Chico Science Credit: Courtesy of Acervo Chico Science & Nação Zumbi Facebook page

Selecting a particular 12 O’Clock Track each week has a tendency to set me on natural associations, with one tune sparking the memory of another. Last week’s song by Tribo Massáhi mentioned the Recife band Nação Zumbi, members of which worked with Seu Jorge on his 2010 album Seu Jorge and Almaz. That long-running group has made lots of great records. Yet nothing matches its first two albums, which were recorded when its highly charismatic frontman Chico Science (nee Francisco de Assis França) was still alive—he died in a car crash in 1997 at the age of 30, just as his group was starting to attract serious international attention. Together, and with fellow Recife band Mundo Livre S/A, they were pioneers of a powerful regional sound called manguebeat, which melded local maracatu rhythms with funk and hip-hop. 

That sound carries on in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco today, but I’ve never heard anything that quite matched Chico Science’s greatest moment, a 1994 track called “Rios, Pontes & Overdrives,” a furiously throttling jam with punishing alfaia drums, scratchy funk guitar, and the Science’s hectoring vocal delivery, which graft the cadences of US rap onto the local rhythms of embolada.