Kamau has been involved with FICA in the United States from the early days, and the snippet below tells a little bit of that history.
You can (and should!) read the whole thing here.
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Njoli: [...] You also talked a bit earlier about how some of the racial encounters that were going on in the states were very different. You know, we recognize that concepts on race relations are diverse, whether you’re talking about from the perspective of African Americans, Africans, Brazilians or any of us descendants throughout the diaspora because of our varied histories and experiences. So I’m curious about how you felt about the different roles race has played in your Capoeira experience, whether that means in the context of FICA or Capoeira Angola or whatever.
|ContraMestre Kamau playing with Treinel Puck|
ContraMestre Kamau: Well, my foundations were and are in activism and Africanist thoughts and theory. I grew up with that and it got even stronger when I got to undergrad. Coming up here (Philadelphia), the community, it’s not as large and the culture is more… northern, not as connected, not as… friendly. So it’s much easier to cultivate oneself down south. Here, you can still feel isolated, can feel like there’s beef between organizations that actually look like or seem like they’re supposed to have the same motives. You don’t have that so much down south. Up here you grow into a kind of aesthetic of toughness. People don’t share space as much. There’s kind of a different vibe.
I remember our first years playing Odunde, ’95 or ’96. It was black people, playing Capoeira , black folks, and I remember there was one year that Cobrinha came and he had some guests with him and some of them were white. It shook a lot of people, there was a kind of embarrassment. I think people were caught up in this idea that maybe the crowds not feeling us this year, some old “Oh, I thought this was this. Why you got them with that?” The challenge was a fear that we wouldn’t have this feeling of being at home anymore or of having a community that would support us. After you’d do some demo, your hope was that people would want to come learn more about Capoeira and that year maybe the thought was we would finish and people would be like “I don’t want anything to do with that.”
It was a difficult transition and I know in my own group we had a separation of thoughts and ideologies. There were people who thought that kind of integration was a threat to a kind of African centered thought and people who wanted to make sure that anyone could train, white, black, whoever. Those two camps became very polarized and, the truth is, none of those people are training now. For me, when I looked around I realized that no one was left. It ended up being a big transition for me, realizing you can spend all kinds of energy worrying if all the people in your group look the same or acts the same or has dreadlocks or eats the same food or any of that. You just have to make sure you have quality people that can stay committed, can make sacrifices without complaining and can be consistent and can be depended on. That’s how you figure out your go-to people.
Clearly, I’m an African and this is an African Brazilian martial art and it’s only right that you have people who share that lineage, culture and connection and spiritual energy in your circle. I’ve always wanted that and I still want that but that’s not the only component to creating a positive and workable energy and it took me a lot of time and thought to gain the maturity to recognize and understand that. That was a big thing for me.
From another perspective, in Brazil, nationality is very important. But here I am, here you are and we both teach Capoeira Angola. So, someone can flip the script and ask a similar question. “How do you feel being from the states and teaching Capoeira?” I know exactly how that feels and have had the experience of some Brazilians looking at me like “watchu talking about Willis?” and not understanding what right I have to connect with Capoeira on any deep level.