Brazil Classics 7: What's Happening in Pernambuco? - New Sounds of the Brazilian Northeast

Brazil Classics 7: What's Happening in Pernambuco? - New Sounds of the Brazilian Northeast

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1. You Can Call Me – Eddie
2. Juca Valley – Siba
3. Bob – Otto
4. Cobrinha (The Li’l Snake) – Tine
5. Cabidela (Blood Stew) – Mombojo
6. Erectuos Cactus – Cabruera
7. The Poor Man With a Golden Grill – Cidadao Instigad
 8. Maroca – Mundo Livre S/A
9. The Carimbo/Coco Assassins – Nacao Zumbi
10. Happy Moment – Vates E Violas
11. Good Friends – Junio Barreto
12. One Wrong Move, And I’ll Be Up the Creek – Wado E Realismo Fantastico
13. Earthen Poetry – Alex Sant’Anna


For anyone familiar with Brazilian music, ‘hybrid’ is as crucial an adjective as ‘infectious.’ After all, Brazilians have been the quintessential postmodern musicians unearthing, exploring (even eating!) eccentric sounds both localand global. The tracks on this album are cosmopolitan and cutting edge, and along with their electronic sophistication, they also hint at some primordial flare, a pumping vein straight out of the Brazilian northeast city of Recife inthe Northeast state of Pernambuco.

Still called the Brazilian Venice, Recife – the capital of Pernambuco – was a Dutch stronghold along the Northeastern coast of Brazil, built up in the sixteenth century on layers of ecological and political contradictions. At the confluence of six rivers and the sea, the region’s capitol became a trading center, building up and over the rich delta mangroves. Over the centuries, it was steeped in a diverse history of social, racial, and rhythmic traditions. The music you’re listening to was spawned and nourished in the thick muck of the mangue swamp. As the metaphorical epicenter of a colossal cultural movement, just over a decade old, it has changed the musical landscape of Brazil forever.

In the 1980s, while urban centers of the south like Sao Paulo, Brasília and Rio were inundated with Brazil’s homegrown rock movement, Recife didn’t have much of a music scene at all. It was a colonial relic plagued with inequality and poverty, with the infamous distinction of being named ‘fourth worst city in the world to live in’ by a population studies institute in Washington, D.C. Its economy resembled the brackish, stagnant water all around it that was slowly being converted to dumping grounds and stilted shantytowns. The response to this ecological, cultural and industrial degradation? 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. To appropriate the biological process of organic exchange into the cultural realm. To use the mangue swamp as a space for excavating traditional sounds and for receiving satellite transmissions from across the world… to celebrate hybridity. Their music? An explosion of punk-rock-funk-rapelectronic sound, infused with the maracatu, coco, ciranda and embolada rhythmic traditions of the rural northeast. The marketing? Revolutionary.

One of the things that set this music scene apart from the rest from the very beginning has been its vibrant ‘live’ aspect. Starting with AbrilProRock in 1993, concert organizers like Paulo André have truly taken advantage of the*satellite* icon of the mangue movement and have brought Recife’s sound into venues all over the world.

Just over a decade later, the mangue scene has seen a lot of talent and a lot of change. After an extraordinary ramp-up at shows like AbrilProRock, RecBeat, Central Park’s SummerStage and festivals all over the world, Chico Science became the world’s mangueboy, only to die in a tragic car crash at the height of his career. His band Nação Zumbi continues to perpetuate his memory and his ‘alchemy of sounds.’

Over time, the Pernambuco scene has prospered and grown even more, with many more mangueboys and manguegirls emerging from the state’s rural and coastal towns, mixing new and old flavors into that thick mangue stew of sound. Whereas Chico Science emphasized the combination of local rhythms with global sounds of punk and hip-hop, Fred Zero-Four preferred a punk blend. Now, contemporary bands are experimenting with even more diverse genres of music like electronica, techno, and sampling other Northeastern traditions like embolada and rhythmic poetry jams.

Above all, it’s important to recognize the social element of this music. Not only did the mangue manifesto start a new era of social activism in local culture, the Pernambuco scene is still one driven by lively stage performances and personal flair (not necessarily by cd sales). You’d be hard pressed to find all of the original cd’s from this compilation, – even in downtown Recife – but spend a few weeks taking in Recife Antigo ( Old Recife ) nightlife and you’re likely to hear every band on this compilation headlining one event or another. Their fans understand that music is a way of relating to one another and is best served to large, loud audiences. More so than any other city in the Brazilian Northeast, Recife is firmly planted in tradition and modernity, a true global metropolis. Stroll downtown on a Tuesday evening and you’ll literally have to squeeze between hundreds and thousands of youth dressed in their interpretation of urban panache (from chained leather belts to pink daisies, from neck piercings to jungle face paint, from polyester to flannel) and out celebrating. Take your pick from over ten genres of hybrid music. There is no dresscode. Feel free to partake in any and all shows, no matter what your exterior symbolism seems to say. ItÂ’s a true free-for-all! What’s Happening in Pernambuco ought to be happening everywhere.


The diverse percussive layers that pulse out of Pernambuco’s new sound have steeped over centuries in its social history.

Starting in the mid-1500s and continuing even into the mid-1900s (well past the official abolition date of 1888), Recife and neighboring towns received hundreds of thousands of African slaves, destined for work on the sugarcane fields or along urban streets as vendors of assorted goods. One detail (though often inaccurate) in the records of slave traders and buyers was the classification of the Africans by ethnicity, usually determined simply by their port of origin. Thus slaves were grouped into various ‘nations’ from all along the West Coast of Africa.

Within each of the ‘nations’ of Africans, the Portuguese created a hierarchical system of colonial control, in which a select few Africans were appointed King and Queen. They and their retinue would enforce local law among their group members. The procession to honor these highly ranked slaves, called the Institution of the King of Congo, was an interesting syncretism of African call-and-response music and improvised dance and European dress codes and pomp. Maracatu is the music of these symbolic cornation festivities – an elegant and elaborate dance procession driven by bombo bass drums and snares, and punctuated by a gongu bell and beaded gourd or shaker. It is also the music of resistance and of subversion. What is clear is that, like other Afro-Brazilian innovations, the slaves grew to identify maracatu not as a political tool of the authorities but as a baseline for their own culture and history.

Because the nations themselves were integrated with Afro-Brazilian religious expression (another legacy of the slaveholders), thematic content of the maracatu music often celebrated the orixs, or deities, and much of the singing was done in Portuguese mixed with African expressions or references. Over time, this urban musical tradition (called maracatu de baque virado or ‘turned beat’ maracatu by its artists) developed a rural counterpart (called maracatu de baque solto or ‘loose beat’ maracatu), which added brass instruments and decreased syncopation for a decidedly more ‘marching band’ effect.

Later, the maracatu processions that snaked around often steep and narrow cobbled streets appeared amidst the yearly carnival celebrations, they had begun to crystalize in the tidy category of ‘folklorico.’ Though the resonant sound of thick sticks chomping down on cowskin bass drums remained a familiar one for all Pernambucanos, the groups ( or nations ) were losing their young audience base. That is, until Chico Science donned Ray-Ban shades and a local fisherman’s hat and created mangue, revamping and energizing Pernambuco’s traditions for a new generation. Young audiences in Recife and the surrounding areas surprised even themselves when they discovered generations of choreography stored in their cultural memory. They were suddenly able to trip through the frenetic movements of the nations’ maracatu adding their own passions for more modern musical discoveries.

Yes, mangue was a fertile movement that created full-fledged hybridity and laid down a whole other layer to Pernambuco’s already thick swamp of palatable rhythms. And each subsequent generation of creative sludgemakes for a better mangue mix. — Megwen Loveless