Manguebeat: the scene, Recife and the world

Willem de Kooning, de Kooning, 1965


Comment on the recently published book by Luciana Mendonça.

Think of a person who is deeply involved with the music of his generation, to the point of transforming it into the central motive of his academic career. This is Luciana Mendonça, who published this essay in 2020 on the manguebeat, the musical movement born in Recife that became one of the most influential cultural currents of the 1990s.

Appearing as a doctoral thesis by Unicamp, in 2004, the work was extended with the follow-up of the mangrove scene (an expression dear to the author) and ended up generating a detailed analysis of the cultural, ethical, political and aesthetic impact caused by the group of Chico Science and Fred Zeroquatro, at the head of the founding bands Nação Zumbi and Mundo Livre S/A.

Fulfilling the academic rite, the book is guided by a set of sociological references that give ammunition to the debate on cultural industry, massification, national identity, popular culture and modernity. Authors such as Adorno, Benjamin, Eco, Canclini, Hobsbawm and, mainly, Bordieu and Stuart Hall, base their arguments on culture and market, national and foreign, erudite and popular, authentic music and world music.

Luciana skilfully combines these theorists with Brazilian researchers who have studied popular music. There are questions from Tinhorão, Suassuna, Vianna, Sandroni (author of the preface), Wisnick and others, along with “hot” material from dozens of articles, interviews, essays and manifestos, many arising from the movement itself.

The author moved to Recife, and today she is professor of sociology and post-graduation in music at UFPE. But beware: she is not a musicologist, but a master in social anthropology, who studies the sociocultural impact of the so-called manguebeat about Pernambuco, approaching themes such as the revaluation of folklore, social projects, dance, fashion and the redefinition of spaces for cultural experience in the city of Recife.

Let's not expect analysis of compositions, musical structure or melodic and harmonic elements. Here popular music is treated as a social product, a phenomenon of identity bias capable of carrying impactful and motivating messages. Or, in other scenarios, as an anesthetizer of conflicts and makeup artist of reality.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book is when comparisons of the movement are raised and discussed. mango to axé music baiana, analyzing the old rivalry Recife x Salvador. The social impact of Olodum, which introduced a new aesthetic, created its own market and boosted Bahian music, transforming it into a project with several aspects, led to comparisons with mangrove scene, often inappropriate. The main difference is the strong component of racial identity in the Bahian movement, which values ​​black culture.

The “crabs of the mud” bet on mixing, on miscegenation, on the search for elements of world pop music (rock, rap, reggae and others), on a percussive basis originating from maracatus. But that's not all: the author's research incorporates musicians as diverse as punk-rock worshipers from Alto José do Pinho (mainly the Devotos), rabequeiro Siba and the band Mestre Ambrósio, cirandeira Lia de Itamaracá, DJ Dolores or later Mombojó and Cascabulho. Luciana Mendonça notes that the mangrove scene created conditions for the coexistence of all these branches, bringing them together in festivals such as Rec-Beat, which takes place during Carnival.

One of the tastiest chapters addresses the conflicting relationships between the Armorial movement, led by Ariano Suassuna, and the mangroves. Tradition versus modernity? Erudite vs popular? Suassuna himself, during his period as culture secretary of Recife (1994/98), established dialogues and created some conditions (funds) for the mangueboys. However, in public he always gave acid statements against the mixtures promoted by Chico Science and Zeroquatro. But at Chico's wake (1997) he was there, contrite, shedding his tears for the young catalyst of creative energies.

Contradictory? Of course, but as the author of the study rightly underlines, the Pernambuco cultural panorama is full of contradictions. To a certain extent, it seems to demonstrate that contradictions are the very engine of transformation, as sparks arise from the friction of ideas that can generate a new combustion.

We can draw parallels between the Pernambuco case and other Brazilian scenarios: traditional samba x pagode, samba schools x MPB, country music x sertanejo, invention x tradition. From choro to pop, from bossa nova to jazz, innovations never emerged without overcoming various ideological, social and financial obstacles. But few times will we see these conflicts exposed in such a conscious and detailed way as in this book, which is already fundamental for the study of our popular music and its transformations.

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


Luciana Mendonca. Manguebeat: the scene, Recife and the world. Curitiba, Appris, 2021, 314 pages.


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