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To the millions of tourists who visit it each year, Recife is a magical place. A jewel in the star-studed crown that is the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s Nordeste region, this tropical paradise has long been a magnet for those seeking voluptuous beaches, laidback village vibes and a vibrant art culture. Some of the people who live there, though, see it in a different light.
“Recife is a city full of problems which are difficult to solve,” laments Jorge do Peixe, Nacao Zumbi’s lead vocalist. “But we find strength in culture so as not to be overshadowed by the shit that surrounds us. To be a Pernambucano means to have identity and to ovalue our state and the country. Social and political issues are always part of our repertoire and if we want to achieve anything politically it is respect for ordinary citizens and dignified conditions for living and working. We want to create more opportunities for the people of Brazil and to try to reduce the huge gap between the stupidly rich and the sickeningly poor. We want to spread our music and the culture of Northeastern Brazil. We want to show to the world that Brazil is more than bossa nova.”
Quite a statement, perhaps, but Nacao Zumbi (pronounced nassow zoom-bee) has been doing just that for almost a deacade. Since the early ‘90’s they have been at the epicenter of a musical movement in Recife called Mangue Beat, a derivative of the term Mangrove Beat, inspired by the mangrove swamps that punctuate the region. The movement also includes acts such as Mundo Livre Sa, Mestre Ambrosio, Devotos, DJ Dolores, Eddie, Otto and Mestre Salustiano. Mangue Beat, and Nacao Zumbi’s sound, is characterized by the rhythms of Pernambuco mixed with other influences such as hip-hop, rock, world music, dub and reggae.
Bob Marley, Sly and Robbie, Sly and The Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, Public Enemy, Elis Regina, Chico Buarque, Walter Wanderley, Elza Soares and Wilson Das Neves are all cited as major influences by Nacao Zumbi, who are without a doubt one of the leading lights of the scene. “It was just a natural curiosity to see our Pernambucano cultural information being enhanced with other spices from the rest of the world,” explains the 34-year-old do Peixe, who is joined by Pupillo (drums), Dengue (bass), Lucio Maia (guitar), Bola Oito (percussion) and Toca Ogan (percussion). “When we started playing it was very natural to merge all t hese influences because on a day-to-day basis, one minute we were dancing to a carnival procession with frevo, maracatu rhythms, and the next minute we were round at Chico’s backyard and listening to Public Enemy.”
Chico is Chico Science, aka Francisco de Assis Franca, founding member and ex-front man of Nacao Zumbi. It was under his guidance that the band created its first CD, Da Lama ao Caos (From Mud to Chaos, Sony 1995), which put them immediately in the domestic spotlight.
From 1994 to early 1997 they gained national and international attention, attracting everyone from Gilberto Gil and Jorge Ben to Sepultura and the Red Hot organization. Following tours of Brazil, North America and Europe, their second album Afrociberdelia (Sony, 1997) sold in the thousands. Then tragedy arrived in the form of a car accident, in which Chico was killed instantly.
“Chico was the leader,” says do Peixe, “a charismatic friend who knew how to get ahead in business. He was the right guy. In a way, he managed to unite us all around him. His exit was devastating for all of us both musically and particularly in our personal lives-we’ve had to readapt hugely. Chico was also<