A&E

Searching for Papiba

ae sambOffstage, the man behind SambaDá has other deep ties to Santa Cruz

A stage name is one thing, but Alexandre Godinho’s is so deeply ingrained in his identity that even his mother calls him by it. His unusual nom de guerre “Papiba” is derived from a Brazilian tongue twister, papibaquigrafo, which is apparently impossible for Portuguese-speakers to enunciate—except him. A friend who could say only the first three syllables jokingly dubbed him Papiba, and it stuck.

Many locals know him as frontman of the Afro-Brazilian Latin Funk band SambaDá, in his signature white suit and cap (boné). But when not on stage, he’s Mestre Papiba, master of the acrobatic Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira. Performed to live music inside a circle of participants, it entails singing, dance and playing instruments, Godinho (pronounced Go-jee-nyo) explains over burritos at El Palomar.

“Such diversity,” he says. “No other activity demands all these elements.” In this art form, he is not alone in his strong connection to his alter ego—capoeiristas receive Portuguese nicknames, a tradition born to conceal identities when capoeira was illegal in Brazil.

On Saturday, May 10, SambaDá performs at Moe’s Alley, in celebration of the band’s 15th anniversary. Earlier that same day, Godinho  hosts his 20th batizado at the Louden Nelson Center. In a batizado, capoeiristas are graduated to their next cord (think belts in karate). Capoeira, samba and maculele, a dance involving machetes, are performed for guests from Brazil, the Bay Area, and all over the country.

This batizado is especially significant for the musical mestre. Godinho will bestow a red cord—capoeira’s highest honor—upon Santa Cruz resident Richard Fouse, 72, a three-tour Vietnam veteran. Fouse will be the first non-Brazilian mestre in the group, Raizes do Brasil, which spans six US states, South America, Europe, and Africa.

When Fouse started at age 48, he already had a long white beard, so was nicknamed “Profeta”— “prophet.” Despite a late start and a quadruple bypass at 68, Fouse attends capoeira, which he learned of in Black Belt Magazine during the sixties, religiously.

When young Godhino arrived at the bus station in September 1992, Fouse picked him up, “with his big beard and smile,” Godinho remembers. “He took me to my first Santa Cruz party. I taught people to dance the Lambada while he laughed at me. He came to class always. One day he didn’t. I knew something was wrong. I found out he had open-heart surgery. He came back with stitches in his chest, saying he wanted to be in the capoeira class. He said if there wasn’t this community to come to, he wouldn’t have the energy to be alive.”

Fouse credits capoeira with healing. “When I got back from Vietnam, I’d been through so much,” he says. “It helped me relax.”

Twenty-two years after his Lambada-teaching debut, Godinho is still making Santa Cruz dance, now as his full-time job. At SambaDá’s post-batizado show at Moe’s Alley, which opens, appropriately, with a capoeira performance, Godinho will debut songs from his forthcoming album, Ritual.

Of eleven tunes, his favorites include the infectious, percussive  “Chicka Boom” and sweet samba-reggae “Jamais Esqueçerei o Momento,” (I’ll Never Forget the Moment”), written about his first date with his partner, Melanie, watching The Fountain with ice cream and wine. She now manages the academy. Capoeira is a family affair.

“Everything that’s happened in my life has a connection with capoeira,” Godinho says. “All my friends, everyone I’ve known here. My mestre says capoeira is the most powerful personal network, because when people connect in the roda [circle], it’s an intimate type of connection.” Perhaps there’s a scientific reason for all this social bonding: studies have shown that performing synchronous movement and music creates human attachment.

In addition to his ongoing commitment to Santa Cruz, Godinho has extended his reach to São Tomé, an island off the coast of Gabon, where he participates in a socioeconomic development project. In a subsistence fishing economy, people with few opportunities are now teaching capoeira.

“I came back from Africa inspired by how powerful capoeira is to these communities that don’t have a lot of resources,” he says. “They’ve improved so much physically and socially. It’s beautiful.”


SambaDá performs at 9 p.m. on Saturday, May 10, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz; 479-1854. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. 

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