[0:10] Melanie Maldonado: Today is Sunday, October 11, and we are here on Zoom, reaching from Florida to New Jersey and back. I’m actually really excited to speak with you today and hear more about you and your life’s work. So could we just start out by- I’m Melanie Maldonado, and I’m in Orlando, Florida, and I do my banner work under PROPA which is Puerto Rican Organization for the Performing Arts. Can you tell us your full name, or the name that you do your cultural work under?
[0:50] Jana Burton: Absolutely. So one, my name is actually Jana Burton. Most people don’t know that because in the work that I am most active in- is capoeira. I started as an African dancer and an African drummer and martial artist and it seemed so inevitable, like this is where I should be. So it was an art that chose me as I chose it and we had a mutual love, I would say.
[1:20] And so I’m known as- now- Contramestra Amazonas. Amazonas being one of the woman warriors names that were given in Brazil because capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art disguised as a dance so in that time when it was illegal, people received nicknames. And so a lot of times it was attributes about your personality or your stature that you would be nicknamed, and that would be kind of like your street name. And also on the spiritual side, those who know about that portion, your nickname’s also to keep a distance between those who are trying to work against you. Mine is Amazonas. Amazonas can be many people, seu eu (It’s me!)
[2:09] Contramestra’s the title, through the traveling through martial arts which is pretty- it’s a master’s title, but it’s a beginners master’s title that I just actually recently received in August.
[2:24] Melanie: I’m going to ask you about that too so I’m glad you brought it up.
[2:28] Jana: You know, there’s tons of information in little pieces so go for it, happy to be here.
[2:35] Melanie: And I know how important that title is, so I want to circle back to that. Can you tell me, are you Brazilian?
[2:49] Jana: No
[2:50] Melanie: Ok. How did you come to capoeira then?
[2:56] Jana: Well, I’m an African, I’m from Cape Verde. My family is, my father’s side of the family, is from Cape Verde, which also has a Portuguese influence as well, historically. And my mom is a Native American. So she is also Native American and Black as you can see from my wonderful skin tone. And so I found martial- I found capoeira in particular in its physical form- by stumbling upon it. I was in martial arts my entire life. My dad was my Judo teacher, and so I am in love with the things that he has shown me about my self-defense and the strength that I had without even knowing that I had it. And again, so, not just the physical, but also mental thing.
[3:47] I stumbled upon capoeira by walking into St. Peter’s College in New Jersey. There was what we call a batizado. A batizado is a baptism where students receive their first recognition as a capoeirista to the community. And people come from near and far to support it, and my teacher Mestre Cigano, who was one of the pioneers in New Jersey, in the 80’s, when capoeira was not even existent here, he was the first to have an academy. And I found them in 2003 at this batizado, and I looked around and I said, “This looks like capoeira, but can’t be”. And then, “Why are all the women on the side, selling t-shirts and entry and hospitality, occasionally singing the chorus, and, you know, assisting?” But we didn’t see much leadership, but again I’m on the outside looking in. But these are definite things that were noticeable upon my first physical, we’ll call ceremony, of the batizado and troca de cordel, the changing of cords.
[5:05] Melanie: Well, you’ve already mentioned a couple things that kind of triggered some thoughts. One that you’re a drummer, which is- that is not usual in many communities, right?
[5:14] Jana: Right.
[5:15] Melanie: That’s unusual, so I’d love to hear more about that. Then, you are a Contramestra, which I know is a teacher, and is a title. It’s a level of teacher, and here you are saying that in your first encounter with capoeira, you didn’t even see any women in leadership, let alone just really active participation. So how does then, your work kind of catapult from that first encounter to where you are now. What’s in your trajectory?
[5:52] Jana: Well, that is a story in itself. But as I started as a, I’m not going to stay started as a West African dancer and drummer, but that was something that tied me into, “Oh, I can do this”. Even though I didn’t see women physically demonstrating it at that- at high levels there, they were definitely in the assistant level. But I’ve traveled near and far, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to fourteen different countries in the name of capoeira to teach. And I also say to learn because each student group, each collective has its own energy that you have to be able to communicate with and commune and grow with, even when you have your trajectory of what you want to accomplish as a teacher, you know? Whether it’s the self-defense, whether it’s community, many different levels of things, how to execute a move. So I’ve had opportunities to travel through the islands, to Brazil, Africa, across the United States, in the name of capoeira to learn, grow and exchange. We have a saying in capoeira that also “capoeira na roda, capoeira na vida”, so “capoeira in circle, and capoeira in life.” So it’s not only that these exchanges and life lessons are happening only in the classroom, in the academy sense of it, but it’s the street events, and with the people who don’t know what’s going on, and how do you keep the culture alive, community, tradition.
[7:32] And also as a female, because a lot of times it’s like, “What’s this…and she’s not Brazilian,” you know? But it’s cool because through the time there has been more of an acceptance and more of a mutual respect as opposed to a tolerance of my presence. When I’ve traveled to Brazil, a lot of times they would say, you know, “Say you’re Brazilian.” I’m like, “Well one, you say that I’m from North America, you’re in South America, it’s still America.” Let’s work on what’s commonality- what we have as a commonality and grow from there. And what you see actually, is the commonality that we have of Africa, because the culture that we’ve seen of the circle, of the communication, of the oral history passed- being passed from the elder to youth, to the youth standing on the shoulders of the elders, being fortified, being encouraged, you know, learning from the ancestors, and the ways- the ancestral way, with respect and the fortitude to be able to lead for the next day. So all of these things have been happening and it’s a gradual encouragement and a gradual, I’ll definitely say, acceptance to come to this level.
[9:05] Melanie: So, along that way, what has been- I mean, just being a woman in leadership, in and of itself, is a major accomplishment, being a teacher is a major accomplishment. being accepted. There are all these milestones that you’ve already mentioned. What would you say is one moment that really stands out as a special moment or an achievement of yours in your work?
[9:37] Jana: I can’t choose. The first one was on a trip that I was on to Brazil, and they asked me to help to graduate children. And I was an adult. I was at the time what we call monitora, monitora is a high level student . In our system its the sixth belt, to give a reference to what does that mean. And if you change cords as we have belts- cords, cordels, cordões– depending upon on whether you’re from the North, the South, the East, the West, you have your own slang. But we have- if you change every year, that’s six years. I had an opportunity to skip some belts because of not just the leadership ability and being able to give classes because my other “superhero” job is that I am a schoolteacher- but being able to also communicate the martial science that was lying within and hidden in this dance, hidden in the music. How did that work on the psyche and also the physical, and the spirit, and how did that work?
[10:54] So, progressing, I’m in Brazil, a million children- or so it seemed- because I know I was out of breath. Every time you play for your cord and you want to play- you know, have this exchange- you see these smiling faces, and they’re looking up to what they felt is their future them. So to be able to feel that, I didn’t really understand what was going on. But to be me, we’re in this jogo- we’re going, yes, you know, [demonstrates with sounds], you see me, you don’t see me, I’m here, I’m there. We’re changing each other’s ideas and concepts through our physical movement, sometimes not by choice, but to see that you can elevate to the situation, you’re like, “Wow, this is amazing, and it’s a kid! They’re making me do this and I’m making them!” You know, it’s a great exchange.
[11:46] End of the event, everyone’s coming “Vem ca Amazonas, vem ca, vem ca. Quero tirar um foto.” “Why do you want to take picture with me, I’m just a student.” You know? I’m just doing what we do, that was fun, I get you, let’s share the memory. At the time, I asked a friend who I was traveling with. His name is Mestre Kiki de Bahia. He came here as a high level student as well, he is Brazilian, love him to death because I went and I ate at his mom’s table at home. It’s not like, “we’re going only to the restaurant.” We were there in his house, you know? Great, great, great love for him.
[12:23] And I said, “Mestre”, because I went with him to see what was his, what was his tradition in the transition to receive his masters cord. He moved to another country, North America- to United States in particular- to grow, himself and capoeira, to carry his flag. And what does that look like? So he went home to go see his “father”, his capoeira Mestre, and to watch his tradition.
[12:52] He says, “Amazonas, they want to take pictures with you because of who you are.”
[12:57] “What? Ok, what does that mean?”
[13:03] He says, “they see themselves in you or who they want to be. You control the moment, you seize the moment. You accept your faults and you move forward with gratitude and fortitude.”
[13:16] I said, “You saw all that? Ok, sure”, but I walked with it. I said, “maybe I don’t see what he sees yet, and that’s ok, but I’ll keep walking.” The road continues and it grows.
[13:33] So that was something that was like, “maybe there’s something more than I don’t- there’s something more, there’s something more, let me keep walking.”
[13:43] Second story, many, many years later. I’m in Pennsylvania, and a sister friend of mine. Her name is, at this time, Contramestra Gata Brava. She’s been featured on many different- she did something for Mountain Dew- “professional” work, not just the artist in the backyard that we support. This is like, making our art mainstream. She’s also featured in the Pennsylvania Airport- you can have a look at these things. My family, as we have all these nicknames, my family calls her “Bendy Bendy”. So you can imagine as we look at how we have the nicknames for the nicknames, and as we come…yes, you’re Auntie Bendy Bendy , we’re going to go to her house again, we’re going to go to her farm and have this event.
[14:38] We’re at her house, she grew up on a farm, run by women, so you know, I was in love, like, “Ooh, yes, this is great, this is my friend.” I bring my family, there’s about thirteen of us that went. We camp outside on the land, we’d sit in the barn. There’s non-stop community fun, capoeira, culture, bate papo, which we call our “chit-chats”, our growing points of, “what do you think about?” all the time. So it was magnificent, from the young to the old, and then those who do not participate physically, but understand capoeira because it might not be their passion to move, but to groove with us. All conversations are going.
[15:25] She starts to- she takes the moment at the beginning of this ceremony for the batizado and we’re all sitting in great attentiveness and listening to this woman in charge who has masters and family and friends from near and far, and she decides to talk about her platform and her privilege as a white woman serving in the community that she felt needed culture. And so, I’m there like, “Oh, my friends are so cool. I love my friends.” And now- but she’s speaking in English, so I have the benefit. Because even those who have to translate from English to Portuguese or those to French. She’s talking about Black Lives Matter. She’s talking about how we have to use our platform to help others. She is appreciating an Afro-Brazilian martial art that is bringing culture to her community and standing up for Black Lives Matter. We have to not only stand up against injustice, but stand up for truth. And she goes through this dissertation and we’re all like, “yes, yes, I concur, you are absolutely on point”. And we need to speak up for those who do not have the voice, or the courage, and we need to bring them to this brave space.
[16:57] We open up the roda. In our ceremony, we normally have what is called a ladainha, and a ladainha is like a small prayer. That sets the mood and the tone. It normally gives you some history, a small story, or a long story, and then gives what we call “lovacao”, an appreciation to the world, to the masters, to the ancestors who came before us, to the future, to capoeira which is holding us here, fortifying us and releasing us to be blessings to others. Beautiful song is sung, we’re all waiting, and it’s normally led by masters. At the time I was a “professor”. Wasn’t quite there, close, but not yet. But I had the advantage, I had timing. Timing and place is everything. I got up, and I did a volto o mundo, which means you walk around the circle, and I claimed my space, and I pointed to a sister-friend on the other side, who is also another brown-skinned girl from Dominican Republic. And I said “Vem jogar? Vem cá.” She looked at me like “What?”. She’s also a professor. She was like, “Amazonas is crazy, but I’m going to go.”
[18:19] And we went to pé do berimbau, which is where we start. We have our agreement, we have our transformation to our new world of capoeira, where what happens in the roda stays in the roda. If you sweep me, you swept me, I shouldn’t have been there, right? I should have moved out of the way and created an opportunity for myself to capitalize on if I wanted to or needed to. Beautiful game is going. And why was it so special, per se? Now, that it’s just was two Black women, two brown-skinned girls in this African art. But we made her words into a physical and almost a spiritual appreciation for what we were doing. And the rest of the event was super magical. But if I did not seize the opportunity or take the courage to move into that brave space of going because, was it technically wrong? You could say, yes, because I wasn’t a master.
[19:22] Melanie: Ok
[19:24] Jana: But it was right for all the other reasons.
[19:28] Melanie: So you, you said something that caught my attention and I want to go back to. You self-identified as African at the beginning. You talked about also kind of being “American” and finding these moments of commonality. Now you just explained this beautiful moment in what in bomba, my tradition, we call batey, which is that ceremonial space. And you identified another woman from the African diaspora to kind of create a beautiful moment with, a beautiful memory with. What does that mean to you to be part, to be African, to be practicing an Afro-diasporic tradition? To represent it, to teach it, to have kind of this standing now in this community. What does that mean to you?
[20:24] Jana: It’s, It’s heavy. It’s heavy like- capoeira is…capoeira é vida, capoeira é vida, it’s life. And to be a respected holder or key person, and it’s humbling. And knowing of all the strongholds of things that I have just kind of ignored and kept going because people ask, like, you know, “who were the woman leaders before you?” I had to research them because we didn’t have this internet thing going on as well as we do now. And then again, we didn’t always stay. So to say that I’ve lasted, I’ve endured, I’ve overcome, I stand and I’m an example of triumph. But I’m also an example of the continual process of learning. It doesn’t end here. It’s not like I’ve “made it”. I’m at another point of learning. The page turns and we keep working, we write the road. It’s heavy, but it’s very humbling.
[21:47] Melanie: It really is. I feel that. I feel your response. Kind of along those lines then, you’ve already explained a couple of really special moments for you, why this is important. Is there a particular movement, a particular song, a particular element of the tradition that you really connect with or find represents you or is really special to you?
[22:17] Jana: Actually yeah, I’m going to grab a lovely instrument called berimbau. This berimbau was made from a friend of mine who’s in Goais, Brazil. And pre-pandemic, he would come to visit and support the work that we have here in the United States. He’s in the group Sol Nascente, which is “The Sun is Rising”. And he made this berimbau and of course, I bought it. It’s something that’s really, really super cool because it also breaks into three different parts, and you don’t see berimbaus like this. It’s very, very quality, quality work. So one of the things that I get to do is support other great artists. So my friend Mestrando Cacaundao, he has this.
[23:14] The song that I’m talking about, it’s a ladainha that talks about, “to get into heaven,”- it’s a simple translation- “to get into heaven, everyone doesn’t- those who get in, are those who deserve it. And whether good times or bad times pass, you know, the world is going to continue to turn. It’s going to continue to go around.”
[23:49] So we think about like, “whether I’m here or not, the movement is still going on, but while I am here, what am I adding to it? Is it good, or is it bad?” You know? We have the power to heal, kill or destroy, but you know your time on Earth is super, super important.
[24:15 – 25:19]
Nao ceu entra quem merece
Na terra vale quem tem
passa mal or passa bem
tudo mundo nao e passar
ie galo cantor
ie galo cantor camara
ie cocoroco camara
ie que mundo deu
ie que mundo deu camara
ie que mundo da
ie qu mundo da camara
ie e ahora
ie e ahora camara
[25:20] Melanie: Beautiful. So beautiful, so beautiful. And I could hear, I mean, I understand Spanish, I speak enough, so I can hear some of those words that you translated right at the start there. Really beautiful, thank you for sharing that.
[25:44] I want to go back for a second. You, in what you’ve shared so far, women have had such a prominent role in your experience, at least the way that you’ve described it. Just from the experience you had at the farm with your friend in Pennsylvania to the other professora that you called out- and it seems like you have- you because of your own work, have had such a powerful part in that evolution, even within your own community. What has that been like, to be in a tradition that is- has historically been male dominated, that has not necessarily easily created those spaces for women to either participate or even thrive?
[26:50] Jana: The reality is that it hasn’t been all glitter though. I mean I’ve definitely, these are pivotal moments that have happened in my life, career, transcendence, experience that I- as a stepping stone of growth, and a point of life that I grew a little, such a little bit further. But there were times that it wasn’t so supportive, and I remember seeing, I would come to events and not be allowed to play instruments- one not being Brazilian, one being questioned, “What do you mean? What song are you singing? Do you even know how to- do you know why?”
[27:45] “Sorry buddy, I do speak five languages, but if you’d just give me a chance, we’d be able to have a conversation.” And not that I, you know, I want to fail forward, but let me fail forward, let me try, let us work together because we can grow together. So in this process, I’ve had people who have not let me have instruments, I get an instrument, the second they want to take it. In our tradition we have eight instruments, there are eight of them, two people to play, people to sit- there is so much to do, there is something else that you can share the time and the space. You can see who has that energy and who is not supportive.
[28:33] There were masters who would have women’s encounters and women would get together but they were male masters so it’s still a male there so we would bond and we would have women leadership, per se, because they would teach workshops and there were a lot of times higher level students. But we got to the point where we started having some other professoras around and they were traveling and they would fly them in for the events so there’s been some, many good steps as well, some supportive men, in my travels.
[29:14] But also, again, not always. Because I remember going to support someone else’s event and bringing students and participating in every workshop that was given to my fullest capabilities. And open roda happens which is an open…it’s still- it’s not a batizado, batizados are when we have changing of cords. Open roda is where we kind of- the gathering, it’s the Friday night thing that we do. There’s enough of us here, oh let’s get it together. It’s one of those spontaneous moments that happen, but we plan for those, we say, “we’re going to have a roda now.”
[29:59] In this time there’s multiple rodas all around the place, there’s that many people. Like, it’s huge, it’s great. Love energy. The chorus was rocking. Music, jamming. Hearts going. The goosebumps are there. I’d just received my professor cord. I’m a professor now, yay! And you learn, in the process of martial arts, what happens when your technique is correct, meaning it’s on time, you’re late, what do you need to do to change it, you are super late, you need to pray and figure out something to make it happen, or you need to transform the movement into something else. You also know when things are applied incorrectly and you or the other person can be hurt, severely, so you would like to do that in the street for self-defense. You know, like I’m being completely honest. It’s not something that’s sugar coated to say, you know, “oh, I meant to do that and yeah, he fell on his face.” No, I did that on purpose because I want you to fall on your face because you started with me, mister, in the street, and it’s not my fault. I’m a nice person. If you had just talked to me, you’d know I’m a nice lady.
[31:21] In this roda, my ankle was broken, after, say, three attempts. The first attempt, there’s multiple ways to escape things. I went one direction, my foot got stuck, couldn’t go. I tried to concede and just get the take down. “Take the point!” What happens? I learn to get up again. You know, there’s a lesson in everything, I’m ok with that too. You know, everything’s not going to be figured out. That’s attempt two. Third attempt, the person has now fallen to my ankles. The movement was originally attempt to tesouras, to scissor my hips, to make me to fall. So if it didn’t work, and you fell down to my knees, and it didn’t work and you fell down to my ankles, your thighs are definitely going to win against this very small joint. My ankle cracked five times…dat, dat, dat, dat, dat.
[32:31] I sat down, I crawled to pé do berimbau, I shook his hand, he said, “Amazonas, you don’t have to go anymore.”
[32:38] I said, “I cannot, thank you.” And I crawled out and the rest of the event continued on.
[32:48] He apologized for what happened. He said, “I meant to take her down, I did not intend to hurt her.”
[32:57] “Ok. I’ll see you, and I’ll raise that.”
[33:04] And he continually said, “we both need to continue to train.”
[33:09] I concur.
[33:13] “And we both need to grow”
[33:15] I concur.
[33:17] This happened on a Saturday, he didn’t call me until Tuesday. He didn’t call Amazonas. So it wasn’t always you know, great things that happened, but from there we did grow because I said, “you are going to walk with me through this process. I didn’t get here by myself. And we are going to continue to teach others, if you make a mistake, how are we going to grow? This is not just a physical pain that’s going on, and everyone else who was looking around who was there is affected in some way and we have a responsibility to them and to capoeira, whichever you want to call first or second, but there’s a responsibility”
[34:09] And from December to- I was not able to get back to work until, I think it was like March or April.
[34:19] Melanie: Wow.
[34:20] Jana: But we talked, we communed every couple of weeks because I said in those days when I’m home alone because all of everyone else in my community is supposed to be at work, right?
[34:37] Melanie: Yeah
[34:38] Jana: Where do I go? I’m home. I’m calling prayer lines, all kind of things. I said I need to be able to call you.
[33:44] Melanie: Yeah.
[33:45] Jana: I didn’t get here by myself. So we again, we were able to grow, and move from there, and you know, to have again another mutual respect from there, but it was not the nicest part of my journey.
[35:00] Melanie: Wow, that just brings up so many other questions for me. That is an example of- I mean, that can be interpreted in so many ways. And I know that in our conversation here we’re kind of interested with what role the women has had, what role you have had, who have been those women. But also what are those moments that men have either historically kind of kept women from participating or advancing or excelling, but now you’ve just brought me to another train of thought which is, you know, what are some of those ways that even today, men continue to try to- interfere with our own growth, our own opportunities for advancement, what are some of those- in this case, it’s an aggression, but you know, most women are not in a tradition where they would experience a physical aggression. It would be a micro-aggression- so the silencing, the ignoring, the passing over- and I want to circle back- I think it’s so important that you said early on that you skipped some levels in your own growth. And I, I just want to highlight, that’s definitely, as you mentioned, not that you skipped them probably for lack, at all, for lack of they needed somebody to kind of fill that, but that was really about your own talent, that was really about your own purpose in life and how you’re living out that purpose. And how you- those are promotions. If we think about school, you mentioned you’re a school teacher, kids get promoted. They don’t get to skip a grade just because, “oh, we need to move some kids around.” No. This was an achievement of yours, in spite of all of these other circumstances that might interfere just because inherently the tradition is male dominated, because there are men who maybe don’t necessarily want to create or share space with women. So I appreciate you sharing something so intimate and vulnerable because I think it’s important for these stories to be told.
[37:54] Kind of along those trains of thought, how has the lack of opportunity for women kind of influenced or affected your work and your growth or trajectory in this tradition?
[38:18] Jana: Well, the lack of opportunity is- I believe in creating opportunity. So one of the things that I pride myself, per se, on- just being consistent in the community and the community has responded, you know? Just by attending classes and having me work at various workshops or presenting at their school, or presenting for their staff in whatever’s going on. They have a community fair that’s going on, they know that I will come to spread the love of capoeira, to spread the joys and the benefits thereof. It’s not about the money that’s there. So I make sure that I give away free things. Yes, we do want one hand to wash the other so we can make sure we can pay bills and so forth, but together they wash the face. We take care of the community together. So when you cannot pay for classes, I’ll still tell you to come. Because you bring to my joy, which can give to your joy, which means that you can help someone else. So we create the opportunities.
[39:27] But I find that it- connecting with the right people- because I don’t need everybody around me. I don’t want to be around everyone’s circle either. You need the right people. And I think that through divine intervention, ancestral work, it has been working for me. For those who don’t believe, that’s ok too, it works for me, you know? We all have our different language that we are fortunate enough to be able to communicate in and so in that process we also have our same or different ways of communicating culture, you know? So I make sure that I’m being as honest and there for my community so they have been working with me.
[40:14] So I’ve worked in after-school programs sharing capoeira. Helping other people get jobs, teaching them how to teach in this school system because you don’t speak very great English, or you’re just learning English, but you have gotten your paperwork together and you are a master of this art and the form that we can share with the community. So providing free classes for them to co-teach and translate and to help get people started, so they can have something. But then it’s still lies that it’s still great because I can still say that I’m the only female teacher in the state of New Jersey with their own academy. And now, for ten years. So this is a blessing. Even though you are helping others, it does not take away from what we have
[41:08] Melanie: Yes.
[41:11] Jana: Because you have a star, doesn’t mean that I don’t have a star, or that I’m not a star. We can be stars together, and we are different stars and the same stars.
[41:23] There are many academies that are in the state of New Jersey, but they’re all run by men. Which has its benefits as well. It’s nice, but you can also Google and then say, “Oh! Oh, there’s Amazonas. So it’s great. Again, the same thing as your only African (female) in America, in North America, with their own academy, as well. There are two, there are four Contramestras on the East Coast of the United States, I’m one of the four. It’s still a claim to fame. Out of the United States in general, I’m the fourth African American (female), everyone else is on the West Coast. No sorry, fifth, we have one that’s down South. Including again, different cord systems, because everyone does not wear a cord, you know? Some systems have where you go from student to treinel which is like an instructor, but it’s a very high instructor, we’ll see, because you skipped all the six student belts if you consider what’s going on. So you waited without having a title or any of these, these carrots to say, “Keep going! Keep going!” And you kept going. So treinels, professores, and Contramestres in Angola and regional as well.
[42:56] Angola and regional are two different “main” expressions of capoeira, where there’s also a contemporary, in between kind of blend, of some, that also people have an affection to, an affinity to as well, that we go through.
[43:14] But creating the opportunity, and you know, everything to me is not competition. You know, it’s us working together but you have to do what you do well and I have to do what I can do well so that we flourish in our own way and when we need to come together we can because it’s still in the name of capoeira, it’s still in the name of honoring our ancestors, and it’s still in the name of providing a present day greater community and greater communal work for our future, any way that you slice it .
[43:54] Melanie: Mmm hmmm. And I love that because I believe in that as well. If a door shuts, that doesn’t mean that that’s the only way to get to the solution. So you, if the path that you thought, or the one that has been identified to you as the one you should take is closed, I feel like, it’s because i’m going to be part of creating a new path then, and that’s exactly what you’re saying that you’ve done. And so do you- it sounds like, but I want to hear you say it- how does that kind of manifest itself in how you teach? So you’ve already mentioned that you co-teach, that you have created access by, you know, working with students who maybe can’t afford to pay. But how else does this drive to create access influence how you teach?
[45:00] Jana: Capoeira is for everyone. Capoeira is for children. Capoeira is for adults. Capoeira is for the person who is special needs, and I mean, that’s everybody. And the reason I say everyone is special because we all have our own magic. We just sometimes don’t realize it. So one of the driving forces to help me to increase accessibility to the community is in helping them to realize their magic that they have already inside, is to help to inspire them to inspire someone else. So one of the things that helps us to want to be around each other is that I ask us to give compliments to each other, like “what did this person do that helped you?” Because sometimes we don’t know that and if we are not given the opportunity to do that or even think about a thought provoking opportunity, you never realize how much your presence helped someone else, and you don’t have a title.
[46:08] Melanie: I love that.
[46:10] Jana: So just trying to create that community aspect of that also allows someone to have the opportunity to learn to receive a compliment.
[46:19] Melanie: Mmmm. That’s hard for a lot of folks.
[46:22] Jana: Right. So we talk about the social, emotional things that are also given to us by the community, but also the historical role. I ask us to know that, for example, in old capoeira rodas, you would see- and we do it at part of our shows, but we also do it part of our play, we have a policeman that comes out and he’s looking because capoeira was once illegal and that was the things that the enslaved Africans did, and that’s how they “messed up the community” and “they’re doing this little fight dance thing, that chicken dance thing they do over there, I don’t know what it is, that’s music, I thought they were just dancing, how did they beat me up with that”. So it was illegal.
[47:01] But the women were some of the first spies because they’re on the side and they’re watching, they see, “oh, that’s the guy who tried to come and cause trouble last time, ok, hmm.” [sings] “ai ai ai Sao Bento me chama ai ai ai Sao Bento me chamou ai ai ai Sao Bento me quer ai ai ai …”
[47:19] Oh, oh I see what’s going on. Ok, I’m going to help with singing so we know what’s going- hmmm, alright, pay attention, something’s there.
[47:29] Oh the police are coming, what’s going on? Because if you were caught doing capoeira in this illegal time, they would take capoeiristas and put them, drag them by the horses, put the ropes around the ankles, and drag them. So you can imagine, you didn’t want this to happen. So you find a ways out. But the sisters are there, the sisters are there…
[48:32] So capoeiristas would be dragged by the backs of horses. So in order to avoid this, you’d have the onlookers watching, and sometimes the women who weren’t in the rodas, they knew what’s going on. They know the songs, they know, they’re not playing the instruments, but they are around and they’re watching the community and they’re having the babies, and I’m, “Yeah, that’s my boo over there”. It’s all there, it’s all of it’s there. But at the same time, the music might change because now I see the police are coming, and then they would start with the rhythms to go from something- a very simple capoeira rhythm- and all of a sudden they would play samba- and who would jump into the roda? The women, the women would come in.
[49:19] [sings] Le le le, Baiana!
[49:23] [plays berimbau] They’re going, song’s going, “Parana e, parana e parana Parana e, parana e parana/Sai Sai Catarina Saia do mar venha ver idalinha Sai Sai Catarina Catarina, meu amor Sai Sai Catarina Saia do mar venha ver idalinha sai sai catarina”
[50:00] Because the woman saw and the woman said, “it’s my time, let me help us out.” And the men would come and they’d dance and they’re in there, and the whole scene changes. The police come, “Oh, samba, ok yeah, yeah.”
[50:20] And they walk away, Hey, they’re selling acaraje? Over there. The best acaraje– wait no, the last- way down there! Yeah, yeah, yeah and then the roda starts again.
[50:36] So it’s, you know, the presence of women is always there, whether you know its there or now. So, being able to create these moments in class. All of a sudden, when the parents- comes out the smallest kid with the police hat. And I need my girls to help save us, keep us together. They think it’s just a party. Someone will take the police officer on the side and then we’ll go back to capoeira roda and they get to reenact the history that saved us and fortified us to move forward. So what happens? We’re able to apply this in our everyday life because, “Oh I see that my cousin is doing something he shouldn’t be doing, and I see the other people down the street and I’m going to cause a distraction because then go, and I’m going to go do something and I’m going- Oh the car alarm’s going off over there. What’s going on? Run!” Same idea, same concept, but now we know that these things happened historically, and we’re able to take capoeira na roda e capoeira na vida.
[51:52] Melanie: And I love how even though women weren’t historically part of that, was it roda?
[52:02] Jana: Roda.
[52:04] Melanie: Roda. That they were still able to be part of the community of capoeira in a way that was an act of resistance, and they were supporting that community and so even though perhaps they were not the primary practitioners, they were actually part of keeping it safe, protecting it, nurturing it, and I think those stories are so important to tell. I’m grateful for you sharing all of that.
[52:41] Before we wrap up, I did want to ask you, who have been some of your teachers? You’ve referenced some moments, some very beautiful and life changing moments for you, in your work. I just want to give you a chance to give them a shout out.
[53:00] Jana: Wow. Wow. Ok, so this is, again, another humbling moment. You know, I did speak about my capoeira teacher, my capoeira Mestre, Mestre Cigano, who was a pioneer, not just in New Jersey, but he was a street kid from Río, and he is also a judo practitioner, so we have a good commonality of concepts of movement and also communication. He currently had to move back to Brazil and he is in Porto Seguro, Bahía, and he was there to take care of his mom who was getting sick before, she has since passed. He stayed there with his family and hence, I’m able to keep up the family here, the newer family, the grandchildren he has here now. But he is, also, which now is a great thing, because of the pandemic, we’ll say, he has been one of the pioneers teaching online for years, so we’ve had distance but we got past the calling cards of, “I’m going to send you a calling card, you know, so we can communicate,” because you know money’s tight, we have to, “Oh, I needed to send you this calling card because it works- you get more minutes there than here”. So this is the time, now we have the internet, what?! We’ve taught online, now I can say, super proud, that we had an event that was online August 15, 2020, Progress in a Pandemic, where we teamed together to promote his grandchildren, my children of capoeira, the future of capoeira, and this is where I received the title. So now he is also the pioneer to the first Mestre to graduate another Mestre, a high title, over the internet. It’s not ceremonial like we normally do, it’s not how we would always desire. But if you think of the olden days when teachers had to move to other places to begin a new life and they brought their capoeira and they brought their life’s teaching, they did the same thing that I just did that day.
[55:20] Melanie: Mmmmm hmmm.
[55:21] Jana: I couldn’t have a million people coming. So we had our masks, we had our social distance. And we only could make- created our community, our pods of people that we stayed together. So we were able to have our ceremony, in which social distancing practices are being observed. Cultural practices are being observed. Families are helping their own families when we did our time to eat together. So it’s beautiful to see us- forced- into appreciating our own, you know, in these cultural celebrations. So Mestre Cigano is like my man, because again he is stepping forward in uncharted territories. Sometimes being dragged because the internet is, you know, the internet, but that is definitely, my first love of capoeira was through him, you know, of how we communed together. Because finding it on the internet, the movies, it’s great, it’s an important, and also in the books, it’s important, but to have someone living the life and showing that, he’s my guy.
[56:33] My dad is my judo teacher, Leonard Burton. He has taken me every Saturday morning, and thrown me across the living room and it’s just like, “Boom! I’m ok!”. So just great memories of being able to learn how to get up again, from an early age. How to manipulate a situation back into your favor, even when a person’s bigger than you, faster than you, taller than you, heavier than you, all these different aspects, because I was the youngest of my family, also. So the little sister got all the tricks because I would watch what you did to me and I found a way out, you know. So these are, you know, pivotal moments so I could always say that my siblings are my teachers as well, because they definitely put a lesson on me every chance they got.
[57:32] I have a very, very, fond of an Auntie, Lady Sensei is the name she goes by, Gerry Chisholm. She is also another dancer, a martial artist, jiujitsu practitioner, excellent with weapons, excellent with weapons. She has also taught me the ins and outs of just networking with other practitioners of great martial arts. Whether they are historians, whether they are, now we have these bloggers, and again, you have to know how to package it in a way that is understandable for people, not just communicated so you’re heard, but you’re understood.
[58:17] Melanie: Yes
[58:18] Jana: And there are lessons that have grown, so she is definitely a teacher for this networking and how to continue to be supportive. Those are my three top-
[58:29] Mestre Nô is my Mestre’s Mestre, Mestre Cigano’s teacher, so I give homage to our line of history that we have as well.
[58:40] Mestre Lazaro is another Guerreiros dos Palmares, he is out of Bahía as well, he is a person who I’ve- I’ve followed his footsteps, his singing, his movement and it’s amazing. He’s also someone who has supported me in my journey. He has taught at our academy. Every time he is in the country, he is invited. He knows it’s his home away from home as well. So it’s a blessing to see him over the airwaves of Zoom, to get a little bit of his steps as we move forward.
[59:15] There’s a teacher by the name of Mestranda or Mestra Edna Lima, she is also from Brazil, but she is one of the first female teachers that I saw in capoeira when I was growing in the ranks and people were asking me to teach, even as a monitora, I asked Mestre, I said, “but I’ve never seen a female run a class, what do you- how do I- I want a hard core school but I don’t want to be mean about it. How do we charismatically make this a win-win situation, you know? And I don’t have to be rude per se, you know, just one aspect.” So he said, ‘Go see my friend”. And she is in a very large mega-group we call Grupo Abada, and they’re another large international group, great respect. She has also passed work onto my teacher when she had too much. That’s a quick story. She passed work onto my teacher. She was living in New York. She was known as the first capoeira master, female master. She also has a black belt in karate. Beautiful lady. She, and also, her master t-shirt, you see worn at her graduation promotion, is a picture of her wearing a skirt, a white skirt, with a kick to the sky.
[1:00:49] Melanie: Love it
[1:00:50] Jana: Love it, but Mestra Anda Edna Lima, she’s a great influence to me. I wouldn’t call her- we’ve had the opportunity to have day to day classes. And most of the times, just due to the politics of capoeira, but I know that I could call her and any question that I ever had, she’s always been there to answer. And I’ve watched her show respect to the elders. In New York, we have Mestre João Grande, who’s one of the eldest Mestres that are alive in the world. His teacher in Mestre Pastinha, Mestre Pastinha is someone who is coined for preserving the capoeira art, Angola, as it has come out of Africa. So his line is very short, straight to the root. So to watch her come sit at his roda and sit and wait and bow her crown to him, out of respect, not out of, “I don’t have my own work, you have your work,” but to watch that humbleness and humility and respect, and it’s mutual. It’s mutual because she’s a mother, she’s a wife, she’s a teacher. So to be able to see her stand strong in her spot and also to be a person who has overcome a physical injury as well.
[1:02:21] So those are my teachers, you know? Those are my teachers. They have stood in the gap, without even realizing someone was watching, you know? So those are definitely my primary, primary teachers.
[1:02:38] Within the arts of drumming, I was always blessed to have great musicians around me so I would definitely coin that we have Georgie Palmares, he is another great friend who is great with Brazilian drumming and he has given many lessons and information for it as well. He is a young master, but he’s still a very well, knowledgeable person, who has also traveled continents- country to country, continent to continent, to spread the love of capoeira.
[1:03:14] Melanie: That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. And I’m glad that you brought up your t-shirt, because I told you I was going to ask you about that. And I think it’s a wonderful way to end because, you know, here we are, it’s fall, we’ve been kind of in this pandemic now, in the United States, really intensely for about seven months, and whenever somebody watches this video, at some point in the future, hopefully the world is a lot different, but what a beautiful story that you achieved your next level of participation, your next- this level of respect that you were given by your community during the middle of this global craziness, and it was done via the internet. I love that, I love that. I mean, that’s historic, that is historic. That’s beautiful, that’s beautiful.
[1:04:15] Jana: It is. Yes, I’m the first capoeira Contramestra of the internet world and I will keep that as my claim to fame, that on August 15, 2020, I was the first, by Mestre Cigano of Grupo Liberdade de Capoeira, dos Palmares, and the names of the ancestors and the stars that have risen before us, and those that are soon to come. It was not something that was planned, you know. We don’t- we have sometimes, some groups have conversations about this, some don’t. But this was something- the event, being allowed to have the blessing to have this event because I’m not going to say that I could do what I want. At a certain level, you run your group, you do what’s necessary. I have to serve my community.
[1:05:08] Melanie: Yes.
[1:05:09] Jana: So what my students need. At some point, I can’t say, “Can I give them water?”, you need water, let me just do what you need. But the celebration, you know, we were shut down since March. And when I told my students, I said, “I don’t know what this means, but we’re going to try this online thing.” And they were there, these little rectangles were popping up and I’m like, “oh, you’re here!” And it brought such a strength, a calming to my spirit just to know that they’re ok and they’re bringing joy to me as well, so it was a mutual thing. And we go to do things like show and tells online. It was just a good bonding moment. You found out who had pets, who did something spectacular at their school, and it was just an opportunity for us to grow.
[1:06:08] So we normally have our events in May, and the closer we got to it, I said, “I don’t know guys, I don’t know what this pandemic is doing, the numbers are crazy, we don’t really understand. I want us all to be safe.”
[1:06:24] And they’re like, “Ok, Amazonas, we’ll see you in the next class.” And they showed up again.
[1:06:32] Melanie: Awesome.
[1:06:33] Jana: And then we figured out, said, “Ok, now the weather’s working in our favor, the numbers are working in our favor in terms of the coronavirus, and we have some more information. How can we use this to celebrate our triumph?” This is not just this seven months, but we got up every time life knocked us down, every single time, and then we learned some new things while we were at it. So we said, “we’re having such great progress in the pandemic guys.” They said, “that’s a t-shirt”, and I said, “that’s an event!”
[1:07:11] Melanie: Ha
[1:07:13] Jana: so we put it together and we had our batizado, and Mestre was like, “You know, Amazonas, I’m really proud of you. You’re listening, everybody’s paying attention.” And I’m translating. I’ve got Africa- my work in Senegal, friends called in, in Zoom, St. Maarten is there.
[1:07:31] Melanie: Ohhhhh
[1:07:32] Jana: People in Texas, California, Colorado, Miami, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington, New York, Planet Brooklyn, New Jersey, everyone is there, and so, he’s like, “Todos, prestem atenção….. Agora ela é Contramestra Amazonas”…and I’d just sent my students away, I was like, “guys, get your rest, we just finished a workshop, get your rest, get some water, we’ll come back”. And I’m like, “What? Huh? Did he?” I’m like, “Maybe the internet is going, maybe he’s talking about someone else, like, I don’t know, maybe I missed it.” And they’re all going back and forth, and they’re all like “yeahhhhh!”
[1:08:16] Melanie: So it wasn’t a planned thing, you didn’t know about it?
[1:08:19] Jana: No
[1:08:20] Melanie: Wow, wow.
[1:08:21] Jana: Not at all. It was beyond the surprise of surprises.
[1:08:28] Melanie: Wow!
[1:08:29] Jana: To see that everyone, you know, get themselves to a point of being able to progress in such- this new confines, this new norm- as everyone is saying. And then it’s like, “Amazonas, you recreated yourself to help be able to recreate themselves. You are growing.”
[1:08:52] And it’s like, “Ok”, you know? And I humbly accepted the new challenge to grow again, and then I said, “You guys can’t leave me. We’ve got to do this work together.”
[1:09:09] So every time, I’m still helping them with the parades of showing this social injustice, these are one of the ways that we honor ancestors, and showing the social justice, they’re there with me in the rodas. Every time we’re creating care packages, whether they are donating to the care packages to give out to the less fortunate, or donating to the community centers, you know, they’re there, in many- so when I say we need, when I’m bring clothes back to Africa, and we’re saying, “Ok, I need baby clothes, I need suits, I need shoes, this is what I need. Look for what is slightly used, or you know that you’re not using and it’s not serving you right now. It will serve somebody else very, very well. Just think about it.” They’re there, they’re there.
[1:10:11] So I said, “You can’t leave me. We can’t do the next level work without you.” So I signed this contract where you know we’re all signing together, and they gave me a thumbs up.
[1:10:20] Melanie: That’s beautiful.
[1:10:22] Jana: So we’re again, going to go to higher heights, deeper depths, together.
[1:10:26] Melanie: I love that. What a beautiful way to end this conversation, on a look toward the future so I can’t wait to circle back and hear how you’re continuing to grow, how your community is continuing to grow, and I’m proud of you! You’re really an inspiration. You keep shining that bright light.
[1:10:49] Jana: Thank you so much again, for the opportunity, to share with you, to share with the community at large, and those who are interested in growing with capoeira on the physical, or musical, spiritual, or the social justice, there’s so much to do, and we need, potentially you…or you…or you…or you, you know?
[1:11:18] Melanie: Yes.
[1:11:19] Jana: So again I thank you, I’m thankful, thankful for the opportunity. Ashé.
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