During the Eighties and Nineties, Rio de Janeiro’s favelas lived a life of stray bullets, drug wars and shootouts, all numbed out by the consumption of cocaine and not knowing when the next bullet would hit. The description of a favela might sound dreary and depressing but favelas of Rio throb with life.
The favelas are home to millions of poor and marginalized communities of Brazil and most of them are blacks, or immigrants from the rural areas who either take to the violent crimes of Rio Favelas or become victims of it. To an outsider, the streets of Rio favelas may mean poverty, death, drugs, crime and rapes. However, the inhabitants lead more colourful lives than an outsider can imagine.
Funk Carioca is a dance form that is associated with the Favela. A form of dance and music patronized by drug lords, criminals and gangsters, it is much loved by the regular citizens of Favelas in Rio and the rest of the city as well. Funk, as it is known in Brazil, has little to do with the funk understood elsewhere in the world. It derives from Miami Bass as most DJs used to travel to Miami from Rio de Janeiro during the eighties to purchase music.
The parties held in the favelas were called Baile Funk and were violence ridden where rival gangs used to fight and the parties often ended in gruesome killings. Thus, the Police and middle class Brazilians came to associate Funk Carioca with violence, murders, drug lords and explicit sex. Baile Funk became popular right in the 60s when upmarket parties were held in the popular beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema, Botafogo or Leblon for the affluent. Baile Funk served as a cheaper and alternative source of entertainment and socializing and continues to be so even today.
The City of God is universally known for its glamorous Samba parties and Carnival, which is rarely accessible to the poor inhabitants of the Favelas. Though Samba initially was by the poor, it gradually became an elitist entertainment form which is even today inaccessible to many. Baile Funk parties were held as a response to this elitist structure. The society and the elites saw Funk as a threat to civilization, and in other words, a threat to the bourgeois hypocrisy regarding sex and violence. In spite of its alleged misogyny and sexuality, Funk carioca is strangely innocent and fresh.
A Baile Funk Video
DJ Marlboro was one of the first artists to take Baile funk to the international arena. “Quem Que Caguetou (Follow Me Follow Me)” by Black Alien & Speed, “Popozuda Rock n´Roll” by De Falla, and other international hits have been responsible for Funk carioca’s success abroad, especially in Eastern European countries like Serbia and Romania. However, Funk carioca’s popularity abroad lies in its strong sexuality and eroticism which has been termed “crude” by the bourgeois.
Most people have taken offense to terms such as cachorras, meaning bitches, and popozudas, or having large buttocks. The highly misogynistic lyrics have been blamed for acts of violence against women and also for the sheer embarrassment it causes. Strangely, many Funkeiras (female Funk artists and patrons) do not take offense to such terms and have gone ahead to claim these very words used to describe them, much like gay men claimed “queer”. The intense sexuality depicted in the dances have come under criticism from the Catholic majority of Brazil and elsewhere.
However, proponents of Funk Carioca argue that the sexuality of Funk represents the sexual freedom enjoyed by the lower classes of Brazilian society. They also argue that their lyrics do not advocate sexual violence but advocate freeing oneself from the clutches of society’s moralist attitudes. Baile Funk can be seen as a form of rebellion against bourgeois culture that rarely accommodates those without money, education and white skin. Baile Funk reveals the impoverished conditions in which Favela dwellers live and exist.
Baile Funk is now back in the parties of Rio with a bang. It is not only the ‘in’ thing to do but also the most popular form of dance and music among the youth of Rio and nearby areas. DJs regularly hold parties and new artists use social networking and MySpace to reach out to target audiences and fans, and sometimes bag record deals. Funkeiros regularly travel to the U.S. and Europe to perform. The popularity of Funk Carioca has grown exponentially in Eastern European countries and has almost replaced Euro-Trance which was popular in countries like Romania and Serbia a decade ago.
A Funk video uploaded by Deltrus
The pelvic thrusts, wriggling bodies, frenzied movements, kinky lyrics, half naked men have made this much hated form of music and dance popular abroad and even back home. Most middle class kids now find Baile funk cool and parties now attract a different kind of crowd. It could be an example of low culture becoming popular with those in the upper crusts of the society. Funk Carioca defies the idea that culture can move only in a top-down direction. The streets of favelas in Rio shall continue to throb with the Funkeiros beats and dancing.
A documentary on Funk Carioca
For more information on Funk Carioca: Favela Funk