The 'Mangroove' of Pernambuco, Brazil
By: Frederick Moehn
Jul 28, 2000
Besides lots of great music, Central Park Summerstage also programs informative lectures in conjunction with certain events. Preceding the scheduled performance of the band, Nação Zumbi (Zumbi Nation) on July 15th, ethnomusicologist Philip Galinsky gave a presentation entitled, "Have you heard the Mangue Beat?" It was pouring rain that day, but a number of Brazilian music fans made it to the talk, which took place indoors, in the Armory of Central Park. After the lecture, several of us approached the stage area to see if the show would go on, but no one was in the park in that downpour. Instead, the Summerstage staff was trying to find a spot in the city for Nação Zumbi to perform that night. Lucky for us, the show eventually went off at the club, Sounds of Brazil, also known as S.O.B.'s, on Varick Street.
If you haven't heard the Mangue Beat, you're missing out on an invigorating mixture of traditional Brazilian rhythms with hip hop and rock. Mangue Beat is considered a "movement" in Brazil, complete with a manifesto or two. In fact, it is more of an attitude shared by a number of bands coming out of the state, Pernambuco, in the northeast of the country. That attitude includes mixing the local with the global, traditional with modern, technological with manual; the result is hybridity and funk, groove at all times. The name of the band refers to Zumbi, a leader of a runaway slave colony deep in the interior of Pernambuco. The colony, Palmares, was founded in the early 1600s and survived three-quarters of a century as a fully autonomous society before the Brazilian army (that is, the Portuguese colonial army) finally wiped it out. Zumbi is thus a symbol of resistance to oppression, and signifies an affinity with Afro-Brazilian (and Afro-American and African) values and aesthetics.
Sugar cane plantations once sustained modest fortunes in Pernambuco, but today much of the population lives in poverty. In spite of this, the state's capital, Recife, has been a hot bed of new music in the past decade. A coastal city, Recife is crossed by estuaries, leading into and out of mangrove swamps near the sea. "Mangue," (pronounced, mang-gee, with a glottal "g" on the second syllable, rather than a soft "g") refers to these mangrove thickets. The mangrove marshes are an ecologist's paradise; they support an incredibly varied wildlife, especially fish and birds, but also crabs. Thus it is that Chico Science and friends-the original proponents of the Mangue Beat, composed the "Crabs with Brains Manifesto" (Manifesto Caranguejos com Cérebro). Chico Science was the leader of the Mangue "movement," as well as the lead singer and frontman of the Nação Zumbi band, until his death in a car accident in 1997. He is still invoked by Brazilians as an icon of the new hybrid grooves emerging from the northeast and attracting increasing attention worldwide. The band, for their part, continued to perform without its charismatic leader, and now they have released a CD entitled Rádio S.AMB.A. I have not yet received a review copy of the recording, but I liked what I heard at S.O.B.'s.
The program opened with the samba/funk/soul group, Funk 'n' Lata, from Rio de Janeiro, fronted by Ivo Meireles. This band is made up primarily of musicians from the "Morro da Mangueira," a favela (hillside shantytown) in the "North Zone" of the city. Mangueira is home to one of the oldest and most revered samba schools of Rio: Estação Primeira da Mangueira. Meireles's band incorporate the influence of samba into pop arrangements of an eclectic repertoire that includes songs from James Brown ("I Feel Good") and Carlinhos Brown (from Salvador, in Brazil) among others, as well as original material. Brazilian singer and now New York resident, Barbara Mendes, shared the stage with Meireles for a number. The mood was festive and the crowd was dancing up a storm.
Funk 'n' Lata ceded one of their sets to Nação Zumbi. If the audience was dancing, gabbing and laughing during the first group, now everyone squeezed near the stage to pay close attention. Nação Zumbi's sound is polished, yet they were able to incorporate guitar noises from guest Arto Lindsay on a couple songs, and a guest rap or two, without losing the focus of their Mangue-energy. Hard core fans were singing, shouting and rapping the lyrics as if each song was a manifesto. Underneath it all was the pulsing hybrid groove that mixes the local maracatú or côco rhythms -- played on zabumbas, caixas, surdos, or ganzás -- with accents of hip hop and Afro-pop. Deftly played Fender bass and a minimalist drum kit provided the glue; electric guitar filled out the harmony and provided penetrating rock riffs through an overdriven Marshall amplifier. The singers/rappers of the group mixed the traditional poetic song-chant of the Brazilian northeast -- embolada -- with urban-based New York-style rap, to excellent effect. Other vocals owed much to post-punk.
At 2:30 AM, as is customary on Saturday night at S.O.B.'s, the Manhattan Samba Group, directed by Ivo Araújo congregated on the dance floor to lay down some pure bateria -- just samba percussion until the crowd could no longer dance.
Because of the rained-out show, the Summerstage promoters have arranged a second performance Nação Zumbi on July 26th at CBGB's, at midnight. After that, you won't likely get a chance to see the group live in New York soon, but you can check out their new CD, or any of the Chico Science & Nação Zumbi CDs, if you can find them. Word is that Sony is discontinuing distribution of the older CDs here in the US, but I can't confirm that. Certain mail-order companies can probably get a hold of them. For more on Mangue Beat, see the web-site www.Manguenius.com.br, and stay tuned to 'LA'Ritmo.com for updates and reviews.