Grupo Senzala is the world’s oldest organized Capoeira group that remains together. The inception of the group traces back to 1960, when three brothers from the Northeastern state of Bahia moved to Rio and decided to continue their studies of Capoeira on their own. They were soon joined by other teenagers interested in the art which were to become the founding fathers of Grupo Senzala.
The name Senzala, however, was only used for the first time in 1966, at which point the group was almost 20-people strong. Senzala was the place where slaves were kept during the hours when they were not working in Brazil. By choosing that name for the group, the founders were making their first statement that they viewed Capoeira not only as a rich sport and martial art, but also as a part of Brazil’s cultural heritage.
In 1967, the then group of students signed up to participate in Rio de Janeiro’s first Berimbau de Ouro, a competition created by a folklore promotion entity to promote Capoeira and evaluate which was the best group in Brazil’s former capital. With a theatrical performance in which they showed their expertise at the martial aspects and acrobatics of Capoeira but also underscored its history and traditions, Grupo Senzala won this first competition.
They also won the following two Berimbaus de Ouro. As a result, the Capoeira community gave them the titles of masters of Capoeira.
The founders of Grupo Senzala started to study Capoeira without a master, which in most cases would have been a hindrance to their development. However, they made that a strength and instead kept their minds open to all the different styles of Capoeira, making an effort to take classes with different masters across Brazil whenever they could and absorbing the best that each one had.
They also studied the body mechanics of Capoeira, as well as the traditions and rhythms from a more objective standpoint – in fact many of the founders of Grupo Senzala ended up studying physical education in university.
The result of that was what many Capoeira historians saw as the creation of a whole new style of the art. Kicks were focused on objectivity, the stance was more solid, with arms kept high to protect the face. The new style soon showed its efficiency and came to be widely adopted by other Capoeira groups.
Senzala’s founders, however, have always denied having created a new style. They are known for saying that they play Capoeira to the rhythm being beaten on the drums. Any different style they had, they say, was just their own personal view of what worked for them.
Indeed, that has been passed on through the generations and Senzala students are expected to master all of the different rhythms and rituals of Capoeira and to perform well regardless of what is the style required. As Mestre Peixinho, one of the founders of the group used to say: “We play Capoeira, whatever the berimbau dictates, we play.”
Content Taken from Senzala-Singapore.