By Mark Bacon
David Bryne’s Luaka Bop label released “What’s Happening in Pernambuco” in February 2008. The record is a welcome addition to his “Brazilian Classics” series, a great way for one to familiarize oneself with the vast amount of music in Brazil. Here’s a brief history of the “Mangue Beat” scene.
In the 1980s, while urban centers of the south like São Paulo and Rio were inundated with Brazil’s homegrown rock movement, Recife didn’t have much of a music scene at all and was tagged with the infamous distinction of being named ‘fourth worst city in the world to live in.’ Its economy resembled the brackish, stagnant mangrove (mangue) swamps all around it, that were slowly being converted to dumping grounds and stilted shantytowns. The response to this ecological, cultural and industrial degradation was The MANGUE MANIFESTO, aka, “Crabs with Brains,” written by Recife journalist and musician Fred Zero-Four:
“Emergency! A rapid shock or Recife dies of heart attack! It is not necessary to be a doctor to know that the simplest way to stop a heart is to obstruct its veins. The quickest way to kill and empty the soul of a city is to kill its rivers and fill its estuaries. How to avoid drowning in the chronic depression that paralyzes the citizens? How to return some courage and recharge the batteries of the city? It’s simple! It’s just to inject some energy in the mud and stimulate what’s left of fertility in the veins of Recife.”
Fred Zero-Four had gotten together with his colleague Chico Science, another Recife musician interested in jump-starting the local ‘scene.’ Their philosophy? To tap into the extreme diversity spawned along the coastal swamp. The resulting music was an explosion of punk-rock-funk-rap-electronic sound, infused with the rhythmic traditions of the rural northeast.
Chico Science e Naçao Zumbi are not included in the Pernambuco compilation, but are very worth exploring. Here’s a video of them performing “Maracatu Atomico,” one of their earliest hits. And one that is still revolutionary today.