The Free Radicals remain an institution of incredible sound here in H-town, having amassed 13 Houston Press Music Awards in the realms of jazz and funk since their inception in 1996, as well as making a name for themselves as one of the city's most prolific protest bands. So when founder Nick Cooper emailed us to tell us he had something new and different, we were all ears.
They'll be playing a show tonight at Fitzgerald's - free for the drinking age crowd, $4 for the children - but what's new about that? Free Radicals regularly annihilates all over the city, after all. Well, tonight the music forms only part of the entertainment, as Cooper and company will mesh together their own brand of jazzy funk with the excitement of break-dancing and capoeira.
If you need break dancing explained to you, we will give you a minute to go rent Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo while we sit here and weep for the failure of your parental units. Capoiera may not be as familiar to the non-Tekken-playing crowd, though, so we'll explain.
Back in the 16th century, the Pope deeded Brazil to Portugal, which they enforced with the same goodwill and fairness that has insured that there are fewer Native Americans in this country than Escape the Fate fans on Facebook.
Initially, the Portuguese tried to enslave the Brazilian natives, who went very Rambo on them. The Portuguese then decided to import Africans to work the land, who were easier to control due to their being in unfamiliar territory and often from different or warring tribes. Eventually, many of the slaves escaped, and were surprisingly joined by a lot of Europeans who were sick of extreme Catholicism, and together they formed enclaves in various hard-to-reach places.
The Portuguese tried to reach them anyway, but began to report being undone by a strangely moving martial art called capoeira. The style was rhythmic movement based and focused on kicks and sweeps, which enable them to take down the mounted dragoons sent in to hunt them.
The style was so badass that even into the 1930s it was illegal to openly practice it, and previous centuries had laws that allowed arrest and torture for capoeiristas. Eventually, the repression let up, and the showy style found a new audience as a tourist entertainment. It's never lost its deadly ability, though it may not be apparent to the casual observer.
Cooper is himself a capoeirista, as well as the Free Radicals' drummer.
"I always wanted to bring it all together in one night," he says. "When I last ran into my buddies in Havikoro we started talking about it, and Fitzgerald's offered us a gig to make it happen."
Havikoro is a collective of break dancers and hip-hop artists that has traveled to every continent save Antarctica, have been involved with Destiny's Child, and even been featured on MTV. They will be handling the break-dancing for the night while the capoiera will be handled by Kalunga N'Golo.
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Kalunga N'Golo is a nonprofit cultural group that shares Capoeira Angola in classes with children and adults, and in community events. The group has been active for close to a decade, participating in programs with the Houston Area Women's Center, the Houston International Festival, and actively teaching under the 21st Century After School Enrichment Programs throughout HISD.
The Free Radicals have worked with break dancers in the past, and capoiera has a rich history of utilizing the rhythms in music during matches. The potent fusion of fight and funk should make for a memorable exhibition at Fitzgerald's tonight.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.