Mestre João Grande, a Grand Master of Capoeira Angola, was born João Oliveira dos Santos on 15 January 1933 in the village of Itagi in the south of the Brazilian state of Bahia.
In his younger years he worked with his family in the fields. When he was 10 he came across "corta capim" which was a movement performed by crouching down, extending one leg in front and swinging it around in a circle, hopping over it with the other leg. Captivated by it he asked what it was, he was told it was called the "Dance of the Nagos", which was a dance of the African descendants in the city of Salvador. At the age of 10 he left home in the search of the "Dance of the Nagos", only to find out many years later that it was actually Capoeira.
João Grande met Mestre Barbosa and Cobrinha Verde, some of the most skillful players of that era. He asked Mestre Barbosa if he could study Capoeira and Mestre Barbosa sent him to João Pequeno, who then in turn sent him to Mestre Pastinha who had a famous academy in the Cardeal Pequeno neighborhood of Brotas, at the age of 20 which is relatively late in capoeira life he learned Capoeira Angola from Mestre Pastinha and he earned the nickname “João Grande” by Mestre Pastinha.
In 1966, he traveled with his master to the International Festival of Black Arts in Senegal, later earning his diploma from Pastinha’s academy. He traveled and performed all over the world, obtaining the title of grand master, and settled in New York City in 1990.
Mestre João Grande dedicated more than 60 years to Capoeira Angola and is one of the most respected and recognized Mestres of all times in the world. He teaches Capoeira the African way, as a philosophy and a way of life, respecting the roots, history and tradition.
Today, he teaches Capoeira in his Academy Capoeira Angola Center of Mestre João Grande in New York with many affiliates of the group: Capoeira Angola Center Arizona, Capoeira Angola Center Finland, Capoeira Angola Center Italy, Capoeira Angola Center Japan, Capoeira Angola Center Los Angeles, Capoeira Angola Center Ngolo Arts, Capoeira Angola Center Oakland, Capoeira Angola Center Serbia, Capoeira Angola Center Africa-Kenia, Capoeira Angola Center San Diego and Capoeira Angola Center Illinois. Mestre João Grande was recognized for his work and contribution, and received a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Upsala College, and was also awarded the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts as a representative of the national patrimony, which is one of the most prestigious awards given to practitioners of traditional arts in the US.