Hybridism and Carnivalization in the Mangroves

Michele Nascimento Kettner

Mikhail Bakhtin indicated the images of Carnival as an ambivalent environment where the reversals of moral and logical expectations occurred through the presentation of the grotesque. The process of carnivalization was developed by Bakhtin with an intrinsic transformational character, as he defined it as: “a feast of becoming, change and renewal” (10). During Carnival, the poor become kings and queens, rogues become princes and, therefore, the hierarchical structure of society is altered through laughter and mockery. One can wonder: what would be the consequences of bringing carnivalization to a period outside of Carnival? In other words: what if Carnival’s hierarchical subversion represented by its folkloric manifestations was brought to society’s everyday life? This phenomenon occurred in the Brazilian musical scene in the ’90s and sparked the extension of the carnivalization process culminating into a permanent change in the social and cultural scenario of Pernambuco, Brazil. This process was majorly propelled by the hybrid and globalized approach to culture of the Mangue Beat movement.

Chico Science Graffiti


Mangue Beat (or Mangue Bit) was a cultural movement that arose in the beginning of the ’90s in Recife, Pernambuco. The movement was created by Chico Science of Nação Zumbi, Fred Zero Quatro (Fred 04) of Mundo Livre S/A, and DJ-journalist Renato L. The anthropophagic notion of culture defended by Oswald de Andrade at the beginning of the twentieth century was put into practice by Mangue Beat on a regional level. Andrade defended the construction of Brazilian culture through a cannibalistic perspective, where the cultural agents assimilate and “eat” the elements of a foreign culture digesting it into their unique national art. The digestion of foreign culture into a national product in this case was only possible through the acceptance that the local culture, music, and folkloric manifestations were not consumed by the local market beyond the Carnival period. At this time and predominantly throughout the ’80s the music scene of Pernambuco was dominated mostly by foreign artists.  Mangue Beat’s hybrid characteristic brought the music that was only consumed during Carnival and was majorly restricted to the marginalized Afro-descendant part of society to the perennial musical scene of Pernambuco. This movement would bring a new way of understanding the foreign product by presenting “the other,” mostly regarded as the model to be copied, as an equal to the regional cultural products.

In Mangue Beat, the hybridism between local and global influences promoted fusions of traditional local rhythms such as maracatu, embolada, ciranda, and coco with worldly-known rhythms (rock, punk, rap, psychedelic rock, heavy metal, soul, ragamuffin, etc.). García Caclini explains how the constitutive process of modernity is usually based on a Manichaean juxtaposition where the modern is identified as cultured and hegemonic and the traditional with the popular and subaltern. In one of the lyrics of the Mangue Beat movement, they declare that they had “Pernambuco below their feet, but their minds in the immensity of the world.” Mangue Beat musicians promoted the encounter of cultures regarded with such different statuses (foreign/modern and local/subaltern), leading to profound changes in the cultural scene of the state of Pernambuco and, consequently, to a more complex idea of traditional and popular music.

Interestingly, the path that led to the encounter of these two cultures apparently followed a very unusual direction: from global to local. Although Mangue Beat was a movement originated from a collective elaboration, most of the attention was centered on the name of Chico Science, the leader of Nação Zumbi. Chico Science was born Francisco de Assis França to be later baptized as “Science” by Renato L. In the mid ’80s Chico was part of Legião Hip Hop (Hip Hop Legion), a break dance group very much influenced by North American black music. Later on he started his first band called Orla Orbe that mixed elements of American funk and soul. Black music from the United States was also fundamental in the concept of his following band Loustal, named after Jacques de Loustal, a French comics artist whom Chico admired. While working as a civil servant, Chico met Bola Oito who introduced him to the percussion group Lamento Negro and, consequently, Daruê Malungo, a group/school led by Mestre Meia-Noite that worked with regional folkloric styles. At Daruê Malungo Chico had the opportunity to establish an in-depth relationship with the folkloric sounds of Recife that he had grown up with, but were never played by the radio stations.

Maureliano Ribeiro da Silva worked at Daruê Malungo and was one of the most important bridges between Chico’s rock sound and his experiments with local music. In one interview with Maureliano Silva, who nowadays makes his living primarily as a drum maker, he gave us a nonchalant explanation on how he was fundamentally responsible for the sounds that Chico Science made famous by conceptualizing the adaptation of horn sounds from James Brown’s band to the drums of Maracatu (Afro-Brazilian folkloric local rhythm from Pernambuco). Under the cloak of modern/global, the popular and folkloric music started to be consumed by middle-class people in Pernambuco.

Thus, the modern component of Mangue Beat was vital to the inclusion of local culture within the musical market. In the manifesto written by musician Fred Zero Quatro and journalist Renato L. and distributed to the Brazilian Press in 1991, the movement declared that their symbolic images were a parabolic antenna placed in the mud and a crab remixing ÁNTHENA by Kraftwerk (a Euro-tech group) on the computer. In the “Manifesto Mangue,” titled Caranguejos Com Cérebro (Crabs with Brains), global and modern elements are connected to the local culture (metaphorically represented by the mangroves). The manifesto explores the geographical biodiversity of Recife- a city constructed on the fertile/diverse ecosystem of mangroves- as a symbol for culture diversity as well as a reference to the serious social economical problems of this city, which had been considered by an American institution as one of the worst places to live in the world. Fred Zero Quatro was inspired by the concepts of Josué de Castro who wrote about his own experience growing up in the palafittes of Recife and compared the poor men that live near the mangroves of Recife to crabs in order to discuss underdevelopment, hunger, demographic growth and environmental problems. Much influenced by Josué de Castro’s ideas, Fred Zero Quatro intertwined musical concepts with geographical and sociological considerations; however in Fred’s opinion, technology and global influence could affect social behaviors positively and needed to be used to people’s advantage. The Manifesto urges the participants of the movement (“mangueboys” and “manguegirls”) to inject energy into the mud to stimulate the remaining fertility of Recife and prevent its death by connecting it to the “world network.” In the liner notes of the groundbreaking CD Da Lama ao Caos (From Mud to Chaos) released in 1994 by Chico Science and Nação Zumbi you can find the rest of the manifesto reiterating the different sources, concerns, and interest of the Mangue Beat leaders:

“Mangueboys and Manguegirls are individuals interested in charts, interactive TV, anti-psychiatry, Bezerra da Silva, Hip Hop, midiotia [a neologism that plays on the words “media” and “idiocy”], artism, street, music, John Coltrane, chance, non-virtual sex, ethnic conflicts, and all the advances of the chemical applied in the terrain of the alteration/expansion of consciousness.”

The manifesto shows how the “mangueboys” were in tune with all of the diverse expressions of art as well as social and political issues from the different parts of the globe. This globalized perspective present in the conception of the movement coincided with a different panorama in terms of musical distribution at that time. Appadurai defines globalization as “…inextricably linked to the current workings of capital on a global basis…and as a definite marker of a new crisis to the sovereignty of nation-states even if there is no consensus on the core of this crisis or its generality and finality”(4).

Taking into account music as a product in a globalized world, it is reasonable to say that Mangue Beat presented an attractive and commercial product to the national and international music market. Mangue Beat presented a unique product that was “Brazilian” enough to be exported and familiar enough not to be label as merely ‘exotic.’ Journalist José Telles in his book Do Frevo ao Mangue Beat makes a fundamental assertion about the distinction between the Mangue Beat movement and other musical Brazilian movements that dealt with the blending of influences such the Tropicalism in the ’70s. Telles asserts that while Tropicalism was a superposition of types of music, Mangue Beat created a type of music on its own, a genre.

Indeed the Mangue Beat fomented the arousal of different groups around the world that were inspired by their fusions. The inclusion of the new genre brought regional music to a different and more globalized status. In 1993, in the first edition of Abril Pro Rock (an important rock festival in Recife), for the first time in Recife it was possible to see a group playing folkloric music at a rock festival. The name of the group was Maracatu Nação Pernambuco but they were not quite a traditional Maracatu folkloric group. Differently from the traditional Maracatu Nação groups, the tie to the Afro-Brazilian candomblé religion was not a prerogative to their existence. Although they are often seen as a misleading representation of a traditional maracatu group, Nação Pernambuco along with the Mangue Beat movement were partially responsible for the inclusion of folkloric musicians within the non-carnivalesque music business. Maracatu (the flagship for the rhythms used in Chico’s fusion) was marginalized to the poor communities of the city predominantly inhabited by Afro-Brazilians. The Maracatu Nations had (and still do) a deep connection with the candomblé religion and suffered governmental and social persecution for centuries.

When Mangue Beat came onto the music scene, the Maracatu folkloric groups only paraded during Carnival time, a period in which subversion allows for the acceptance of more marginalized identities.  In 2002 the once-marginalized Maracatu folkloric groups started to become the protagonists of the Opening Ceremony of Carnival in Recife and gradually were invited to play at various events throughout the year. Some Maracatu Nação groups have already recorded CDs and also have been able to perform and give workshops all over Brazil and Europe. Nowadays, new percussion groups based on Maracatu rhythms have arisen throughout Brazil, Europe and the United States, and Maracatu has been consolidated as a symbolic figure of Pernambuco’s diversity (characteristic of Pernambuco’s cultural scene and much exploited as a slogan to foment tourism in the state). Therefore, Maracatu folkloric groups have been able to reach out to people beyond regional and national boundaries due mostly to the process of transnationalization of the symbolic cultural market initiated by the Mangue Beat movement. The combination of the computer and the mangrove engendered ‘world nets’ capable of promoting “global cultural flows” (Appadurai) and reconfiguring the way people from Recife perceive global and regional elements. Philip Galinsky defined Mangue Beat as a post-modern expression where the past and present, rap and embolada, raggamuffin and maracatu are not fixed structures and we can choose our own relation to each element. Galinsky uses the lyrics of “Monólogo Ao Pé do Ouvido” as an example to illustrate this new perspective on the relationship between the past and present. Chico Science recited this text in the opening track of Da Lama Ao Chaos over the sound of traditional drums from maracatu and an electronic sound that simulated a berimbau (an instrument used in the Afro-Brazilian martial art, capoeira). Chico Science proclaimed in the lyrics: “Modernizing the past is a musical evolution…the Collective man feels the necessity to fight…Viva Zapata! Viva Sandino! Viva Zumbi! Antônio Conselheiro! All the Black Panthers…”

The musical evolution and its relationship with the past are deeply connected with the transformations of social agents. Invoking the names of national and international revolutionary figures is not only a statement on the similarities that unify different people from all over the world, but also a clamor for a change in perspective by its contemporary human beings. This clamor for change was not a peripheral aspect in the ideology of the group considering that Chico Science named his own band after Zumbi dos Palmares, an important black leader that founded a community of “fugitive” slaves in the northeast of Brazil.

Although since the beginning of the 2oth century Pernambucan anthropologist Gilberto Freyre has strongly posed the relevance of African legacy to Brazilian culture, the proclaimed existence of “racial harmony” in Brazil was far from being part of reality. Indeed, the perception of Pernambucan society about its own rhythms and racial/cultural constitution has changed. It doesn’t mean that the racism against the Afro-Brazilian poor communities no longer exists; however the music of these communities penetrated a musical market and social spheres that it had need been able to enter before.

The movement’s ideology acquired such a wide spectrum of influence in society mostly because it was not restricted to the lyrics and sounds of their songs. Mangue Beat’s musical hybridism, represented on stage by the coexistence of maracatu drums and electric guitars, was extended to Chico Science’s performative style, language, and clothing. Chico was responsible for making the combination of perfectly common straw hats (usually worn by fishermen in Recife) with hip sunglasses, lyrics with regional expressions and modern neologisms, as well as the use of hip hop mannerisms while executing regional folkloric dance steps. Hence, Chico promoted not only a new language in music but also showed people from his state how it was entirely possible to be regional and modern at the same time.

Since Chico Science’s premature death in a car accident in 1997, the leader of Mangue Beat has almost acquired the status of a myth that has helped to positively boost Pernambuco’s music scene at a time when the music business was dominated mostly by foreign artists. His name was adopted for a tunnel in Recife, a swamp in Olinda, and he was one of the few non-carnivalesque musicians to be paid homage during Recife’s Carnival. Chico Science made natural the presence of folkloric art in local rock festivals in Recife; moreover, the Mangue Beat movement put Pernambuco on the world music map. Chico Science and Nação Zumbi performed at the Summer Stage New York in Central Park in 1995 opening a show for Gilberto Gil, toured Europe, and amassed followers in different continents. The existence of groups such as Tejo Beat of Portugal, Bloco Vomit in Scotland or Nation Beat in the US prove to us that Chico’s legacy has reached beyond the mangroves’ frontiers to reconfigure society and its perception about culture and regional identity. The extension of the carnivalization process beyond Carnival time was one of the most pungent and fortunate consequences of the Mangue Beat movement. Using a hybrid and globalized approach to culture, Mangue Beat fostered the development of the “new musical scene” (nova cena musical) of Recife, where many different local bands flourished and the folkloric Afro-Brazilian groups were not perceived as the remains of an extinguished social structure (García Canclini, 149) but instead as cultural agents in the present.

Works Cited

Appadurai, Arjun.  Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His Worlds. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968.

Castro, Josué de. Geography of Hunger. Rio de Janeiro: O Cruzeiro, 1946.

Freyre, Gilberto. Casa Grande e Senzala. Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo: Record, 2002.

Galinsky, Philip. Maracatu Atômico. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.

Garcia Canclini, Néstor. Hybrid Cultures. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.

Matta, Roberto. Carnavais, Malandros e Heróis. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1980.

Telles, José. Do Frevo ao MangueBeat. São Paulo. Editora 34, 2000.


Michele Nascimento-Kettner is a Ph.D. candidate (ABD) writing her dissertation on Transnational Regionalism in Latin America. She is a researcher of the literature and culture of Latin America and, first and foremost, a literary scholar who believes in interdisciplinary dialogues.  Nascimento-Kettner is originally from Pernambuco, Brazil, and has been working on the co-authorship of the book Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion which will be published in 2012.

  1. Yulika said:

    Very good writting! Easy reading, complete, interesting, informing… good stuff!
    I`m a big fan of mangue bit, Mundo Livre and Nacao, even without mestre Chico. Viva a musica e o mangue, viva o Brasil e o mundo!

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