Mestre Waldemar

Waldemar Rodrigues da Paixão (Mestre Waldemar, Waldemar da Liberdade or Waldemar do Pero Vaz) is born in 1916 in Ilha de Maré and began the practice of capoeira in 1936 at 20 years old. He was a student of Canário Pardo, Peripiri, Talabi, Siri-de-Mangue and Ricardo of Ilha de Maré:
“I asked those men to teach me, so that I could become professional. So that I could say that I knew, and now I know. I learned capoeira,” 

He began to teach capoeira in 1940, He was already a very skillful and respected capoeira when he begun holding his rodas in the Corta-Braço slum (a very poor neighborhood in Salvador Bahia), later known as Liberdade.“Earlier, it was in open air. Later I made a shed of straw and the capoeiristas of Bahia all came there to play.”
Like Canjiquinha and others, Waldemar learned capoeira intuitively, in the old way of teaching/learning capoeira by observation and imitation as opposed to systematized teaching.
Little by little, Mestre Waldemar’s roda became one of the most important meeting points for Bahian capoeiristas. 

Although capoeiristas often arrived at the roda armed, they would respect Mestre Waldemar by going to the bar and asking the bartender to hold on to their weapons while they played. Waldemar didn’t have to use authoritarianism to impose control.
In a time of ‘tough capoeira’, Mestre Waldemar never carried weapons, his only defences were to never speak badly of anyone and promote a high level of discipline from his students. He thus maintained a high level of respect from other capoeiristas and mestres.
“I always wanted to stay out of brawls, out of trouble. I hold this value even today. Everyone appreciates me, everyone likes me. If you go here and there, you won’t find anyone who speaks badly of me, in any subject. I know how to treat everyone well, I don’t mistreat anyone.”

Mestre Waldemar, besides being a great player, was also known as being one of the greatest singers of Bahian capoeira: “I still have pride in my throat, for singing my ladainhas. Songs of capoeira angola. I didn’t find anyone who sang more than me. I still don’t.”

Mestre Waldemar taught his students through the experience of playing in the roda, he would signal to his students with gestures, determining the movements that they must do:

“I taught in the roda, but there were also training days. They would play and I would make a signal to do tesoura, I would make a signal to do chibata. I would make a signal for the other player to duck.”

Amongst other artists and scholars, Mario Cravo, Carybé and Pierre Verger were frequent in his Barracão. Thanks to that we have amazing sculptures, illustrations and pictures bearing the history of his capoeira.

Waldemar was a great capoeirista, but walked in the shade. He was discreet about his activities and did not seek fame. Despite his noted talent as a singer and berimbau player, he did not integrate with the tourist capoeira of the market.

In old age, mestre Waldemar suffered from Parkinson’s disease, despite this he remained active in Capoeira, recording his famous capoeira album with his good friend Mestre Canjiquinha in 1984.

Mestre Waldemar died in 1990 and is remembered as one of the greatest and most influential Mestres in the history of Capoeira.


Written by Cristina Cardoso

This article is from the newspaper Diário de Notícias in Salvador. It was published on October 10, 1970 and reprinted in the book O Barracão do Mestre Waldemar by Frederico Abreu. Translation into English by Shayna McHugh

Mestre Waldemar do Pero Vaz, besides making the best berimbaus in Bahia, is a great capoeirista among the top experts of the past, having played with Pastinha, Bimba, Totonho Marê, and so many others.

Today he only plays on Sundays, when – wearing white shoes, white pants, a plaid shirt, gold rings and watch – he returns to the old days of his favorite sport. He talks enthusiastically about capoeira, without speaking badly of any capoeirista, without speaking badly of anyone. These days he has exchanged capoeira for the berimbau, which he makes with much care and affection, and challenges: “They’re the best in Bahia, yes ma’am, and I bet that I can beat any capoeirista or berimbau player in playing or singing.”

A great capoeirista, Waldemar Rodrigues da Paixão, mestre Waldemar of Pero Vaz, where he has lived since 1940, did not become a professional, nor did he establish an academy. But he made a name for himself and attracted students in the community of capoeira, which he brought from Ilha de Maré to show that it’s not just the city of Salvador that has good capoeira players.

Showing a colorful berimbau painted with yellow, green, white, and red stripes and decorated with various Senhor do Bonfim ribbons, he says, “This is Ãs de Ouro, my favorite berimbau, which I’ve kept with me for six years; from it I get the rhythms to call the men for a fight of honor in the fields of angola. Whoever doesn’t believe it should come see.”

Mortal Blow

Capoeira is not a death-fight, and its only mortal blow was created by Waldemar, who says: “The Dentinho de Angola (little tooth of angola) can kill, yes ma’am. The movement involves curving the body and lifting the heel of your shoe to the opponent’s Adam’s apple. It’s my ‘pulo de gato.’” [Pulo de gato means ‘cat’s leap’ It is an expression referring to a professional secret, a trick of the trade, a trump card that one keeps up one’s sleeve.]

But today, mestre Waldemar is tired and only plays for fun. Even so, he denies that capoeira is in crisis, saying, “Currently, capoeira is evolving, winning attention. Look, there are even guys seeking me out to do a news report about capoeira. In the old days it wasn’t like this at all. A capoeirista was a delinquent, a tough guy who messed around with the police. Today even refined people practice angola.”

White Suit

Mestre Waldemar doesn’t know capoeira regional. For him, there exists only capoeira angola, created in Brazil. Even so, he states: “I don’t exactly know how capoeira started. It didn’t happen in my lifetime, and I’m not going to tell lies or say that I knew people who I never even saw. What I know for sure is that capoeira is different. In the old days, we played wearing starched white suits and impeccable shoes, and we didn’t get dirty. That is, unless the opponent was disloyal and stuck his foot onto us. But that was playing dirty; it’s not like today, where capoeiristas grab each other with their hands. In my time, capoeira was played only with the feet and head, in a fight of agility and quickness. The important thing was to have a good head and fast feet.”

With Caymmi

“I’ve only been in Rio de Janeiro once,” continues Mestre Waldemar, “but it was worth it. It was in 1953, when I performed in Dorival Caymmi’s show. ‘It just so happens that I’m Bahian,’ and I stayed there for 45 days, you know, as the opportunities arose and I gave my price for the presentation. Then other capoeiristas came along who charged less, and they crossed my path, and that was the end of my trip.”

A student of mestre Telabi from Periperi, Waldemar do Pero Vaz is a peaceful capoeirista who doesn’t criticize anyone; he has nothing but praise for the great capoeiristas of the past: “Agripino de Periperi, Pastinha, Totonho de Maré, Barbosa do Cabeça (a porter, the capoeirista with the best technique I’ve ever seen), Onça Preta who went to Rio de Janeiro and I don’t know if he’s alive or dead.”

Berimbau and Music

Today, Waldemar do Pero Vaz dedicates himself more to the berimbaus and rhythms; he also writes songs. One of them even talks about going to the moon:

Eu já vivo enjoado I am sick
De viver aqui na terra Of living here on Earth
Mamãe eu vou pra lua Mom, I’m going to the moon
Já falei com minha mulher I’ve spoken with my wife
E ela me respondeu And she replied to me
Nós vamos se Deus quiser We’ll go if God wants us to

Waldemar points to the capoeiristas of the future who have been his students: José Cabelo Bom and Zacarias Boa Morte, who will continue his tradition. “But what I want to do right now is make berimbaus, instruments with such a lovely sound, commanding angola, with Cavalaria, São Bento Grande, São Bento Pequeno.” He says, “whoever wants to see me should come to Pero Vaz on Sunday, when I’ll give one of my berimbaus as an homage to mestre Caiçara.”


“The great tragedy,” concludes mestre Waldemar, “is that Bahia is stuffed with capoeira mestres and no one understands each other any more. But the people are the eternal and infallible judges that will determine who are the true mestres, the keepers of the truth. But what’s worse is that each mestre speaks badly about the others; there is no unity, no one thinks that the group should be united. Look at the example of doctors: a patient is being treated, one doctor gives him medicine and the sick man ends up in the cemetery. Another doctor examines him, sees that the medicine caused the death, asks who treated the patient, but doesn’t ridicule his colleague. They’re a united group. But these capoeiristas just fight among themselves.”

No atabaque! That’s how it was!


In Waldemar’s roda, there was a referee with a whistle to control the violence of the games. Waldemar states that he never had problems or fights with anyone. “When there was a disobedient student, I got the rest of the group together and told them to beat him up, lightly (…) Once I asked the police chief of Liberdade to send an officer to my roda, since lots of people showed up there: old mestres, tough guys with wide-legged pants. The police chief said, ‘You don’t need a police officer. I’m not going to send anyone. Tell your students to beat up anyone who causes trouble and then bring the guy here.’ I had all this respect.”

When the money game was played in Waldemar’s roda, the money was often divided in order to pay for the participants’ bus fares or drinks. “Everything that I earned, I divided with my students. When I was drinking beer and someone tossed money into the roda, I would tell the referee to keep changing the pairs of players. ‘Divide it amongst yourselves, drink, do whatever you want. I just don’t want trouble.’ Afterwards, I’d go to the movies with my wife.”

Around the 1950s, the money game was considered demeaning, anti-hygienic, and humiliating, but Waldemar preserved this tradition because of the great skill required to play it. In order to solve the hygiene problem, the money was placed inside a clean handkerchief. If the audience on a particular day did not offer any money, the capoeiristas sang:

Quem pede, pede chorando Whoever asks, asks crying
Quem dá merece vontade Whoever gives merits good will
Ô triste quem pede It’s sad for whoever asks
Com sua necessidade With their necessity
No céu vai quem merece Whoever merits it goes to heaven
Na terra vale quem tem On Earth, those who have money have value
Dedo de munheca é dedo Finger of a wrist is a finger
Dedo de munheca é mão Finger of a wrist is a hand
O sangue corre na veia The blood runs in the veins
Na palma da minha mão In the palm of my hand
É verdade meu amigo It’s true, my friend
Nossa vida é um colosso Our life is a colossus
Mais vale nossa amizade Our friendship is worth more
Do que dinheiro no nosso bolso Than money in our pockets
Mestre Waldemar’s bateria used three berimbaus, three pandeiros, a reco-reco, and agogô. “Later they put the atabaque in capoeira rodas,” he says, “but we didn’t used to have that.” At 71 years old, Waldemar confessed, “I’m still proud of my voice, of singing my ladainhas. The slow, monotonous song of capoeira angola (…) Caiçara respects me. He says that when I sing, he gets goosebumps. When Bimba saw me playing berimbau, he said, ‘today I have seen an angoleiro. I’m filled with enthusiasm because of you, your voice and your toque.'”

Mestre Waldemar