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Living Colours: The dance of the Amazon

Living Colours: The dance of the Amazon

It may have originated in the jungles of Africa and South America, but the martial art of Capoeira is quickly catching on in the parks and lawns of the capital. Ammar Latif, a Capoeria enthusiast and one of its first Pakistani exponents, has been practicing and teaching this art in places such as Kuch Khaas for quite some time now. Capoeira has also earned special protected status after being declared an “intangible cultural heritage” by Unesco.

Dawn spoke to Mr Latif about how he came to learn this art and its popularity with Pakistani audience.

Q: What is Capoeira and how is it different from traditional forms of yoga or martial arts?

A: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art and movement discipline, rooted in elements of community, music and ritual. Its different from yoga in that it is a martial art rather than a restorative or healing art, even though it has restorative uses as well. It’s also different in the sense that it includes a diversity of elements within its ritual, music and songs, for example, that guide the interaction of the players in the roda (the ring). Its general philosophy of attack and defence is based on circular movements and if at all possible evasion and counter attack rather than direct confrontation. The rules and music facilitate a continued interaction that is often termed a physical conversation between players in the roda.

Q: How were you introduced to Capoeira?

A: I was first introduced to Capoeira by a Brazilian named Gustavo in Dublin. He had himself started playing Capoeira in Angola only six months before that. I was break-dancing at the time and he would play the instrument and I would do breaking moves, basically we were buskers on the streets of Dublin. I started looking for a Capoeira school but there were none around at the time. So I ended up researching and training Capoeira from online sources until I could find a school. I then started training with the group Oficina da Capoeira in Dublin.

I came back to Pakistan in 2007 and started Pakistan’s first Capoeira study group in Iqra University, which lasted till August. I then started training in a park in F-11 along with a few enthusiasts. Then moved to Shalimar Cricket Ground and later Kuch Khaas. But the Capoeria scene became very intermittent in 2010 and onwards, so I travelled to places such as Sweden and Norway.

Q: What hope do you have for Capoeria taking off in Pakistan?

A: In 2013, I connected with the Brazilian ambassador in Islamabad, who offered to sponsor my activities by setting up a Capoeira school at the embassy as part of its cultural activities. This year, two of my students and I travelled to Brazil on a scholarship to train in Capoeira so that it could become a fixture of the arts and culture scene in Islamabad.

Now there’s a group based at the Brazilian embassy that’s fairly established with at least two more on the way in the near future in other cities. So things have come a long way and yet there’s a long way to go.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2015

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