Mangue Bit: A Music Movement with National Impact
Brazil, run by a military regime for over 20 years, eventually returned to democracy. The first major music event that followed was Rock in Rio in 1985. The ten day festival of national and international Rock, attended by a predominantly white middle class audience from the south, highlighted the racial, social, cultural and economic divisions of the country.
At this time Recife, the capital of the northeast state of Pernambuco, was in a bad economic state and there was not much happening on the music scene. As DJ Dolores recalls, “There was a serious problem because nothing was going on in the city. We didn´t have the money to leave and we had the dilemma of whether to try to move away, or to change the city. We had to do something, so a group of friends created the ´Mangue Bit´ scene. We began to organize parties. The first ones were in the docks area of Recife. At the time it was a shady district. There was nothing there at night, except for prostitutes, sailors and tramps. But there were some incredible places for parties that were cheap to hire. We played new music, radical music, anything …. hip hop, rock, the first electronic tracks we could lay our hands on. So, it was very different music to what you´d hear on TV and radio. The people that came to these parties ended up forming bands together.”
Chico Science is credited as being the leader of the Mangue Bit movement. Along with his band, Nação Zumbi he transformed Maracatu, a traditional rhythm of the northeast, with its roots in the days of slavery on sugar plantations. Naçao Zumbi was named after Zumbi, the last leader of a community of runaway slaves of the 17th Century.
Chico and the band re-worked traditional Maracatu for the 90´s, mixing it with hip hop, rock and electronic sounds. In a 1994 interview Chico (born Franciso de Asis Franca in 1966) said, “The beat was a thing we created. The idea was to take regional rhythms and add to them….creating a new dimension, a new vision, with all the baggage of global pop. Mangue boys have their antennae out to the world mixing the regional and the universal and making the Mangue Bit.”
As a boy Chico would collect crabs from the mud of the mangroves to sell. The same crabs became a symbol of the Mangue Bit movement, and the Mangrove (Mangue in Portuguese) is incorporated in the name. Bit refers to computer bit, a reference to the electronic influence in the style. More commonly, but incorrectly, the movement is often referred to as Mangue Beat.
The movement was established around 1991, and in 1992 singer Fred 04 wrote it´s manifesto, Crabs with Brains (Caranguejos com Cérebro).
One of the characteristics of the movement was that every artist had their own style. Singer and composer Lenine said, “Mangue Bit is not a movement as such, it is a movement of people. There was never an aesthetic unity binding the factions together. Mangue Bit is a wonderful movement because it celebrates differences.”
Along with Chico Science and Fred Zero Quatro, the third key figure in the Mangue Bit movement was Siba, leader of the band Mestre Ambrosio. Siba became a specialist in the Maracatu contests in which different groups used improvised poetry to discuss current affairs, challenge the skills of their rivals and brag about their own prowess, much as in hip hop.
Mangue Bit transformed Recife´s view of itself, and of the culture of the state. It´s influence was felt nationwide too. Paulo Andre, (Former Manager of Chico Science and Nação Zumbi), says, “They changed Recife, they changed Pernambuco, and they also changed Brazil. Chico Science and Nação Zumbi opened up doors for a new generation of Brazilian brands who were not Samba or Bossa Nova bands.”
In 1997 the Mangue Bit Movement lost a leader when Chico Science died in a car crash at the age of 30, but the movement lived on and evolved. Chico´s former band Nação Zumbi survives and several other artists of the era also have successful music careers. They include bands and artists like Lenine, Siba, DJ Dolores and Fred 04 of Mundo Livre.
Each of these artists will be profiled on Recife Guide in the coming weeks. In the meantime you can see some other Youtube clips of Chico Science.
A clip from the English documentary series makes great viewing:
The author gratefully acknowledges the many sources that were consulted in the writing of this article. While they provide the foundation, the interpretation and opinion are entirely those of the author.
Paul Barnett is Founder of Recife Guide.