The city of Recife nestles on the swampy Northeast coast of Brazil where the Beberibe and Capibaribe rivers spill into the Atlantic Ocean. Once called the Venice of Brazil by Portuguese colonists because of its islands, canals and bridges, the latter half of the 20th century was not kind to the state capital of Pernambuco. Industrial pollution, brackish waters and spreading shantytowns earned Recife the ignominious title of the "fourth worst city in the world to live in" from a Washington, D.C., population studies institute.
Known as the birthplace of many of Brazil's finest poets, writers and composers, the country's fourth-largest city resembled its decaying surroundings when compared to the emerging rock scenes of its urban big brothers Rio, São Paulo and Brasilia. But in the 1980s, a group of musicians came up with the Mangue Manifesto, a cultural declaration to mine and combine the region's rhythmic musical heritage -- maracatu, coco, ciranda and embolada -- with "satellite transmissions from across the world."
Two artists, Chico Science and Nacio Zumbi, emerged at the time as the Velvet Underground of Mangue, spawning the current musical explosion that makes up Luaka Bop's What's Happening In Pernambuco: New Sounds of the Brazilian Northeast. The collection assembles an eclectic mix of rural rhythms and imported rock, funk, rap and electronica -- not unlike William Orbit or Portishead trip-hopping their way through the Brazilian version of the Harry Smith Anthology.
Some songs have a more organic feel and use the imported sonics for subtle accents -- the fado-like "Cobrinha" by Tine, and Siba's "Vale Do Juca," which sounds like a Portuguese Calexico. Other cuts coat the indigenous sounds in layers of effects, like Beck fronting a Tropicalia band, or Eric B s-s-scratching for Carnival.
Regardless of the approach, every song on the collection is certified, deep-trunk funk dance music. There's a socio-political bent coursing through most of the songs in keeping with the poverty stricken region. But the intoxicating mix of old and new, rural and urban, and North and South should seduce most open-eared Anglo-centric listeners. This is, after all, what cultural exchange should be, rather than McDonalds, KFCs and crap sit-coms.