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Legacy Oral History Online Collection

Bira Almedia

Bira Image

Ubirajara Almeida (1943- ), known as Mestre Bira Almeida Acordeon, was born in 1943 in Salvador, Bahia in the northwest of Brazil. His international reputation as a charismatic teacher, performer, author, and organizer is built upon forty years as an active and important participant in the growth of capoeira in Brazil, the United States and Europe. 

Prior to his arrival in the United States, Mestre Acordeon was already recognized. One of the few graduated masters from the legendary capoeira school of Mestre Bimba (1889-1974), Mestre Acordeon participated in national capoeira tournaments sponsored by the National Confederation of Sports and the Brazilian Ministry of Education, where he won three Brazilian National Championships. He is one of the founders of the IBEC (Brazilian Institute for the Study of Capoeira) and a council member of the ABCP (Brazilian Association of Capoeira Teachers) 

He began teaching capoeira in 1959 and has since established several schools of his own. In 1964, he founded and directed the Grupo Folcorico da Bahia, which presented performances based on the rich African-Brazilian heritage of the city of Salvador. The Grupo Folcorico de Bahia won international awards at folk festivals in Argentina and Ecuador and toured extensively in Brazil. 

In 1978, Mestre Acordeon moved to the United States and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here, he introduced capoeira to the West Coast and acted as a catalyst for the study and practice of capoeira in the United States. In 1994, his contributions to capoeira were recognized when he was the first artist to be nominated to the Tinker Professorship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

As a performer and director, Mestre Acordeon continues to bring capoeira together with other art forms in performances to address broad cultural issues. In 1995, the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts commissioned Bira Almeida and Ghanaian master drummer and choreographer CK Ladzepko to create Warriors at the Edge of the Rain Forest.  Through displays of traditional ritualized forms of combat, this work posed alternatives for inner-city teenagers exposed to violence.

Mestre Acordeon is also an active musician, composer, and writer. He has recorded and released three albums of capoeira music, and has published several articles and a book about the history and practice of capoeira.

After many years of teaching in various schools in the community, in 1998, Mestre Acordeon, along with his business partner, Mestre Ra (Cassio Martinho), founded and built their own capoeira school, the Capoeira Arts Café, in downtown Berkeley. He also teaches and lectures throughout the world and performs, lectures, and holds classes at an array of schools and cultural institutions in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

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