History of Grupo Senzala of Rio de Janeiro
Founded in Rio de Janeiro, Group Senzala has been in existence for more than 30 years. The group is probably the most famous Capoeira group in the world thanks to its many masters and other technicians teaching Capoeira. First introduced to Great Britain in 1971 by Nestor Capoeira but did not flourish until 1989, with the arrival of Fernando C.C. Albuquerque (Master Gato).
Group Senzala’s history begins in 1960 in Rio de Janeiro. Paulo, Rafael and Gilberto Flores, three brothers, originally from Bahia (homeland of Capoeira) had moved to Rio de Janeiro. They began to study Capoeira, during their school vacations, back in Salvador, Bahia. They trained with two of the most famous masters that ever lived, namely Master Bimba and Master Pastinha. Capoeira had become an important part of their lives that they began to train on a regular basis. The brothers held weekly training sessions in their apartment located in the Laranjeiras, Rio de Janeiro.
In 1964, the first of the now famous masters joined the three brothers in practicing Capoeira. That master was Fernando C.C. Albuquerque, who was given the Capoeira name, Gato.
Gato became friends with Paulo Flores on his return from Bahia, but did not know of Paulos knowledge of Capoeira. One night a fight broke out at a party and Paulo became involved. His antagonist tried to front kick him. Paulo dodged the attack and retaliated with a reverse spinning kick, striking his opponent on the temple, knocking him out. After seeing this display, Gato badgered Paulo to train him; Paulo insisted that he was not a master, or even a teacher, “I am only a student so how can I teach you?.” After days of persistent nagging, Paulo agreed to show Gato a few of Capoeira’s basic techniques. Gato began to train with Paulo and his two brothers at the Laranjeiras.
The Capoeira Senzala Method
The methodology was simple; you learnt a few moves and then a few more and then try to use what you had just learnt, in the roda. Master Gato recalls the games he played as very physical and with lots of contact. Soon, another joined the group by the name of Claudio Jose Queiroz, followed by his friend Peixinho. Then came Garrincha and Sorriso, following him was Master Gato’s brother Gil. The group was growing. Within two years the now famous mestres had joined and began training at the Laranjeiras. Among the people who joined were, Itamar, Mosquito, Barracha, Sanfona, Bigode, Jimmy, Williamn and Antero.
In late 1966 the group was asked to leave the apartment building due to the increase in noise generated by the group. Finding new premises for the group would cost money. The group set about trying to raise funds by performing at shows. Finally, they were able to rent premises for the group, which now consisted of around 15 core members and about 20 people training occasionally. The group moved into the Largo de Machado in 1966.
During 1966, whilst at a demonstration at a German Club, the group introduced themselves as Grupo Senzala. The group became known, and with new premises, new people joined.
In the late 60’s there were very few competitions open to Capoeiristas. The main competition was the Berimbau de Ouro. With the help of other capoeiristas the group entered the competition. On the first attempt at the tournament the team featuring Master Gato and Master Preguica won, and did so again the following year, helping establish Group Senzala. On the third attempt Gato and Preguica were stopped from taking part by the Capoeira Association. They were told that the competition were not open to the masters, only students. Gato and Preguica protested that they were students, not masters. The association then replied, saying that their record over the past two years has had them recognised as master grades.
As Gato and Preguica were unable to enter the Berimbau de Ouro they began to train another team from the Group Senzala to enter into the tournament. This new team featured Mosquito and Barracha, which won; third year in succession. News of this spread throughout Brazilian Capoeira. Many people travelled to see, train and try out this new group of capoeiristas.
Due to the groups growing reputation and memberships they had to relocate again. A student of the group offered the use of a large barn, situated on his property, to the group, which they gratefully accepted and moved into Cosme Veiho. During 1968 and 1971 many masters and students travelled to Cosme Veiho and Master Gato recalls it was a “place of great energy”.
Originally the group trained according to the teaching’s of Master Bimba but soon began to incorporate influences from Rio de Janeiro but mainly from Bahia. By this time the group was the premier Capoeira group in Rio de Janeiro and one of the most widely known in the whole of Brazil. During 1980 and the mid 1980’s the group began to lose it’s cohesion due to the fading of new ideas and expansion.
When the situation was realised, Gato and other senior members began remedying the position of the group. As the 1980’s drew to a close Group Senzala was again expanding and Capoeira began to be taught world-wide. With Group Senzala being one of the strongest organised group in Brazil it was in a good position to help in the development of Capoeira outside Brazil.