If you’re sick of cash-in Latin compilations but still keen to hear genuine Brazilian innovation – this is a good place to start. A version of this appears in the latest edition of world music mag Songlines, features of which are available at http://www.songlines.co.uk/
‘Da Lama Ao Caos’ (DLAC), the 1994 debut by Chico Science & Nação Zumbi (CSNZ), is consummately Brazilian despite containing samples from The Fall, Don Cherry and Kraftwerk. It would sit comfortably in any hip-hop, hard rock or ragga DJ set even though its lyrics are in Portuguese. DLAC sits at the other end of the spectrum from the most-purchased Brazilian styles and artists in the outside world, but to place it in the World Music section of a store is an inadequate limitation for a recording that blurs lines between Brazilian music, pop music and the sounds of the wider New World. It is almost beyond categorisation.
In 1991, Chico Science – a local MC and vocalist from Recife in Pernambuco state – took Loustal, his punk-funk band for a jam with an Afro-Pernambucan percussion band, Lamento Negro. An instrumentation arrangement that would be a weakness for many bands was a significant strength for CSNZ: instead of a kit drummer, a unit of Alfaia drums – wooden, rope-tuned goatskin-topped bass drums – united with a couple of football teams’ worth of snare drummers and other percussionists. The initial gatherings were an uncontrolled fusion of two distinct bands of drummers and guitarists but they soon merged into an eight-man line-up that offered one unified and stingingly danceable rhythmic framework. This octet recorded DLAC in 1994 with the ex-Mutantes bass player Liminha producing.
The band didn’t even like the way DLAC turned out. Guitar takes were done separately as virtuoso guitarist Lucio Maia was ill throughout the main sessions. The raw, brittle martial funk sound was more organic than the more electro-cybernetic soundscape that was the band’s initial aim.
However, CSNZ’s redeployment of archaic forms of acoustic drum-based dance music powered an album that still makes a laughing stock of accepted ideas of musical identity. Chico Science’s vision is best characterised by an image in the 1991 manifesto, Caranguejos Com Cerebros (Crabs With Brains) that appeared in the sleevenotes of the recording. In a statement that talked about the mangroves of Pernambuco being drained of vitality like Brazil’s music scene, an image of a parabolic antenna rammed into the mud – broadcasting to and absorbing influences from the exterior – expressed perfectly the intent of the group.
The new sound hijacked and re-interpreted seams of funk within archaic music forms that had for years been taken for granted as a part of Pernambuco’s cultural scenery. Maracatu, an archaic Afro-Pernambucan procession music was infused with speed metal, creating devastating songs such as Maracatu De Tiro Certeiro (SureShot Maracatu) and Risoflora. Also, a freestyle street poetry duel from interior northeast Brazil known as Embolada was married to glittering funk guitar lines and Chico’s exuberant vocal style, creating Rios Pontes e Overdrives (Rivers, Bridges and Flyovers). In that song, Science’s scattershot name-check of nearly every barrio in the band’s hometown is a seamless amalgamation of Jamaican-style toasting and Embolada singing; it illustrates that there is no difference between the two even if their cultural contexts are distinct.
The album’s highlight is Coco Dub (Afrociberdelia). The word Afrociberdelia became the name of the group’s second album and it means a combination of Afro-Brazilian information creating mind-opening effects via the use of modern means: Africa, Cybernetics, Psychedelia.
Chico Science was killed in 1997 as his broadcast to the world was in full flow but Nação Zumbi carried on his work. Songs from Da Lama Ao Caos still feature in the live shows of Nação Zumbi, who play at least a couple of gigs in the UK every year and are now on Trama Records. The band’s own post-Chico Science albums have been stunning continuations of their development, but Da Lama remains part of their live set, undiminished in its force in 2003 even without the presence of their charismatic late founder.