Music

A review of online capoeira music classes: part 1

When someone pressed the pause button on the world back in March I soon realized the rest of the training season was going down the drain. Luckily, a lot of teachers quickly took the initiative of providing online classes. I joined a few and even made two videos myself for our group, but unfortunately I didn’t have the space at home to train decently. I used my newfound spare time to work on this blog and play the berimbau.

Around June, I saw on Instagram that both Mestre Nenel (Filhos de Bimba) and Mestre Negoativo (Lamparina Centro Cultural) were starting to offer online berimbau classes. I was hesitant at first, but decided there was absolutely nothing to lose and signed myself up. Just recently, in September, I got in touch with Mestre Ferradura, who was so nice to invite me to join his Músicapoeira course.

I have learned more about the berimbau and capoeira music in general these past 6 months than I have in the last 5 years. So it’s safe to say the training wasn’t wasted as I first thought. In this mini series of 3 articles I’m sharing my experiences with all three courses and hopefully I can convince you to make the effort and join one as well. You can read the reviews of Mestre Negoativo en Mestre Ferradura here.

Aula de berimbau – Mestre Nenel

In June I saw this post from Mestre Nenel in my Instagram feed:

I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn the berimbau toques as Mestre Bimba played them. I had been analyzing Mestre Bimba’s albums but needed guidance from an expert. This was the perfect opportunity!

Registration and onboarding

After sending a WhatsApp to the number mentioned in the post, I quickly got a message back from the Mestre himself. He explained the details (see below) and told me he was flexible in pinning a date and time which suited me. With a 5 hour time difference between us, I appreciated his flexibility.

A week after contacting Mestre Nenel, my first class was scheduled. I set up my desk and armed my berimbau, waiting for the Mestre. 15 minutes beforehand he messaged me to confirm our appointment and he appeared in the Zoom right on time.

I was quite nervous to be honest, as my Portuguese was rusty and I suddenly was in a private talk with Mestre Nenel himself, definitely a big name in capoeira. I somewhat always expected a student of him would actually organize the classes and was pleasantly surprised to meet Mestre Nenel in person.

We introduced ourselves briefly and I immediately had to show what I could do on the berimbau. From there on, we practiced the different berimbau rhythms and variations of Capoeira Regional.

Practical information

Price: At the time he charged 40 R$ (around €6) per class to be transferred through PayPal. Considering the amount of information you’re getting that’s absurdly cheap in my opinion.

Language: The sessions are in Portuguese and since the Mestre doesn’t speak English it’s important to be able to communicate in Portuguese to take the class.

Communication: You’ll chat with Mestre Nenel through Whatsapp. He responds fairly quickly (within the same day).

Organization: A class lasts one hour and is held through Zoom. You book classes individually, so you choose the frequency and number of classes you want to take. I suggest booking 3 to 5 classes.

His internet connection wasn’t the best (as I expected), but good enough to understand what he was saying and demonstrating.

Methodology

Mestre Nenel is (in my opinion) a perfect example of a very traditional capoeira mestre. He doesn’t spontaneously share knowledge and is rather a closed person, it is up to you to reach out to him and ask the right questions. His teaching methodology is still based on the “watch me do it and try to copy it” method from back in the day (how most Brazilians learned capoeira). That was also the case for the online sessions. For each new toque, he wrote down the notation with pen and paper, took a picture and messaged me the photo through WhatsApp. I then had to download it and read the notes of my phone while playing in front of the webcam. He didn’t give an awful lot of feedback and mostly just said “you’re doing it right” or “that’s wrong, I’ll show again”.

His way of sharing the lesson materials wasn’t ideal, but it worked and actually had some charm to it as it matched completely with his old school style of teaching.

Lesson structure

Each class started with a short summary of what we did the previous session. He then continued proposing a toque we’d study that day.

For each toque, we always went over the base first and when I managed to play it more or less correctly in a loop, he’d ask me to play the different variations he wrote down. For most toques I learned 10 different variations. Before finishing a toque I had to play all variations in a row without messing up. He uses his own notation systems which is easy to grasp.

There wasn’t a lot of chit chat and socializing, but I was able to ask him some questions at the end of each session which weren’t necessarily related to the class. Mestre Nenel definitely appreciated my interest and was glad to provide some insights.

At the end of the last session, the Mestre proposed I should practice for a few weeks or months and then maybe schedule a new session to see how I was doing. He also invited me to contact him whenever I had questions or wanted extra feedback.

Lesson materials

After a few sessions we went through all toques of Capoeira Regional, some extra ones and plenty of variations per toque. He sent me the notation for every toque and when I asked he even recorded an audio of some variations I had difficulties with. Compared to the other classes I followed, it wasn’t much in terms of material but still a gold mine of information in my opinion.

What I liked

I learned so much about how Mestre Nenel plays the berimbau in just 4 hours and really value that information. He taught me to replicate some of the tracks on Mestre Bimba’s albums note by note, which is really cool.

He also taught me some notes which don’t really exist in contemporânea but are necessary to replicate this style of playing the berimbau.

At first I didn’t expect Mestre Nenel would teach the class himself, it was pretty cool getting private classes from such a renowned capoeira and just being in a one on one session with him was an experience on its own.

— Vinho

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