“foi o axe”
Malcolm writes about the meaning of the Brazilian saying "foi o axe", "it was the ashe" from his Capoiera teacher.
I love Capoeira, pushing my body past my perceived limits of dexterity. I’ve played American sports my whole life, and have always appreciated my America rhythms in music and dance – but in Afro-Brazilian capoeira, I find something different – I find invincibility.
Learning the music of the Afro Brazilian, and being apart of the whole culture has changed by life. It is a blessing being able to meet and pick the brains of other capoeira Mestre’s and professors who have brought their worlds to San Jose. And a conversation with Professor Bae, a Capoeira master from Baiah, Brazil, even changed my perception of how I see American culture.
At one of our biggest gatherings of the year, my group Capoeira Irmandade held a drumming workshop with Professor Bae. By the afternoon an hour or two after the drum workshop, we had a full house in our small Santa Clara dance studio. Almost 30 capoeristas accompanied with about 20 spectators, made for an energetic atmosphere. In Capoeira we play in pairs, similar to sparring in other martial arts. All of the capoeiristas sit in a circle where the two players play. At the head is the Bateria or band, which may consist of six capoeiristas playing different instruments. While my anxiety was building up to get a chance to play, I saw Professor Bae preparing to buy in the game. I became excited to see how he maneuvered his 5ft 10inch rather round frame throughout the Roda (circle). Instantly as soon the game started, he let out a frenzy of lightning fast kicks and embellishments. One of which being a no handed cartwheel, that in the context of the game was so smooth he received many ooo’s and aaaah’s throughout the packed house.
Afterwards, I remember trying to butter him up by making a mention to his no handed cartwheel earlier in the day. He looked at me in disbelief, as he had never done the move before. “Nah man, I don’t do flips, are you sure?” he asked me. I was positive he had done the flip but I could see he had no recollection of it. Nonetheless I assured him he pulled off the move earlier during Roda. He smiled and said, “ I didn’t do that move,” he told me, “foi o axe” – meaning, it was the axe.
The term “axe” is the energy that we tap into while training capoeira. Bae’s statement resonated so much within me that I began to relate it to my everyday life. There have been many times where I was lost in the axe while writing, making music, and in fact there have been entire days where I felt I was operating from a higher frequency. I just never had a term that could describe what I was feeling. The Bahian philosophy of axe created another plane for me to operate from in my Bay Area life.
Now, I see axe all around me, not just with capaoeritas, as it is a shared energy which I see the most in cyphers, or enclosed circles constructed of people. Bboy’s, MC’s, even street fights have ciphers, where the axe can be cultivated and tapped into. Within the coming weeks of my conversation with Professor Bae, it dawned on me how universal the idea of axe really is especially comparing between the two bays – Baiah and here. I am a musician, when I play my Berimbau I tend to blank out; my eyes focus upwards and my eyelids shut. I have been known to even make faces, which friends poke fun at. I understand know that my actions are not only natural but necessary for me to express myself through the instrument. One of the best MC’s I know loves to freestyle, I’ve noticed when he’s on his A game he is focused upwards as if his rhymes were written in the sky.
The axe is invincibility, it will guide you to your spirit. I feel blessed that this concept was shared with me and I thank Professor Bae for his philosophies. The bay area has always been known for its calm cool and collected culture, but who would have thought it was the language of Brazil that would have given our energy a name.
The piece is part of an on going multimedia series called "Arriving and Becoming: The Silicon Valley Story as Told by Immigrant Elders", supported by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation's Immigrant Integration in Silicon Valley project.
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