.

I asked a friend, “Wow, who is this guy?” He replied: “It’s Master Leopoldina. He teaches capoeira in Athletics”- which was the sporting part of the student directories. “He comes by bicycle from Cidade de Deus to Fundão Island. It’s far…”- completed this friend of mine.

CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH

Demerval Lopes de Lacerda (1933-2007), the master Leopoldina, was born in Rio de Janeiro on a carnival Saturday. He was raised by his mother, and later by aunts and other ladies who took him in. When he was still a child, he ran away from home to sell bullets to other kids who dominated the railway lines of the Central Railway of Brazil, which joins the city centre with the more distant suburbs of Rio. It was in Central Brazil that he graduated and made after degree in trickster, approximately in 1950.

As a teenager, and in a time of great poverty, he went of his own accord to SAM (Serviço de Assistência ao Menor) – a dreaded Child Care Service. Leopoldina had no complaints from his time there; on the contrary, as a young street rogue, he soon joined the “directors” team. He learned to swim, among other things, regularly circling the island where the institution was located, which left him in excellent physical shape.

When he left SAM, already eighteen years old in 1951, and too old to sell candy and peanuts on trains, he began selling newspapers and soon set up a team. For the first time, he began earning money, dressing in expensive clothing and visiting the Zona do Mangue brothels, where he encountered fame due to the size of his penis. Leopoldina frequented prostitutes, often more than once per day, without wearing any protection, and somehow never contracted any venereal disease.

Mestre Leopoldina, joyous on a parade day at the Rio de Janeiro Sambadrome. Photo Collection André Lacé.

CAPOEIRA

It was at this time that he met Quinzinho, or Joaquim Felix, a dangerous young delinquent and gang leader, who had already served time in the Penal Colony and had a few deaths on his conscience. Quinzinho was a capoeirista and was Leopoldina’s first master in the art of “tiririca”, the capoeira without berimbau of the carioca reprobates, descended from the capoeira of gangs of the 1800s.

A few years later, Quinzinho was once again arrested and this time murdered in prison. Leopoldina disappeared from the area due to fear of reprisals from delinquent enemies. When he returned to the streets, he met Artur Emídio, recently arrived from Itabuna, Bahia. He became Artur’s student around 1954, knowing then the Bahian capoeira was played to the berimbau.

Later, Leopoldina went to work at Cais do Porto and eventually managed to join Resistência, one of the dock branches. He retired early – before the age of forty-five, due to a work accident (which fortunately left no consequences) and lived the life of a capoeirista and high-spirited trickster more intensely.

THE MANGUEIRA

Another important aspect of Leopoldina’s life was his relationship with samba. He went out with Mangueira for the first time at the 1961 Carnival at the age of twenty-eight. Mangueira was the first samba school to include capoeira in its parades, which gave capoeira great visibility. Leopoldina even organized a group of sixty capoeiristas to demonstrate the artform in the V.C. Entende wing, the show hall of Mangueira. He kept his partnership going with Mangueira until about 1974.

I myself paraded several times in Mangueira when I was still a capoeira novice, at the invitation of Leopoldina, around 1968/1970.

TO SEE MORE

The documentary ‘Mestre Leopoldina – The Last Good Trickster’ brings an interview Leoopoldina gave to Nestor Capoeira. Click here the first part

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