Page One

Closing Time for Capoeira Cafe?

Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday September 05, 2006

The Capoeira Arts Cafe has been bringing South American instruments such as Berimbaus, Agogos, Caxixis and the Brazilian martial arts dance Capoeira to Berkeley for the past decade.  

The cafe’s lease is set to expire in December, which puts a question mark on its future at 2026 Addison St. The cafe staff say they are discussing the possibilities of renewing the lease with the non-profit Americana music presenter Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, which owns the property. 

“We have not yet received any communication from them about a lease renewal,” said Freight & Salvage Executive Director Steve Baker, whose performing space is now located on Addison Street near San Pablo Avenue. 

Baker said that even if the Capoeira Arts Cafe agrees to a new lease, the building that houses the cafe, as well as the building at 2020 Addison St., which Freight & Salvage also owns, will be closed for renovation for about a year beginning in the new year. 

“This would lead to the buildings closing down for at least a year. But we are happy to work with people who want to work with us,” said Baker. 

Freight & Salvage is currently waiting for a permit from the city to start renovation on the two buildings. 

Calls to the Capoeira Arts Cafe for comment were not returned by press time. 

Capoeira, which was introduced in the United States 30 years ago, is a Brazilian art form which incorporates music, dance and martial arts movements. Capoeira was originally started by the slaves in Brazil as a form of self-defense against their oppressors during colonial rule. Marked by deft movements that could reach acrobatic dimensions, this “dance-like fight” or “fight-like dance” is always accompanied by music. 

The art form is comprised of two distinct styles. Angola, which is the more traditional one, is slower, lower play. Regional is more acrobatic and involves a lot of technique and strategy. Sweeps, high kicks, headstands and headbutts also feature in both, making this a lot of fun for children. 

“Learning Capoeira at the cafe has been the most amazing and expansive experience of my life as well as my daughter Isabella’s,” said Berkeley resident Jennifer Wright who has been learning Capoeira since May. 

Six-year-old Isabella, who has been taking classes since May, even has her own Capoeira nickname—borboleta—which means “butterfly” in Portuguese. 

“What makes this so different from other dances is the way martial arts is hidden inside the dance. This was done so that the slave owners did not find out that their slaves were practicing fight forms behind their backs. It was even outlawed in Brazil at one point,” said Wright, who is completely taken up by Capoeira’s history. 

Papagio, who has been affiliated with the Capoeira Arts Cafe in various capacities for the last 16 years, spoke to the Planet about the philosophy behind this intriguing dance form: 

“In Capoeira, you don’t try to block a move, you try to get out of the way of conflict. You are constantly looking for new solutions.” 

Papagio added that although Capoeira had been in the United States for almost three decades now, a lot of people didn’t know anything about it.  

“Most people who come in have no knowledge of Portuguese, Brazil or Capoeira itself,” she said. “Take the language for instance. When you go to play Capoeira, everyone is singing something in Portuguese or a particular African dialect. And people join in and gradually pick it up. People get extremely inspired by the whole experience. Some even go on to pursue Brazilian studies at school.” 

Described as a “colorful multi-purpose global village where you can sip a cappuccino to the rhythmic beat of a berimbau,” the cafe is a project of the United Capoeira Association with the world-renowned Masters, Mestre Acordeon and Mestre Rã.  

The only one of its kind in Berkeley, it is affiliated to Capoeira schools in Sacramento, Seattle, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado and has sister schools in Los Angeles and New York.  

Maestro Acordeon, who has been teaching in the Bay Area since 1978, even has a blog dedicated to the topic at, which includes links and information about where Capoeira is taught. 

“You can never stop learning Capoeira,” said Papagio. “There are people who have been leaning Capoeira under Maestro Acordeon since 1978 and are still here.”