Obituary: Chico Science

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Chico Science was one of the most internationally promising new pop creators in Brazil, an increasingly important nation in terms of the global music industry. Brazil became the world's sixth largest recorded music market last year.

Against the background of a music scene containing many rock, rap and ballad performers, he managed to find a formula which struck both Brazilians and European, American and Japanese "world music" consumers as original and distinctive of his region, and his two CD albums and international tours had been extremely well received.

Chico Science was born Francisco de Assis Franca in 1967 in the tropical north-eastern city of Recife, which adjoins the beautiful and decaying 18th-century colonial centre Olinda. The local traditional music of Pernambuco State, of which Recife is the capital, includes fast drum rhythms such as the frevo, embolada, coco de roda, and above all maracatu, which animates Recife's big carnival. It was the incorporation of these into a mix of heavy rock, distinct punk references, and rap which coalesced around 1993 into a mix that came to be called mangue (mangrove beat, after the local vegetation).

Chico Science's early musical influences were mainly black American - James Brown, the Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash - who he listened to with his street chums in the Rio Doce suburb on the edge of Olinda in the early Eighties. By 1984 he had joined an informal neighbourhood street band called the Hip Hop Legion, then a rock band called Orla Orbe, and by the end of the decade had formed his own group, Loustal, in homage to the French adult comic illustrator of that name.

In 1991, having acquired his stage name, Chico Science, as a self-proclaimed "scientist of sound", he brought together percussionists from an Afro- centric Olinda group named Lamento Negro with his rock colleagues and created Nacao Zumbi ("Nation of Zumbi"), the group he led to fame, named after the leader of a 19th- century slave revolt. Other cultural heroes name-checked in the introduction to the group's first album, Da Lama Ao Caos ("From Mud To Chaos", 1994), included Zapata, Sandino, the Black Panthers and Lam-piao, a 19th-century bandit from the Brazilian bush whose legend features strongly in the country folk literature Science incorporated into the musical mix.

To accompany his music, Science developed a cultural theory, as his 1970s role models, northern singers like Gilberto Gil, had done with "Tropicalism". "Afrociberdelia", the catchphrase which summed up Science's theory, became the title of his second album in 1996. The album's sleeve notes explain the term, a hybrid of "Africa", "cybernetics", and "psychedelia", as "a creative mixture of tribal and high tech elements" and "the art of mapping the collective unconscious via electronic stimuli, verbal automatism and intense movement."

In 1994, American and Swiss entrepreneurs at a Brazilian music festival were impressed by Science's performance - which I recall as very energetic and very loud - and a successful European and American tour followed. Major Brazilian popular singers such as Maria Bethania were beginning to use Science's song-writing talents and the future looked rosy. Had his car not been hit by another on the outskirts of Olinda last week, Science and his band would have been, for the first time, the star attraction of the Recife carnival, perched atop a huge trio eletrico sound truck, thundering through the streets of their home city.

Francisco de Assis Franca (Chico Science), singer: born Recife, Brazil 1967; died Olinda, Brazil 2 February 1997.

Comments