Issue 3/2005 - Net section

Favela Funkeiros

The new international interest in the »baile funk« phenomenon

Petra Erdmann

Baile funk, Rio funk or Cacota funk is one of the (re-)discoveries at major European electronic festivals and in CD compilations in recent times. This scruffy mixture of Miami bass, 80s old school hip hop and Portuguese rap is the sound of the favelas of Rio De Janeiro. A local genre that existed in complete isolation, beyond the purview of (inter)national attention, for some twenty years. This poor people’s funk is named after the »bailes«, the outdoor parties where this music blares out from speaker stacks as high as the wall of a house.

In Brazil, baile funk has now become the biggest movement within youth culture, supplanting the samba as a typical Rio soundtrack. About five hundred funk parties of various sizes take place in Rio on just one weekend, from neighbourhood backyard parties to rave-style mega-events with fireworks and as many as 10,000 dancers.

One of the most important proponents of the genre is DJ Marlboro. He’s been around for about 25 years. He is right at the top of the booking lists for American and European electronic happenings like Sonar, and has the status of an exotic regular. DJ Malboro is in his mid-forties and hosts one of the most popular radio shows in Brazil. A national hero, he untiringly promotes his scene as a kind of father figure. In 1989 DJ Malboro recorded the LP »Funk Brasil«, featuring only Portuguese raps. The result was that, from the mid-nineties on, only specially produced funk was played on the local sound systems.

In a globalised club scene, »favela chic« - now also the name of a Paris club – and »ghetto realness« have spread. The German DJ and music journalist Daniel Haaksman traces the enthusiasm for baile funk outside Brazil back to a crisis in Western electronic dance music that has lasted for some five years, »illustrated, for example, by the notorious nostalgic tendency, shown in the references to disco, 80s wave or 70s electronica on current recordings. CD buyers are looking for new ideas, and there are regional versions of global systems of signs, such as house music and hip hop, to be discovered in many places around the world. There is Kwaito in South Africa, reggaeton in Puerto Rico, and – baile funk in Rio.«

Following an extended research trip, Haaksman has compiled the CD »Rio Baile Funk – Favela Booty Beats« for his label Essay Recordings. It has also contributed to taking the underground phenomenon of baile funk into the mainstream.

[b]Follow Me Follow Me[/b]

A monstrous Nissan 4WD accompanies muddy runners through an urban concrete landscape. The multinational’s polished advertising images are shown to a hammering funk track: »Quem Que Caguetou» by the Brazilians Tejo, Black Alien and Speed. Following the release of this commercial, its energetic soundtrack was given massive airplay on radio stations all over the world. The dynamics of the capital market, which appropriates hybrid aesthetics, turning them into net profits, stands in contrast to the reality of the ghettoes: a young, up-and-coming MC, who lives in the favelas like almost all his fellow MCs, earns around fifty euros for his baile performance in the evening – just as much as he receives in a week for doing his normal job, like washing cars, for example. Despite their popularity, the »funkeiros« are subject to strong stigmatisation. For example, they are accused of being the mouthpiece for drug wars. Up into the nineties, rival gangs carried out mostly peaceful rituals on the dance floor at »bailes«. The gang members, separated by a corridor, performed rhythmical shaking movements to provoke each other, with supervisors there to keep control.

In 2000, the media unleashed a wave of indignation about unexplained deaths and the potential of the »bailes« for violence. New laws were introduced to restrict the holding of such festivities. As a result, the funk parties moved deeper into the slums, where they came under the patronage of the drug cartels. The criminals boast about investing in their community by organising events in »their« favelas. This self-marketing pays for itself, as the »bailes« also give a boost to the drugs business.

DJ Malboro has recorded some 3,000 songs in his career. His sound system has bullet holes made by armed police, who are always breaking up the »bailes«. »The songs are often misinterpreted as inciting criminality. But when MCs rap about dealers and killings by the police, it is scary, because they really are part of our everyday life. And just because people sing about reality, the authorities want to force funk to keep quiet.« (DJ Malboro)

Funk pieces that give a candid and authentic account of the violent existence of the musicians can only be obtained under the counter at the bazaars. And, what’s more, almost never on vinyl, but made using pirated software, on the cheapest home-burnt CDs or cassette. The police were able to use the »proibidão tracks« - banned homages to drug bosses – to find out the true identities of MCs and DJs and put them behind bars. For this reason, these pieces only circulate as sanitised re-recordings of the illegal originals.

There are a lot of female MCs who also sing about which snazzy cars are the most impressive or how to give women physical pleasure. Mother Blonde, a former beauty queen and actress in a TV drama about the funk scene, also owns a sound system. She came third in local elections in Rio after having initiated a platform for the rights of the »funkeiros«. Recently, the funk subculture has also been making its way into the wealthy districts of Rio, such as Copacabana and Ipanema. »The favelados aren’t allowed in there«, says Daniel Haaksman, »they practically only stand on stage and dance or work as DJs.«

DJ Malboro is not overly concerned about the question of whether Brazilian funk is likely soon to fall prey to a commercial sellout, as happened with American rap. Instead, he is hopeful that the »bailes« will gain in reputation in a similar way to the Carnival in Rio. »We are underground by nature,« proclaims DJ Malboro, »we don’t need media and marketing.«

It has long been possible to download the funk song from the above-mentioned car commercial as a ring tone. The British beat artist Fatboy Slim has successfully released his remix of it, »Follow Me Follow Me«, on the UK charts. The dance-floor shooting star M.I.A. has also recognised the punch and power of baile funk and humorously used it – along with her Tamil influences – in her music. The German electronic musician Uwe Schmidt, aka South America connoisseur Señor Coconut, has put together a selection of baile funk tracks on his recent CD »Coconut FM«, alongside other hybrid local styes like »cumbia villera«, a sort of Afro-pop with techno features from the Peruvian slums. Daniel Haaksman is planning to issue his next baile reminiscence in 2006. As can be seen, baile funk is now big enough to allow many kinds of cultural and transcontinental interrelationships between Brazil, Europe and the USA to be linked to it.


Translated by Timothy Jones