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Music From the Mangroves: A Mangue Bit Primer

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In our program, “Crabs With Brains: The Mangue Revolution and New Sounds of Recife,” we explore the history of the mangue movement, which transformed Recife, the capital of Pernambuco in Brazil’s northeast, from one of the world’s most poverty-stricken cities into one of the most culturally vibrant cities in Brazil. To help you dig deeper into the mud of Recife, here are five videos from some of mangue’s greatest innovators.

Chico Science and Nação Zumbi: “A Cidade”

Chico Science was mangue’s greatest star, a man who became a hero in Recife during his life and a legend after he died in a car accident in 1997. In the early ’90s, he began using the word mangue, meaning “mangrove,” to describe the music he was making: a mix of ragamuffin, hip-hop and funk, with  embolada, maracatu and other traditional styles from Pernambuco. The word is a metaphor connecting the hugely diverse ecosystem of Recife with its equally diverse culture. “A Cidade” comes from De Lama ao Caos, Chico’s debut album with his band Nação Zumbi. In 1994, Chico spoke to Afropop about the song’s video:

“The video shows the poor parts of the city with the band playing. And then there is a graphic that tells a little story. There is a crab that comes into the city. He’s looking at the city and in his eyes you can see all the buildings. Then he sees two men killing a street boy, exterminating him, which is very common in our city. Little street boys. The crab sees the men throwing the little boy into the river. So the crab goes to the river and he eats the rest of the animals and the rest of the fish and everything. So the boy’s little brain comes out in the river, and the crab goes there and eats and other crabs come and eat. There are eight of them and they become the eight members of the band. They are the crabmen. They call themselves the crabmen: crabs with brains.”

Mundo Livre S/A: “Manguebit”

Mundo Livre S/A (Free World Ltd. in English) is one of the two original mangue groups with Chico Science and Nação Zumbi. Their style is much more influenced by punk and samba than Nação Zumbi’s, but they are equally connected to the creation of the movement. The band’s leader, Fred Zero Quatro, wrote the mangue manifesto, Caranguejos com Cérebro or “Crabs with Brains” in 1991. The manifesto’s title positions mangueboys and manguegirls as people who are deeply immersed in their environment (like the crabs that live in the city’s mangroves), but are also able to transcend the dire poverty of the city by connecting with music and culture from around the world. The song “Manguebit” by Mundo Livre S/A is the origin of the term “mangue bit” or “mangue beat,” as the movement was sometimes called. The track was meant to connect the mangroves of Recife with modern technology, represented by the computer bit.

Mestre Ambrósio: “Vo Cabocla”

Mestre Ambrósio was not originally connected with mangue, but they were like-minded in their approach to mixing traditions with rock and other international styles. The band’s lead singer, Siba, who also plays guitar and rabeca, is still a major part of the music scene in Recife. In 2013, he put out the excellent Avante, which mixes Congolese guitar influences with rock, while remaining strongly ingrained in Northeastern styles like maracatu and ciranda.

Chico Science and Nação Zumbi: “Maracatu Atômico”

Originally written by Nelson Jacobina and Jorge Mautner, “Maracatu Atômico” was also covered by Gilberto Gil on his 1974 album Cidade do Salvador. Gil’s version, however, lacked the actual rhythm of maracatu. Chico reclaimed the song for Pernambuco, the birthplace of the style, on Afrociberdelia, the last album released before his death. Chico also samples from Gil, one of his heroes, on the track “Macô” from the same album.

Cascabulho: “Vendedor de Amendoim”

One of the dozens (if not hundreds) of bands that formed in the wake of Chico Science’s success, Cascabulho was inspired in particular by Jackson do Pandeiro, the master of Northeastern genres like baião, forró and coco, who was also invoked in the “Crabs with Brains” manifesto. Cascabulho’s debut album, Fome Dá Dor de Cabeça, wasn’t released until after Chico’s death in 1997. Rather than dying with Chico, mangue only grew stronger in the years that followed his tragic car crash.

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