Selamat Datang Brasil

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Participants learning the Samba at a workshop last year in Publika.

HOW many times have you watched dancers on television do the Samba and wished you could dance like them? The fiery and sensual hip moves, the perfectly practised twirls and, of course, the glittering exotic costumes and the passionate and hypnotic Brazilian rhythms.

Thanks to the Brasil em Fiesta Performance Academy, there’s a chance to stretch your muscles and dive into those flamboyant, mesmerising and occasionally eye-popping moves. For the second time running, the academy will bring a Brazilian experience to Malaysia — with its cross-cultural event meant to celebrate the rich cultures of both countries.

Themed Selamat Datang Brasil, the festival will take place from this Friday to Sunday at Avenue K, Kuala Lumpur.

Anticipated to be a colourful affair with energetic and fun-filled Brazilian and Malaysian arts workshops — including the Samba — the planned yearly event will also feature performances and demonstrations by Capoeira masters.  The main event, however, will be an award celebration of the academy students’ year-long Capoeira training.

A Capoeira demonstration by invited guests.

“It is our commitment as senior Capoeira practitioners to have at least one celebration to award students who are learning the Capoeira with their cordas (belts),” said Lilica Vargas, a Brazilian living in Malaysia and one of the co-founders of Brasil em Fiesta Performance Academy. Explaining the traditional ritual with African roots, Vargas added, “We have to do at least one roda (pronounced ‘hoda’, which is the circle formation typically seen in a Capoeira performance) and invite guests for a big celebration for the batizado (graduation) ceremony.”

They decided to invite the entire city to join in the fun. “We wanted to make it bigger to include everyone in our celebration.”

A passionate student of culture, Vargas highlighted that the festival not only aims to expose the Malaysian public to Brazilian culture, but also to incorporate local cultural arts.

As such, besides the Samba and Capoeira workshops, the festival this year will also introduce Silat, Bhangra and even Afro dance workshops to cater to a wider public.

“I enjoy learning about cultures, which is why I came up with the idea to do a festival of this nature. While I am promoting my culture, I think it’s important and interesting to learn about local culture as well,” she said.

Having lived in Asia for the past nine years, Vargas said she has been doing Capoeira for the past 18 years and is three levels shy from reaching the Mestre (Master) rank. The academy’s other co-founder, Rubens Pimbal, is only one level away to becoming a master with 20 years of experience under his belt.

Pointing out the similarity between the Brazilian traditional martial art form and local Silat, she said the latter is the only other martial art form that uses music when performed.

“Last year, we did a fusion of Silat and Capoeira in Lumut. One group performed in the Silat style and we did the Capoeira style.  We fused the martial arts together with our distinctive movements. You can say that we sort of played together. [Both] have similar movements and it looked almost like a dance,” Vargas reminisced with obvious glee.

This was what spurred her to include Silat in the festival, though she explained that there is a slight difference in the purpose of the music when it comes to practising it compared to Capoeira. It is this unique distinction that she hopes will be showcased at the festival.

“In Capoeira, the players are all in a roda and they move as the music from the batucada players beckons. But in Silat, the movements of the practitioners are not bound by the music because it’s usually meant to set the tone of the performance,” Vargas held.

Batucada refers to African-influenced Brazilian percussive-style drums, usually performed by an ensemble and characterised by its repetitive style and fast pace.

A traditional Malay dance was showcased at the festival too.

Vargas feels that the beauty of Capoeira is in the network the art form has created worldwide. Long-time friends and fellow Capoeiristas from Indonesia and Australia will be coming to town to teach at the workshops. The atmosphere she hopes to create is one without barriers.

“Capoeiristas who see another group of Capoeiristas can just join in the roda and start playing,” explained the martial arts teacher.  “That is how it is done in Brazil. Even in the streets. But there, you go into the roda only if you want to and you will have to take care of yourself because it can get rough on the streets,” she added with a chuckle.

Capoeira first came about when African slaves who were brought into Brazil thought it would be wise to have a skill to defend themselves if there was an opportunity to escape from their masters. Cleverly camouflaging the skill with dance moves, the slaves from the 17th century practised fighting moves in a circle to trick their masters into believing that they were merely performing a dance.

The festival is open to the public and one need not possess any skill or knowledge to participate in the workshops. However, for the Capoeira, Afro Dance and Samba workshops, there will be a fee of RM100 per day or RM 250 for three days. As for the Bhangra and Silat workshops, entry is free.

On a parting note, Vargas said that in an era where everything is going at such a fast pace, it is cultural events like this that will allow people to slow down and remember where their roots lie.

“Sometimes, it’s good to do something new and break the routine and, at the same time, learn new things and have the experience of another culture.”

Selamat Datang Brasil 2014 will be on from this Friday evening till Sunday at Level 3, Avenue K Shopping Mall. Entry is free (except for certain workshops).

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 21, 2014.