Beginning my apprenticeship with Mestre Amen


Beto Gonzalez - Posted on 16 February 2011

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It is an honor to be an apprentice under the guidance of Mestre Amen Santo. I would like to take this opportunity in my first official ACTA blog post to discuss how I came to know and work with Mestre Amen, a little about candomblé, and a few other musings.

I first met Mestre Amen many years ago, probably 12-13 years, maybe more, I can’t exactly recall. I knew a number of people who were training in the art of capoeira (the Afro-Brazilian martial art) under his tutelage, and I occasionally attended events hosted at his school Capoeira Batuque, then located in Santa Monica, CA. One particular event I remember attending—and even performing during an open mic session—was NOMMO, hosted by one of his dedicated students, Ismael “Versátil” (his capoeira name, meaning versatile). On other occasions, I would watch a capoeira training session, fascinated by the physical exertion that the students would happily put themselves through during the class. They would be drenched in sweat, running drills and exercises, practicing various kicks and escapes in a continual motion inside the studio space. The class would usually end with a roda, the circular formation in which practitioners play music, sing and clap while two people take turns playing each other in the middle.

Looking back on those early days, I remember meeting some of his most devoted students like Dana “Minha Velha” (My Old Lady), Phillipos “Muito Tempo” (Too Long or Too Much Time), Marcelo “Girafa” (Giraffe), and of course, Versátil—all of them still in their early years of training. Today, I still see these same students training harder than ever. They have become his top students, now advanced instructors in the art of capoeira.

I finally became a member of the Capoeira Batuque family a couple of years ago, later than most but never too late. At my first batizado (literally “baptism” for the name-giving ceremony), I was nicknamed “Descalço” (Barefoot or With No Shoes) by Mestre Batata. Later during the weeklong event, I was taken down in the roda by a rasteira (a leg sweep that knocks an opponent to the floor on their behind)—ceremoniously executed by Mestre Doutor—earning me a “green cord” in capoeira. How I wish I had started training back when I first met Mestre Amen…

Over the years, I have watched Mestre Amen teach an ever-growing body of students, and on many occasions, dance and perform music. In recent years, we have increasingly played music together, mostly in my own group Samba Society. I have since learned that Mestre Amen is not only an accomplished martial artist, skilled dancer and percussionist, but also a knowledgeable practitioner of candomblé.

Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion that has its roots in West African deity worship primarily of Yoruban origin, but also significantly influenced by Fon, Ewe, Igbo, and Bantu traditions that were brought to Brazil by enslaved Africans over hundreds of years. Today, in Brazil and throughout the world, candomblé is alternately misunderstood and discriminated, or romanticized and folklorized. It is extremely important to note, however, that candomblé is a living, contemporary culture practiced by millions of people. Many practitioners—like Mestre Amen—are devoted followers, initiated into the religion through an extended family history, while others are non-initiated performers of the music and dance with little or no connection to the religious practice.

There are numerous reasons why people are drawn to the rhythms and dances of candomblé, the most common being the incredible depth and beauty of the tradition. Long before taking on this apprenticeship, I have had many misgivings about my role as a student of the music of candomblé. During one of our first sessions together, I discussed some of my uncertainties with Mestre Amen, and what he told me was very interesting…

Stay tuned for my next post, as I will write more about my ongoing apprenticeship with Mestre Amen...

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