Chico Science é o nosso Bob Marley.—
Ele rapidamente se deixou convencer por essa ideia que a gente elaborou juntos, de que o mangue era um troço que poderia gerar muito mais do que só uma nova formulação musical.—
In the mid-1990s, the Northeastern Brazilian metropolis of Recife witnessed an unprecedented and unexpected moment of cultural rebirth known as manguebeat, named for the vast mangrove swamps upon which the city was built (Vargas 2007, 78–79; Perrone and Dunn 2001, 29). The movimento mangue (mangrove swamp movement), as it was often called, not only sparked a revival of local expressions of popular music and culture, such as maracatu, ciranda, embolada, coco, repente, and pastoril, it had a tremendous impact on music throughout Brazil in various genres and attained considerable renown internationally (Abramo 1996; Pareles 1997; Avelar and Dunn 2011).3 Though the movement had reverberations in the film, theater, art, and literature of the region, it unfolded primarily in music, fueled by the publication of a manifesto containing the ideas of its leading figures, especially Chico Science (Francisco de Assis França) and Fred Zero Quatro (born Fred Rodrigues Montenegro). These ideas balanced creativity, individualism, and collectivism in equal measure, along with a strikingly relational philosophical bent—one I explore in this essay as “coexistentialism.”
The manifesto, titled “Caranguejos com cérebro” (Crabs with brains), was penned by Chico Science’s close friend and collaborator, Fred Zero Quatro, and published in the liner notes of the first major mangue album, Da lama ao caos (From mud to chaos), released in 1994 (Chico Science and Nação Zumbi 1994b).4 The album was by the band Chico Science e Nação Zumbi (Chico Science and the Zumbi Nation, hereafter written as CSNZ)—named after the revered popular hero and freedom fighter Zumbi, the last and greatest king of the Quilombo dos Palmares, a once flourishing fugitive slave settlement in seventeenth-century Brazil. The “Manifesto Mangue,” as the text is often called, along with the album’s song lyrics by Chico Science, proclaimed a provocative utopian vision of ecological renewal and social inclusion that blended regionally inflected Afro-Brazilian expressions of popular culture with international Afro-Atlantic musical influences and a remarkably communal notion of sustainable fun.
The “fun” of manguebeat, however, was hugely serious for its creators, living as they were in Recife in a moment in which it was considered the “fourth worst city in the world [quarta pior cidade do mundo].”5 Chico Science himself avowed, “It only counts if it’s fun taken seriously [Só vale com a diversão levada a sério]” (Vargas 2007, 105). Such urgency was because, on the far side of its funky groove, manguebeat was swamped in philosophical questions about which kinds of knowledge, power, and being served to exacerbate violence, inequality, and harm to the environment, and which could instead encourage greater peace and coexistence. Those same profound tensions animated the lyrics of the only other album released by the band during the short lifetime of Chico Science, Afrociberdelia, which came out in 1996 (Chico Science and Nação Zumbi 1996a)—as well as those of various others by groups associated with Recife’s mangue scene.
It’s been over twenty years since the death of Chico Science in a car accident at the height of manguebeat’s popularity, on February 2, 1997. Today, amid comparisons with Jamaican reggae legend and pacifist Bob Marley (like the one at the top of this essay), Chico Science has endured as the most celebrated figure of manguebeat. Indeed, since his death, innumerable musicians, journalists, critics, and academics have heralded the movement he helped bring about as one of the most significant developments in Brazilian music in recent decades. Some have compared it with the country’s famous tropicália of the late sixties/early seventies (Dunn 2001b, 88; Moehn 2001, 262–263). Others have gone even further, describing it as one of the most daring artistic visions of social justice ever articulated in Brazilian culture to date (Teles 2000, 10; Sneed 2016, 92–94). A leading scholar of contemporary Brazilian music recently remarked that manguebeat “has not simply been a renewal of the musical canon; it has been a major transformation in relations between music and politics in Brazil” (Avelar 2011, 321).6
Such claims are even more striking given the fact that, outside of Recife and the state of Pernambuco, Chico Science and mangue never gained the status of household words in Brazil among everyday people as did the musicians of its bossa nova or tropicália generations. My point in this essay, however, is not to canonize Chico Science or the other creators of mangue as musical “saints”—which they most certainly were not (indeed, such pretentiousness was quite antithetical to the mangue vibe).7 Instead, my goal is to peer beyond the issues of globalization, citizenship, and Afro-politics of the musical universe they created together in the regional, national, and even worldwide contexts to consider the broader philosophical questions animating manguebeat.
To frame my discussion of the coexistentialist nature of mangue, I turn to the thought of the Austrian-Jewish philosopher, writer, and educator Martin Buber (1878–1965), often considered the pioneer of relational philosophy, or the philosophy of dialogue. Of particular relevance is Buber’s thought regarding interpersonal “encounters” (Begegnung) and what he describes as a type of existence “with the whole being” that arises in them (Buber 2010, 3). Other aspects of Buber’s thought provide useful points of entry, as well, especially regarding his twofold view of human attitudes for turning toward the world and his understanding of “content” versus “presence” (Buber 2010, 110). Such terms line up neatly with the contrast in manguebeat between the formal city and the organic mangrove swamp.
To consider such epistemological and ontological tensions, first I offer some reflections on the central image and concept of the music of Chico Science and manguebeat, that is, the mangue itself, or mangrove swamp. In this vein, I also explore the mangue concept in the three music videos released by Chico Science and Nação Zumbi before his death: “A cidade” (The city), “Manguetown,” and “Maracatu atômico” (Atomic maracatu). Next, I attempt to position the movimento mangue as a global Afro-Atlantic artistic and intellectual expression rather than as a continuation or refinement of the more nationalistically minded Brazilian intellectual tradition of cultural cannibalism. Building on this analysis, I attempt to carry the discussion even further in the direction of what I consider as the “cosmic implications” of manguebeat as a sort of music for the age of global warming and a gesture of healing and peace, in a more “anthropocenic” and pan-zoological sense.8
In putting the “crabs with brains” of the mangrove swamps versus the “vultures” (urubus) of the stagnant city, mangue goes beyond binaries that pit national against global or South versus North. Instead, it enters quite self-consciously into the realm of social exclusion, violence, and environmental degradation both within Brazil and abroad. As the “Manifesto Mangue” suggests, on the ecological level the mangrove swamp evokes the extraordinary fertility of Recife’s estuary system, which joins the waters of the Atlantic (and of the Afro-Atlantic, by extension) with the Capibaribe, Beberibe, and Tejipió Rivers running through the city. This estuary zone is a vital and irreplaceable natural resource that, according to the manifesto, faces the threat of extinction from the out-of-control “progress” surrounding it (Chico Science e Nação Zumbi 1994b). These mangroves are also closely connected to poverty and oppression in the region since historically they have been places where many poor people make their living and where they often live in some of the city’s most impoverished favelas, or squatter settlements.
Mangue evokes the resilience and vitality of Recife’s poor people in the music, religion, folklore, creativity, and sense of community that characterize their everyday lives, including an abundance of Afro-Brazilian musical expressions of the region. Just as the waters of the estuary mix in the mangroves, in mangue local expressions of music and culture mix with global currents—both nationally and internationally. This mixture occurs especially with especially Afro-Atlantic cultural forms like hip-hop, soul, funk, rock, reggae, dub, samba, samba-reggae, capoeira, and African pop, as well as other styles associated with countercultural resistance, like punk and post-punk (Avelar 2011, 317–328; Azoubel 2008, 303).
One of the most potent and densely compact symbols put forth in the “Manifesto Mangue”—and one that sets the tone for its notion of cultural mixing and racial miscegenation—is an “antenna stuck in the mud,” considered the movement’s “imagem-símbolo” or “image-symbol” (Chico Science e Nação Zumbi 1994). In suggesting this antenna as a link between the international Afro-Atlantic musical currents with the local “mud,” this image is a more dialogical symbol than the antropofagia, or cultural cannibalism, so often associated with Brazilian culture (treated below, in the section titled Mangue Mix), emphasizing solidarity and cooperation over domination and antagonism. The mud itself serves as a symbol of the everyday life in the social landscape of Recife. This is not only because it is the substance on which the city’s residents have constructed it, but also because it is the physical ground many poor people walk on in neighborhoods and communities lacking asphalt and drainage ducts for rainwater. The mud of mangue symbolism can also be taken to recall the lotus flower of Eastern religions, which grows in muddy waters yet is considered a symbol of the mysterious beauty and vitality of the unfolding human soul.
Chico Science himself alluded to another flower of muddy waters, the Rhizophora mangle (or “red mangrove”). Thus he named the beloved in “Risoflora” (a play on words reworking the scientific name of the plant into the quasi-Portuguese “flower laughter”), a song in which a misbehaving fisherman (and a swamp crab, alternately) begs his lover for forgiveness. This flower as a symbol of the fisherman’s beloved—or of the allure of the mangrove swamp more broadly—is made more beautiful through the connection with the organic muddiness of the chaotic, juice-filled life of the mangue, bursting forth in the face of decay, environmental degradation, social exclusion, and violence.9
Such a rearranging of the center/margin binary of the mangue aesthetic positions the mangrove ecosystem as a symbol of spaces that are poor but fertile and organic, characterized by spontaneous interpersonal relations, against the “stagnant city,” which tends toward the indifferent, conformist, automated, and inhuman. Thus, in the utopia of mangue, nationalism gives way to that more cosmic vision mentioned above that—despite being tied to poor people and Afro-descendants in Brazil—is offered as being something inclusive to everyone everywhere.
The core symbols and motifs of Recife’s mangrove swamps appear throughout the songs of CSNZ in the two studio albums they made during the life of Chico Science. The band incorporated many symbols in the three official music videos they produced with Chaos Records of Sony Music (all readily accessible on the Internet), including “A cidade” from Da lama ao caos and “Manguetown” and “Maracatu atômico” from Afrociberdelia (Chico Science and Nação Zumbi 1994a, 1996b, 1996c). The first two, both written by Chico Science, can be considered as mini-manifestos in themselves, so densely expressive are they of the lyrical symbolism of mangue.10 Similarly, in contextualizing their cover of “Maracatu atômico” within the symbolism and aesthetic of mangue, CSNZ transformed it into a banner for the life-affirming coexistentialism of their music.
The first-ever officially produced music video for CSNZ, “A cidade,” opens with a scene on a colonial street in front of a baroque church.11 The scene depicts the classic pastoril performer Velho Faceta (Constantino Leite Moisakis, 1925–1986), who begs forgiveness for his unfaithful ways in a musical dialogue with his betrayed lover. As Faceta’s accordion-based folk-style music (sampled from “Boa noite do Velho Faceta/Amor de criança,” from his 1978 LP Pastoril do Faceta) gives way to the characteristic booming alfaia drums of CSNZ, the clown figure welcomes those who have already arrived and those who are just arriving. He says one of his folksy signature phrases, “Good evening to those who have already arrived, good evening to those who are on their way [Boa noite pra quem já chegou, boa noite pra quem tá de chegada].”12
This reference to Velho Faceta and the pastoril genre of street performances is not only a nod to a prominent local cultural form but also sets up two central motifs for the video. The first is the mixing between audience and performance typical of folk street theater as an encounter and the other the parallel with Chico Science himself as a liminal clown-like figure/singer—with his flaring pantaloons, bare chest, cheap sunglasses, and characteristic narrow-brimmed straw fisherman’s hat. The two motifs are related, since it is precisely Chico Science as this ambivalently clownish figure who facilitates the coming together of the audience and the performance in this way, blending the fun of friendly playfulness with the seriousness of revolutionary consciousness-raising and the mixing of the sacred and profane.
In the opening seconds of the song that follows, the unique sound of CSNZ’s mix of maracatu and funky, psychedelic rock comes in. There is a thundering drum core, booming bass, driving keyboard, and distorted electric guitar playing with a heavy backbeat vaguely reminiscent of a bluesy, clave-based Bo Diddley beat played with a reggae-like feel.13 Even before the lyrics begin, several of the essential mangue symbols flash across the screen. A mangrove crab crawls across the mud, and participants in a ciranda-style folk dance ring move rhythmically in traditional dress in the sunlight amid the poor shacks of a mangue favela, as vultures pick over trash and carrion. Band members play their instruments, rocking back and forth in their “crab-man-style” dance on the sand amid mangrove roots, while a dancing Chico Science makes crab claws with his hands, opening and closing them to the music.14 There are mangrove roots and musicians with dreadlocks, several wearing their own rustic-looking straw hats and more cheap sunglasses.15
Lyrically, the song sets up a distinction between the city as an abstract place of lifeless dehumanization and alienation versus the mangue as a life-giving space of connection to nature and community. In the song’s refrain, Chico Science sings, “Always some people have more and others have less [Sempre uns com mais e outros com menos],” a point underscored in the song’s percussive sounding, staccato refrain, “The city doesn’t stop, it just keeps growing, those on top go up and those on the bottom go down [A cidade não pára, a cidade só cresce, o de cima sobe e o de baixo desce].”
The music video juxtaposes filmed sequences with illustrated segments featuring the artwork of Tom B. These portray a story of the brutal extermination of a homeless person by an ambivalent death squad—almost certainly an allusion to the climate of paramilitary violence in Brazil (epitomized by the infamous murder of street children by off-duty police at Rio’s Candelária Church the year before, in 1993). In the video, the cartoon homeless man is bashed in the head by two death squad thugs and falls unconscious. The goons then drag him away, beat him further, and shoot him to death. Eventually, the villains crack the homeless man’s head open and his brains pour out. The paramilitary enforcers then transform into vultures and fly away—“going up,” in a sense underscoring the message of the song’s refrain—as the heavily distorted electric guitar pounds out some particularly fuzzy, aggressive-sounding chords, serving to echo, in sound, the violence depicted.
At this point about halfway through the song, Chico Science lyrically moves from merely lamenting and depicting the crisis of violence and social exclusion in Brazil to affirming the revolutionary aesthetics and practice of the mangue message. “I’m going to make an embolada song [Eu vou fazer uma embolada],” he sings, “a samba, a maracatu; something nice and groovy [in the original Portuguese, literally “poisonous”], good for me and you, so we can get out of the mud and confront the vultures [um samba, um maracatu; tudo bem envenenado, bom pra mim, bom pra tu, pra a gente sair da lama e enfrentar os urubu].” His use of everyday speech and grammatical errors in these lines in the original Portuguese (i.e., “bom pra tu,” “os urubu”) brings his language closer to the street and emphasizes the role of everyday people in resisting social and global injustice.
It’s at this point in which the animation depicts a cartoonish mangrove swamp crab coming and eating the remains of the brains of the murdered homeless man. Such a gesture twists the classic anthropophagic formulation in the sense that the video depicts it not as coming from the violence of the crab but rather as a cyclical side effect reworking death into rebirth. Quickly, the crustacean transforms itself into a crab-man, with pincers instead of hands. In rapid succession, other crabs change into the remaining band members, who as crab-men dance and play along with the music and the ever-growing crowd of mangue favela children and adults forming around their jam session. This musical gathering reflects the theme of community in the mangue musical style, which stands in contrast to the violence and social exclusion so often depicted in “A cidade” and other manguebeat songs. Throughout the video, the crowd of people dancing together in an open-air moment of collective music and merriment grows as black, white, and brown come together, as do young and old and rich and poor. These are mangue’s crab-people, gathered dancing outside of the grid-like confines of the formal city in the organic mangrove swamp, between shanty huts on stilts above the muddy wetlands. Some wear inexpensive flip-flops, T-shirts, and shorts or skirts, others the traditional garb of cirandas and maracatus as they dance and sing alongside the musicians of CSNZ.
In the context of the song’s countercultural orientation of social protest, it does not frame such imagery as a suggestion of the reality of “racial democracy” or any other view of would-be social harmony in Brazil.16 Instead, it presents a posture of openness typical of the anti-essentialist impulse of Black Atlantic cultures, cast here as a utopian vision for a coexistentialist pathway that is an antidote to the same urgent social ills portrayed in the song and throughout the music of the mangue movement.17 Gathering in this way, the musicians and ciranda dancers bring one another to life spiritually and physiologically—in “limbic space,” in you will. Thus they “encounter” one another, in Buber’s sense of the word, even as they join one another in raising their collective consciousness and assert their intrinsic human dignity against the racial, social, and sexual discrimination to which history has subjected everyday people—not only in Recife or Brazil but throughout Latin American and even the rest of the world.18
“Manguetown” is the twelfth track from the Afrociberdelia album, named to mix “Africa” with “cybernetics” and “psychedelic,” as explained in the album insert by the Paraiban science fiction author Bráulio Tavares. The song presents many of the same themes and images as “A cidade” from the point of a first-person poetic voice lamenting the shameful, humiliating disparity between the living conditions of the poor crab people and those of the wealthy vultures. The music video offers a boldly colorful, kitschy, and heavily psychedelic regard presenting Chico Science and other band members in a stylized favela home with neon traffic signs and other random city signs visible through the window. Once again we see the casual shirtless look, cheap sunglasses, and black pride hairstyles of Afros and dreadlocks as the musicians dance in crab-like fashion throughout the house.
Unlike “A cidade,” here city and mangue mix together more directly. The singer is “stuck in the mud” (also a reference to the “antenna stuck in the mud” symbol, mentioned above) in a “dirty neighborhood”: “Estou enfiada na lama; é um bairro sujo.” Instead of the city versus mangrove swamp dichotomy, this song depicts a daytime versus nighttime one. The daylight hours are those of work and exploitation. The night in the song is for community and dreaming, imagination and poetry. He will go out at night and drink with friends, Chico Science sings, then fly across the low-income areas of town on wings borrowed from the vultures, dreaming of a woman he might one day meet who can share his muddy life with him.
Accompanying this change from day to night in the lyrics and from the description of the humiliating poverty of the life in Recife to the reference to the dreaming flight sequence, the video suddenly shows the musicians in a jumble of odd-angle shots wearing black bodysuits with strings of white lights fixed to them. This attire gives an even more surreal quality to their hypnotic dance moves and to those of the female dancer who appears, representing the possible future “woman” mentioned in the lyrics. Even in its ambivalence, the song reflects an undeniable sense of hope for overcoming the decay and decadence of the unjust social order through the music and art of community in everyday life.
The last of CSNZ’s officially produced music videos, “Maracatu atômico” (from track 8 of Afrociberdelia), featured a song penned by Jorge Mautner and Nelson Jacobina in 1974, during the neo-tropicália phase of MPB (Música Popular Brasileira). Indeed the song was first made famous by the legendary Gilberto Gil, who among a great many other things was one of the principal architects of tropicália. Gil later became something of a musical godfather for Chico Science, besides singing with CSNZ not only live in concert at Summer Stage in New York in 1995 but also in the studio during the recording of “Macô” for the band’s second album. The music video version of “Maracatu atômico” is noteworthy for its portrayal of some of the most emblematic symbols of mixture in mangue. These include showing CSNZ band members covered in mud—in a symbolic gesture that equalizes racial and class categories even as it evokes the mangue and the crab-men, specifically.
The clip shows Chico Science in his outlandish caboclo de lança dress, borrowed from the maracatu rural carnival associations. The video flips back and forth between images of the band members crawling around covered in mud and Chico singing like a hip-hop rapper on stage. He is wearing his signature straw fisherman’s hat, dancing in the glittery, mane-like carnival headdress of the caboclo de lança, with the traditional white carnation in the mouth and his cheap sunglasses.19 The mixture not only blends musical forms but art with entertainment and pop with religion as the singer once again becomes at the same time both a clown-like playful figure and a liminal shaman.
Lyrically, the song also exalts mixture of the traditional with the modern—and the everyday and the psychedelic—in verses like those opening the song. “Behind the skyscraper is the sky, is the sky, and then another sky without stars/On top of the umbrella is the rain, is the rain, with drops so beautiful it makes you want to eat them.” (“Atrás do arranha-céu tem o céu, tem o céu, e depois tem outro céu sem estrelas/Em cima do guarda-chuva tem a chuva, tem a chuva, que tem gotas tão lindas que até dá vontade de comê-las.”) The psychedelic dimension of the song evokes a mysterious and mystical spirit of increased awareness of the limits of workaday reason and mundane rationality, intensified in a shared moment of the music, art, and ecstasy in the cosmic connectedness of collective encounter.
Owing in part to the centrality mangue placed on hybrid mixtures, both on the semantic plane and the musical one, many interpreters—such as Luís Antônio Girón (2010), Sílvio Sérgio Oliveira Rodrigues (2009, 4–9), Sérgio Pereira (2011, 9), Paula Tesser (2007, 72–73), and Herom Vargas (2002, 88)—have classified it as an intellectual descendant of the cultural cannibalism of the first generation of modernismo in Brazil from the 1920s. Both movements embraced a mixed-race identity and extolled the blending of local currents with global influences as the chief sources of the cultural revivals they sought to bring about. Several other similarities can be found between modernismo and mangue, starting with the existence of highly literary, stylized manifestos and the formation of groups of friends and adherents who identified with the core aesthetic tendencies of each movement. As I noted in a previous article, other notable commonalities include the undermining of conventional hierarchies between center and margin (and the inversion of the model of production and consumption this implies), the raising of popular culture and everyday life to the plane of the poetic, a playful spirit and gleeful creativity used as weapons, subversion of official histories, simultaneousness and polyphony, primitivism, the appreciation of the psychological and subconscious, the dialectic between destruction and construction, and a particularly futuristic fascination with technology as a democratizing influence—which in mangue manifested itself not only in the exploration of electronic music, computer technology, and the Internet as sources of creative inspiration but also as an affinity with science fiction (Sneed 2016, 97).20
When compared to the anthropophagy of modernismo, however, it becomes clear that the hybridity of mangue was rooted to a greater extent in even more cosmic and relational aesthetic ideals and philosophical tendencies. On the aesthetic plane, modernismo tended to assert a notion of brasilidade (Brazilianness) which sought to strengthen the country’s artistic expressions through the cultural cannibalism of foreign elements (especially those of Europe and the United States). Mangue oriented itself in the opposite direction to embrace what could be called cósmo-brasilidade (cosmic Brazilianness)—a term that can be coined in this context—emphasizing the creation of global art using Brazilian elements. In fact, such cosmic Brazilianness in manguebeat could perhaps better be described as more of a cosmic Afro-Brazilianness, in that it framed itself as a local, regional Brazilian scene of a broader Afro-Atlantic world, which it then offered up to the world scene in its pan-humanistic gesture.
Given the nationalist focus of modernismo in the twenties, it is perhaps understandable that indigenous culture would serve as its principal inspiration—or rather a symbolic reworking of that culture—casting this stylized native population as the original Brazilians. In a sense, the nationalistic impulse behind the cultural cannibalism of modernismo was necessary as a mechanism of ideological self-defense against imperialism, an antidote for the prestige of racial whitening in Brazil and an initial move toward greater social equality in the country. Even so, these symbols were mixed with avant-garde European cultural expressions from a mostly elite, somewhat highbrow cast of artists and intellectuals and did not initially represent any far-reaching attempt to embrace Brazil’s black roots or identity (as did the second wave of modernismo in the thirties in the Northeastern regionalist movement).
With the publication of the fifty-two aphorisms that made up his “Manifesto Antropófago” in 1928, Oswald de Andrade pointed to the centrality of cultural devouring, symbolized by the ritual cannibalism of the Tupi-Guarani warriors before the arrival of Europeans to Brazil (Andrade 2005). His metaphor advanced a more aggressive and combative posture of cultural resistance aimed at turning the tables on formations of European and US neocolonial hegemony. He offered such positions as a means for rising above the patriarchal and capitalist underpinnings of Brazilian society and culture, along with the fossilized social norms and psychological coercion that came with them (Cândido and Castello 2005, 19). Since the time he authored the manifesto, Andrade’s anthropophagy has provided a potent symbol for Brazil’s resistance to a European colonial legacy and the cultural hegemony of the US alike, serving as a battle cry not only for those early modernists but for generations of artists, writers, and musicians in Brazil ever since.
Some seventy years afterward, however, the more globally minded mangue music linked itself explicitly to Brazil’s African heritage—which is, of course, tremendous—as one of the primary locations in a generalized Black Atlantic region spanning four continents and scores of countries. This Afro-Atlantic identity gave mangue great affinities with a wide variety of Afro-descendant popular cultural forms from which to freely pick and choose and mix and match as desired. This more open, cooperative posture led Chico Science to proclaim, “We are Chico Science and Nação Zumbi. We’re here to play the music. Brazilian Elements. Universal elements. Universal music made by Brazilians. Right on.” (“Nós somos Chico Science e Nação Zumbi. Estamos aqui para tocar a música. Elementos brasileiros. Elementos universais. Música universal feita por brasileiros. Falou.”)21 As Chico Science’s frequent avowals of chaos theory would indicate, of course, such “universalism” was not intended as a reference to Enlightenment notions of knowledge or other absolute epistemologies but rather as a more cosmic gesture pointing beyond regional divisions and national boundaries to a more collective experience of global life.22
The opening track of Afrociberdelia, “Mateus Enter (Intro),” offers further evidence of such cosmic-mindedness. Delivered by Chico Science in a vocal style somewhere between freestyle rap, spoken word, and Northeastern embolada, the song is a reference to the Mateus character of Pernambucan maracatu rural carnival celebrations, a clown-like figure who calls the public to the spectacle. In the mere thirty-two-second duration of the track, Chico Science pronounces a sort of cry of resistance and something that stands as a mini-manifesto in its own right. In one verse he cries, “I arrived with my universe [cheguei com meu universo],” finishing with his one of his most famous lines, “Pernambuco beneath my feet, and my mind in infinity [Pernambuco em baixo do pés, minha mente na imensidão].”23
By contrast, the anthropophagical hybridity of the modernistas reflected a somewhat monological and unidirectional spirit, to an extent, concentrating mostly on the ideas, words, concepts, and identities and, thus, on a more formal and linguistic plane. Even the metaphor at the heart of anthropophagy—that of ritualistically killing and eating one’s adversary—is cast in terms that de-emphasize relational aspects of interaction, such as mutuality, reciprocity, cooperation, sharing, gratitude, and community. In Buber’s terms, it is more object based. Such is the case despite the fact the modernists have drawn it from Brazil’s indigenous past (and native cultures infinitely more relational, of course, than their symbolic appropriation in modernismo).24 The Afro-Atlantic relational hybridity of manguebeat, on the other hand, was more dialogical and included a greater emphasis on people and their interaction with each other and with the world around them—live and in full color, as the expression goes. In this way, mangue went further beyond the conceptual plane to a more profoundly existential one—or a “coexistential” one, in the sense I am emphasizing here.25
Hybridisms and syntheses are typical of peripheral cultures—notably those of the transatlantic world of the African diaspora, as Paul Gilroy pointed out in his seminal study The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness (Gilroy 1993, 72–110). Brazil has always provided examples of this, before and after the playful proclamations of the movimento antropofágico in the 1920s. Without a doubt, the anthropophagy projected by modernismo remains one of the primary points of reference for discussions of hybridity in Brazil to this date, although a plethora of other expressions of racial and cultural mixing have emerged since—besides manguebeat. Some other examples in the realm of music include tropicália, which mixed MPB with rock (among other influences), and the creation of samba-reggae, which blended Caribbean musical styles with Bahian music. Different musical amalgamations less accepted in Brazil nationwide have been significant on a regional level, like the tecnobrega of Belém, in Amazonia, and Rio’s funk carioca—once known in Portuguese as the movimento funk and now generally called simply funk (pronounced “funky”).
One should be careful to avoid automatically considering these examples of intensely self-conscious hybrid cultural expressions in Brazil as simply intellectual descendants of the cannibalistic aesthetic of modernismo. Instead, one can view them as related expressions of an even more profound impulse toward a more relational form of hybridity rooted in the persistence of African influence in Brazilian culture. Thomas Skidmore, who in his lifetime was considered one of the foremost international scholars of Brazilian history, stated that of the myriad ethnic groups contributing to the multiracial population of Brazil, it was the African influence that shaped the country most deeply. According to him, such an impact was even more significant than that of the Portuguese colonizers or indigenous peoples—and of the East Asians, Middle Easterners (both Arabs and Jews), more recent African immigrants, and non-Portuguese Europeans arriving in Brazil more recently as immigrants (Skidmore 2010, 39). Such should not be surprising, given the fact that of the estimated 11.2 million total number of Africans brought to the Americas throughout the more than three hundred years of the horrific transatlantic slave trade, roughly 4.8 million who went to Brazil alone. This is some ten times greater than the 450,000 carried off to the US (Gates 2011, 2).26
With regard to the hybridity of Afro-Atlantic cultures, Gilroy accentuates not merely the creation of art but its use and reuse in ordinary daily life—through elements such as call and response (antiphony), improvisation, and the reinterpretation of “found” sounds and objects in ways that instigate such conversations and encounters in face-to-face communion.27 In this sense, one can argue, the spaces black people have created in resisting the terror of slavery and its legacy of dehumanizing inequality and social violence have been more than aesthetic or ideological havens. They have also been spiritual, moral, and even physical spaces of personal and collective renewal, alive and in the here and now of the present moment, affording people with even more exceptional courage and vitality for surviving and thriving in the face of such enormous adversity (Gilroy 1993, 77–81). As such, these “hegemonic hideouts,” as we could label them, have not been merely conceptual sanctuaries for the mind but for the whole being, in body and spirit, as well. Mangue embodied this live, performance-based Afro-Atlantic-styled dialogical hybridity in a much more self-conscious way than did the anthropophagical-minded modernistas, their bossa nova, and tropicália offspring midcentury, or perhaps any other hybridity-driven musical style or movement arising in Brazil in recent decades.
This focus on gatherings in the live and present moment may have been why mangue was able to go much further in including people of different racial backgrounds and social classes, perhaps even more so than any other literary or musical scene in Brazil to the present. Such was a difficult thing to do, notwithstanding the persistence of the myth of Brazil’s racial democracy (Teles 2000, 10). Chico Science, for instance, was a brown-skinned pardo (a person of mixed ethnic ancestry), as was his fellow band member from CSNZ and current Nação Zumbi vocalist Jorge du Peixe. Both were born and raised in low-income neighborhoods of Recife/Olinda’s periferia (periphery), like their Afro-descendant bandmate Gilmar Bola 8. Also Afro-descendants, percussionists Canhoto and Gira (with his trademark head of cascading dreadlocks) were from the Daruê Malungo community center in the favela Chão de Estrelas, a project providing a new direction for many of the Recife area’s street children. Indeed, Canhoto and Gira themselves had themselves at one time been street children years before joining CSNZ (Teles 2000, 11). Others, such as Mundo Livre S/A’s Fred Zero Quatro, frequent mangue collaborators HD Mabuse and Renato L., and CSNZ’s guitar player, Lúcio Maia, came from mostly white, solidly middle-class and upper-middle-class backgrounds, giving them access to Recife’s most prestigious schools, universities, and intellectual/cultural circles.
Similarly, the fact there was never any single rhythm or musical style in mangue, despite the appearance of the word “beat” in its name, can be taken as evidence of its resistance to racial or nationalist essentialism and as a further indication of its tendency toward this more relational type of hybridity. In the hands of CSNZ, the mixture of the local and the global took on the form of a blend of psychedelic rock and the Afro-Brazilian percussion-driven carnival style maracatu. For Fred Zero Quatro and his band Mundo Livre S/A, it played out as a mixture of samba and alternative rock—with a good dose of punk at its core (Mundo Livre S/A 1994). Another of the mangue scene’s best-known bands, Mestre Ambrósio, mixed traditional Northeastern music with jazz, rock, and Arabic influences to create a sort of alternative forró (a Northeastern Brazilian musical style sometimes compared to Cajun zydeco). Mestre Ambrósio’s singer/bandleader, Siba (Sérgio Veloso), played a countrified-sounding rabeca, a folk cousin to the violin (Mestre Ambrósio 1996). There were too many other protagonists of the mangue movement to be counted—be they musicians, composers, lyricists, graphic artists, filmmakers, DJs, writers, or even fans—who also contributed to it with their own unique and original fusions.
In his most famous work, I and Thou (first published in German in 1923, and translated to English in 1937), Martin Buber extrapolated his relational existentialism based around what he saw as the twofold attitude of human beings toward the world (Buber 2010, 5–12 and 62). These he characterized by what he called the “primary word pairs” I-It and I-Thou (Buber 2010, 3). The first of these pairings focused on seeing the world, ourselves, and those around us as objects, in a monological, diachronic, and rationalistic fashion drawing on empirical experience and knowledge as “acquisition”—or what one could perhaps describe as “inter-objectivity.” The second attitude focused on turning to the world and others as persons, relationally and “inter-subjectively.” “The primary word I-Thou can be spoken only with the whole being,” Buber argued, in a sense closely paralleling the philosophical tensions underlying manguebeat. In one of the most frequently quoted passages of I and Thou, he emphasized this dialogical existentialism, stating that “concentration and fusion into the whole being can never take place through my agency, nor can it take place without me. I become through my relation to the Thou; as I become I, I say Thou. All real living is meeting” (Buber 2010, 11). He offered another pairing in regard to encounter that is particularly useful in understanding space-time in such terms, stating, “Man receives, and he receives not a specific ‘content’ but a Presence, a Presence of power” (Buber 2010, 110).
In similar terms, one might say that beyond the question of the international, national, and local artistic influences it brought together, or its demographical diversity, one of the most significant innovations of mange beat was the pronounced relationality it embraced. Shifting far beyond the object-centered understanding of knowledge associated with the modernizing European colonial project, the philosophy of Chico Science and manguebeat was centered on people. Yes, Chico Science and his mangue compatriots valued experiential and empirical “acquired” knowledge—as the “science” of his very name suggests—as did they value information and technology. Even so, however, the epistemology of manguebeat moved past objects, logic, concepts, words, information, and even experience (in Buber’s sense of experiments). It also presented a “new science” giving priority to the relational and interpersonal aspects of knowledge. In the worldview of mangue, the collective moment is the ground on which a renewed life creates itself—not only in the sense of being a part of a cultural scene or movement but in face-to-face meetings, jam sessions, and other forms of community encounters—in performance and with the body.
The division Chico Science makes concerning the space of the stagnant, dehumanizing formal “city” and the wild, collective space of the organic mangue makes way for a radical rereading of the social and political geographies of the city of Recife—and even of Brazil, Latin America, and the global world order more generally. At a deeper level, however, it also reveals a subtly powerful epistemological distinction between an inter-objective, acquisitional type of knowing and an inter-subjective, relational one—in the way of Martin Buber and his philosophy of dialogue. Except that in the mangue movement such encounters went further than any grammatical posture or intellectual disposition to the corporal and musical dimension of the space-time of live jam sessions played hanging out with specific friends. Besides being more spatialized, in comparing the notion of relationality in Buber’s thought with relationality in the manguebeat context we could start by saying that the singular grammatical person in Buber of I and thou becomes pluralized, as “we and you all.”
Looping Buber’s pairing of content versus presence back to manguebeat, one could say Chico Science pitted the “content” of the abstract city against the “presence” of his musical meetings in the mangrove swamp as moments of “community.”28 As a result, we could say, the coexistential impulse in manguebeat presents itself as an “aesthetic of presence.” The pluralization and spatializing of mangue’s relational orientation, in this way, is suggestive of an intriguing set of pairings between the “existence of content” and the “life of presence,” with far-reaching implications for weighty philosophical categories such as knowledge, power, and being. Regarding knowledge, we could say we “experience” content, whereas we “encounter” presence. The first is acquisitional and the latter relational, just as one is monological and the other dialogical. Power, for the mode of content, becomes “control,” whereas the power of presence is “community” (or what Lewis, Amini, and Lannon have described as “love”). This power is the ability to meet others as persons, in this fullness of our being. The being of content, similarly, is “existence,” whereas being in presence and community is “coexistence,” or perhaps “Life” with a capital L. This object-centered existence is diachronic; coexistence between persons is live and in the moment, synchronic. In the coexistential way of Chico Science’s manguebeat, these are some of the enormous differences between the city and mangrove swamp.
1“Chico Science is our Bob Marley.” Lenine (Osvaldo Lenine Macedo Pimentel), himself an acclaimed Brazilian singer-songwriter and native of Recife, made this statement in an interview with journalist José Teles (Teles 2000, 326). All translations are my own.
2“He quickly came to believe in this idea we created together that mangue was something that could generate much more than a mere musical style.” “Chico Science o alquimista dos ritmos 3—do Recife para o mundo,” YouTube video, 6:59, Catarina Apolonio, March 14, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWMqppOrLUI, quotation at 1:06–1:19.
3In Maracatu atômico, Philip Galinsky provides a glossary of terms related to manguebeat and the principal Afro-Brazilian and Northeastern regional influences with which it interacted (Galinsky 2002, 199–212).
4Fred Zero Quatro first drafted what has come to be known as the “Manifesto Mangue” as a press release in 1991 in a slightly different version. Galinsky provides a full English translation of the original press release (Galinsky 2002, 127–129). For the LP version, see Da lama ao caos. The word mangue, Portuguese for “mangrove swamp,” is often used as a synonym for manguebeat.
5This line is from Chico Science’s “Antene-se” (Da lama ao caos). Similarly, the manifesto “Caranguejos com cérebro,” states about Recife that “according to a demographic institute in Washington it is today the fourth worst city in the world in which to live [Segundo um instituto de estudos populacionais de Washington, é hoje a quarta pior cidade do mundo para se viver].”
6Though Avelar’s take on Chico Science displays a more nationalistic focus, his analysis of what he considers the revolutionary nature he points to in manguebeat fits well with the more pan-humanistic thrust of my perspective here. Additionally, his semi-ethnographic chapter, “Mangue Beat Music and the Coding of Citizenship in Sound,” is one of the most insightful analyses of mangue anywhere (Avelar 2011).
7Alternative journalist and DJ Renato Lins (a.k.a. Renato L.), one of the founders of manguebeat, actively discouraged use of the label “movimento mangue,” preferring instead to call it the “cooperativa cultural mangue,” or the “mangue cultural cooperative” (Manguenius, n.d.). Chico Science similarly asserted the importance of avoiding pretentiousness in music (Vargas 2007, 105).
8Here I’m referencing the Anthropocene, a term appearing recently from our growing understanding that human influence on life on Earth has been so measurable as to constitute a new geological epoch (Vince 2014). The “anthropocenic” aesthetics of manguebeat, in this sense, reflect awareness and appreciation of both the challenges and opportunities presented to life on Earth in our current geologic period. Additionally, I offer the term “pan-zoological” for its connection to the original meaning of in Greek, zōē (ζωή), used for animal life (as opposed to bios, or βίος, used more as “mode of life”). Zōē is even more appropriate in this context for its use regarding the spiritual sense of life—both in space-time and outside it. The implication is that humans are part of the chain of life, as mammals first, primates second, and homo sapiens thirdly—and crustaceans, in the sense of mangue’s “crabs with brains” metaphor. My aim in using these terms is to emphasize the status of humans as beings in the world and a part of it, with neurophysiological needs and abilities beyond the reach of mere language.
9As one reader of an earlier draft of this article pointed out, the work of Édouard Glissant is highly suggestive in this context, particularly since his notions of creolization and the relational intersect so neatly with the questions regarding the Afro-Atlantic world and its cultures more generally and even with Buber’s relationality. In his Poetics of Relation, Glissant borrows from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s notion of “rhizomatic” knowledge versus “arborescent” knowledge (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). As a mass of roots and shoots branching out, the rhizome as symbol suggests a horizontal epistemology grounded in mutuality and connectivity versus the more vertical and isolating nature of the root. In Poetics, Glissant states: “Rhizomatic thought is the principle behind what I call the poetics of relation, in which each and every identity is extended through relationship with the other” (Glissant 1997, 11). Such commonalities suggest the possibility of a more specific field of Mangrove Studies, especially given the abundance of rhizomes in Recife’s mangroves and the inference of rhizome in Chico Science’s song “Risoflora.” In this vein, Meza Ucella systematically applies Glissant’s ideas on rhizomatic thought, creolization, and hybridity to manguebeat (Ucella 2014, 63–64).
10Other songs for which no music videos were produced stand as mini-manifestos of the mangue movement as well, notably “Rios, pontes e overdrives,” written by Fred Zero Quatro, Chico Science, and Otto (Otto Maximiliano Pereira de Cordeiro Ferreira) and appearing on CSNZ’s first album. “Cidadão do mundo,” written by Chico Science, is another, as well as the diminutively compact “Mateus Enter (Intro),” both from Afrociberdelia, and “Monólogo ao pé do ouvido,” which opens the first album (also by Chico Science).
11Rafael Stringasci dos Santos provides a detailed account of the making of the video for “A cidade,” in which he explains how the concepts and images included were worked out between the director, Guilherme Ramalho, and band members without interference from the record label (Santos 2015).
12Another sample of regional music incorporated in the song, “Boa noite,” appears briefly at the end. It is from the Baianas de Ipioca recording Documento sonoro do folclore brasileiro (Baianas de Ipioca 1977). It’s the same song sampled by Curitiba’s countercultural female rapper Karol Conká on “Boa noite” (Conká 2013).
13Galinsky claims the song offers a “reinterpretation of the ciranda rhythm combined with a rock-funk feel” (Galinsky 2002, 153).
15Chico Science attributed the creation of the “crabs with brains,” or crab-men mentioned above, to the ideas of Recife native geographer and author Josué de Castro (1908–1973). He is best known for his treatise Geografia da fome (Geography of Hunger, 1946) and his novel Homens e caranguejos (Of Men and Crabs, 1967), which depicted the socially unjust cycle of the mangrove crabs and the poor people who fished for them in Recife’s mangrove estuaries.
16Critiques of Brazil’s alleged “racial democracy” have been ongoing for decades (Hasenbalg 1979, 242; Skidmore 1993, 13). For an updated discussion, see Henry Louis Gates Jr., both in his chapter on Brazil in Black in Latin America (Gates 2011) and in the television episode “Brazil: A Racial Paradise?” from the series Black in Latin America, aired May 3, 2011, on PBS, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/black-in-latin-america/featured/black-in-latin-america-full-episode-brazil-a-racial-paradise/224/.
17For a nuanced treatment of issues in the Afro-politics in Brazil in the latter half of the twentieth century, such as racial exceptionalism and the acceptance of notions like Pan-Africanism and the African diaspora, see Stephen Bocskay’s work on samba (Bocskay 2017, 71–75).
18With the idea of “limbic space” in this context, I am thinking of the work done in the field of psychology emphasizing such neurophysiological interdependencies, as expounded by psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, who describe the brain’s “limbic core” thus: “A primordial area of the brain, far older than reason or thinking, creates the capacity that all humans share … the workings of this ancient, pivotal urge reveal that our nervous systems are not self-contained. Instead, our brains link with those of people closest to us, in a silent rhythm that makes up the very life force of the body. These wordless and powerful ties determine our moods, stabilize and maintain our health and well-being and change the structures of our brains. In consequence, who we are and who we become depend, in great part, on whom we love” (Lewis, Amini, and Lannon 2000, 167). On a small scale, the “space” of such limbic encounters is the shape created by the collective presence of those making it up, as a space-time field emerging between them.
19The caboclo de lança is a dancing warrior figure of Pernambucan folk culture associated with the maracatu rural carnival groups (also known as maracatu de baque solto). The term combines caboclo, generally understood as something akin to a mestiço, or a Brazilian of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry, with lança, the ornamental spear used in the dance.
20Tropicália itself has been similarly linked to the modernismo project by authors such as Christopher Dunn in Brutality Garden (2001a, 6 and 12–25) and Charles Perrone in Seven Faces (1996, 102), who classified it as “neo-anthropophagic.”
21This quote is from a live concert broadcast on TV Cultura’s Bem Brasil in 1996. “Chico Science e Nação Zumbi—Show no Bem Brasil–1996,” YouTube video, 1:31:58, Acervo Chico Science, July 12, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLP7wgc284k, quotation at 24:01–24:20.
22Chico Science’s interest in chaos theory is evident even in the title of the band’s first album, Da lama ao caos (From mud to chaos). The album also includes a track of the same title, “Da lama ao caos.”
23Translation from Maracatu atômico (Galinsky 2002, 108).
24Many more subtle readings of modernismo would be necessary to do justice to the richness and plurality of points of view it encompassed. More recent understandings of cultural cannibalism and its legacy regarding questions of hybridity and resistance, such as those from the points of view of performance studies and postcolonial studies, should be taken into account, though space limitations here prohibit me from so doing. In particular, see Kathryn Bishop-Sanchez’s insightful essay “On the (Im)possibility of Performing Brazil,” in the book she coedited with Severino Albuquerque, Performing Brazil (2015). See especially her comments on cultural cannibalism.
25Another extremely relevant essay from Performing Brazil is “Biting the Meat, Spitting It Out,” by Fernando de Sousa Rocha. Seeking to understand what the current generation has kept of modernismo’s cannibalism, Rocha argues that a new cannibalistic scene has sprung up that contrasts cannibalistic consumption with that of capitalism. He concludes with an idea that is “beyond” cannibalism, or as he puts it, it’s no longer a question of “Tupi or not Tupi,” as Oswald de Andrade originally suggested, but instead “Tupi and not Tupi” (Rocha 2015, 40). Some other voices on the question of hybridity and the legacy of modernismo’s cultural cannibalism presenting a similarly nuanced treatment are those of João Cézar de Rocha Castro and Jorge Ruffinelli, who organized an essential collection of ruminations on the topic in Antropofagia hoje? (Rocha and Ruffinelli 2011), and that of Luís Madureira, Cannibal Modernities, who approaches the subject from a postcolonial view in the context of both Brazilian and Caribbean cultural vanguards (Madureira 2005).
26Though precise numbers are in dispute, Brazil was indisputably the most extensive slave colony and the last to abolish slavery in the New World (in 1888). Siqueira de Castro Faria places the number of Africans taken as slaves to Brazil at 5.6 million, excluding those who died on route on the slave ships in the notoriously brutal crossing (Faria 2002, 237).
27The Puerto Rican sociologist Ángel Quintero Rivera’s research on the multiracial musical expressions of the Caribbean similarly identifies linguistic and racial hybridity as consequences of the relational/interpersonal aspects of Black Caribbean music. For him, what he refers to as “música mulata” involves a series of dialogical aspects such as improvisation (descarga, or “discharging”), the borrowing/reinterpretation of signs (montage), call and response, and the melding of audience/performance—generally in expressions having folkloric, often carnivalesque roots in nonprofessional performances (Quintero Rivera 1998, 35–92). Regarding the importance of call and response between soloists and chorus in Afro-Brazilian music specifically, particularly improvisation, see Luiz Antonio Simas, Tantas páginas belas (2012, 211–214). He makes the point that such practice, with its Bantu roots, is familiar to music of African origins throughout the Americas.
28For more on the connections between presence and coexistentialism, see my article “Space and Relationality in Rio’s Favelas: Asfalto and Comunidade” (Sneed 2018) and my monograph Machine Gun Voices: Favelas and Utopia in Brazilian Gangster Funk (Sneed 2019).
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Thirty-Fourth International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association in New York, NY. I thank Severino Albuquerque, Jonathan Mayhew, Cândida Barros, Hugo Maximino Camarinha, Helena Lima, Carlos Palombini, Líliam Barros, and Samuel Araujo for their support and encouragement, as well as the editors and three anonymous LARR reviewers for helpful feedback. It was supported by a Seoul National University Research Grant.
Paul Sneed is Associate Professor of Brazilian Literary and Cultural Studies at Seoul National University. He spent several years working and conducting research in Belém do Pará and Rio de Janeiro, where he studied proibidão funk music in the city’s favelas. A former community educator and activist in Rio, his academic interests are in the intersections between daily life and social justice, especially in Latin American music, screen, and cultural studies and, more recently, in the lives of Koreans in the Americas.
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