Interview with Contramestre Arame, Daniel Vallejo

Interview with Contramestre Arame, Daniel Vallejo

March 2016

Q: Tell me how you started in Capoeira, how did you end up teaching Capoeira in Jordan

A: I started capoeira with Mestre Cigano in Mexico City in 1999. The name of the group is Longe do Mar and we were just one of two groups in the city [at the time], imagine, in a city of 27 million people. One day, I met a Lebanese woman at Salsa who invited me to come play Capoeira in Lebanon. At first I told her that Mexicans don’t really have these opportunities to travel, but a week after she left, I woke up and thought, Lebanon, why not? So I wrote her an email, told her I was interested in going, but that I didn’t have any money. She later bought me a ticket and offered me a job to make a Capoeira show in Dubai with six other capoeiristas, at the Dubai Shopping Festival. It was 2007-08 and I had just become a Profesor in Capoeira.

The deal was that she would buy the ticket to Dubai and I would make my way to Lebanon. Without money, I didn’t know what I would do after I arrived in Lebanon. She offered me a job at her dance academy teaching Capoeira.  So we did the festival and it was a huge culture shock for me.  At the end, I remember my friends asked if I was ready to go, and I said, “What? Go? I’m going to Lebanon the day after tomorrow.” They were shocked.  I arrived to Lebanon and pretty soon after, met the group Sobreviventes with Arbi. One day Arbi asked if I could cover one of the kids’ classes. Of course I said yes. Yallah, let’s do it. Now my English isn’t that great, but at the time, I spoke no English and no Arabic.  Can you imagine? I arrived at the class and couldn’t speak anything in common with everyone there. No English, no French, no Arabic. None of the people there could speak Portuguese or Spanish.  I arrived and communicated with the parents literally like this [making animal sounds and flailing hands around].

After that first class, Arbi came to me with his phone and asked what I had done in the class. At first, I was nervous, a bit stressed. I thought I had done something wrong or something innapropriate for the culture. He then showed me text messages from the parents, “This guy was really good with the kids”, “This guy is another thing”, “If Arami doesn’t teach the class, we won’t send our kids back anymore”. I apologized to Arbi, telling him it wasn’t my intention. He was actually happy about it. He had to finish a Master’s degree and asked me to take over the adult class also. The NGO, Volta  o Mundo, arranged everything as far as work permits, and that was when I started working with refugees.

Then I went to Syria, where I met Tarek. The organization was still named Capoeira Arab back then. The same thing happened. They needed someone to teach the kids’ capoeira class in [Yarmouk] camp in Syria. After the class, again, Tarek came to me with the phone showing me messages that said, “This guy from Lebanon”, [even though I’m not from Lebanon], “is very nice!”  Tarek offered me a job. From then until now, Tarek and I have been working closely on this project he has.

Q: A lot of people when they come to one of your classes here or see what you’re doing, it might look unfamiliar. They are used to structured groups and many years of training to grow as a capoeirista. You do something really different here. You’re working with people who, hopefully, aren’t staying here for a long time since they are refugees. So tell me how do you see the Capoeira community that you’re helping to build here in this region?

A: That’s a big question. There’s a lot to answer. To start, you asked me about building a Capoeira community. What is a Capoeira community? Especially in this situation. Capoeira here is very new. And inside the camps, we go one day, and sometime later, we aren’t there. The people who live there for as long as they do, they can keep playing Capoeira maybe for a year, but eventually [if they are still in the camp], there are no new challenges and their Capoeira won’t be growing. They are stuck. For a group with singing, and rodas, and safe spaces, unfortunately, these opportunities are not there on a permanent basis. It’s hard in that way. But on the other side, Mestre Pastinha used to say, “A capoeira ela e todo o que a boca comé”, Capoeira is everything that you can’t eat. Capoeira is magic, because even if you don’t build a traditional community, you can build spiritual support and connections with people.

My goal is not to teach “social capoeira”, even this is a new term that people are now using (although I helped create the term so I guess it’s partly my fault!) My main hope here is that some day in the future, the people I work with will remember this crazy, skinny, Mexican, majnoon, belmarra guy was playing with them, shouting with them, and laughing with them. [Arami then began speaking from a boy’s perspective in one of his classes]. I want them to think, “When I was 9 years old, he sent me out of the class and I was angry, yelling, screaming, and kicking, and crying, but he didn’t budge. But then the next day when I came back, Arami explained everything to me, I went back to the class, and it made me feel different.” That’s my goal.

Q: Tell me more about what you said before, “Capoeira is everything you can’t eat”. You work with very athletic kids, kids with emotional and learning challenges, kids who have experienced extreme trauma or physical disabilities. Just last week you held a workshop for children covered in severe burns as a direct result of war in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine. What does “Capoeira is everything you can’t eat” in these contexts?

A: Fortunately, I have a very nice person in my life. He is my big brother. I don’t have any brothers, but he is like my brother. He put this idea in my mind that everybody is able do Capoeira. Everybody is able to do Capoeira. When I started with Capoeira, my attention was more on the most physical guys, the stronger guys, the guys who could do more flips. They got a lot of attention from the mestres also. I am not the most physical or the strongest guy. This actually marked the rest of my Capoeira life. The genius is here [pointing to head], and the rest of you is there [pointing to body]. My mestre, he transformed all these concepts in our group. He taught me that everyone is able to do Capoeira and everyone can be included.  It doesn’t matter if we have a one hour presentation in front of Barack Obama, you can join us.  So, when I see these kids, I see that they can do Capoeira, in the way that they can.  Capoeira is not just physical things. It’s not just music.Mestre Pastinha used to write poems. A lot of mestres used to make Capoeira drawings. At the moment you wake up at 5 am like Mestre Cobra Mansa and you prepare your coffee, you are doing Capoeira, because the next step is that you’ll actually be practicing Capoeira. You’re getting ready. It’s a ritual.  It’s hard to explain, but everything is related to Capoeira because you are preparing your body and your mind for the thing you love.

Q: Can you tell me about some memorable your students?

A: I remember most of my students, but when you have something in common, you might remember them more.  There was one guy in Palestine named Mohammad W., he was 14 years old. He lives in Jalazone camp.  His brother was in jail for five years just for throwing a stone at a police car. The school forced some of the students to attend to the class, so when I met Mohammad W., he would run away when he saw me [Arami says, laughing].  Inside the group, I started to tell them we are a family, we are brothers, and that this is a safe space.  At first, Mohammad W. wasn’t so used to Capoeira physically, but after a little while once he got better, he got really into it. He started to like it more and to be a leader. We used to train during Ramadan, for two or three hours, and he was fasting. Now I don’t think he continues with capoeira in his body, but maybe in his mind and in his heart. We are still in touch. Now he is 19 years old. I visited him and his family last year in Palestine.  He has a job, working at the Indian Embassy. I asked him, “How did you get this job?” He told me, “I followed your steps”. I asked what he meant.

“Well, I was crossing the street, I saw the Embassy, walked in and told the woman, ‘I am looking for a job.’”

“Who are you?”

“I am Mohammad W., where is the Ambassador? I want a job.” The secretary looked at him, and asked again, “I’m sorry, who are you?”

“I am Mohammad W.”, he said a third time, and as he did, the Ambassador came out and asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Mohammad W., you don’t know me? I am here for a job.”

The Ambassador gave him a meeting at that moment, and after talking, said, “Come tomorrow and you’ll start work.” I asked him, “I taught you that? How?”

“You taught me to be majnoon, to be crazy and just to go for it, not to be afraid.” Now he has a diplomatic card, he can travel freely, he is building a house and a family.  Insha’allah you’ll meet him if he comes to Jordan.

Q: Before we wrap up, I want to ask who you draw inspiration from.

A: My inspiration in Capoeira comes from the thinkers. The most important is for sure my Mestre, Mestre Cigano, Adolfo Flores Ochoa. He just changed my life, 180 degrees. A lot of people. But the people who give me even more energy and inspiration are the beginners, the people just starting capoeira. They are the people who give me the more valuable lessons in my life. I have to be patient and I have to try and remember what I was like at this stage, what I wanted. I wanted to be fast and tough. But no more, I don’t want to be fast or strong. I want to be nice inside the game. I want to be happy.  If someone plays the berimbau for two years and is better than me, that’s great, then I have someone to teach me something new. Now my inspiration doesn’t come so much from people who are physically strong, but from people who are strong in their mind. The people I’m working with here are the most mentally strong people I’ve met in my life.

Q: What else do you want to say that I haven’t asked you?

A: I want to say that I love my work. I love Capoeira. I don’t know if I did this right or wrong, and see you in the volta mundo.




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