by Valentin Schipfer
This blog entry is as close to urban life as the discussed music style to their dancers. I put the focus on Baile Funk - an important part of social and cultural identity of Brazilian metropolises. Cultural elements from Rio de Janeiro’s informal settlements and their international reception and reproduction will be discussed. In line with a book chapter (by Gilles Deleuze in metroZones 9:Funk the City – Music and urban activities from Rio de Janeiro’s periphery and Berlin), this global movement will then be critically reflected. A highly body-oriented dance music which has its origins in the same neglected urban areas where Brazilian Samba was born – the favelas.
„I was very surprised when I’ve got to listen to Baile Funk music for the first time in 2001. Before that I thought that I had known what was going on worldwide. This first contact showed that I was wrong: Obviously this type of music has already existed for 10 to 15 years in Brazil. But nobody knew it in Europe. Even though it has its roots in different music styles which had been consumed in Europe too during the 1980s, like Rap, Miami Bass and Techno. Baile Funk is powerful, it is exciting and has the same rawness like early tracks by LL Cool J and Public Enemy from the 1980s. I then made the decision to travel to Rio de Janeiro and take a closer look at it in order to compile and present it in Europe to a bigger audience.” states Daniel Haaksman, a Dj from Berlin, in his article in metroZones 9, Funk the City. My own music taste was definitely influenced by Daniel Haaksman. Through his Favela Booty Beats Compilation I’ve got to listen to Baile Funk the first time, even though I had been to Rio de Janeiro the summer before.
Baile Funk or Funk Carioca is a type of dance music from Rio de Janeiro. During the late 1970s musicians from the favelas started to mix elements from North American funk and hip hop and to combine it with their own Portuguese rap lyrics. They often contained socio-critical views about daily problems of the favela dwellers. Quickly it developed to the most popular subculture of Brazil’s urban informal sttlements. Until now tens of thousands of young people attend the weekly Funk parties in the favelas (see picture above). Besides that the Baile de corredor came up during the 1980s. This type of underground party ritualizes the violent conflicts between the criminal drug-gangs of the favelas. The idea behind it: to conquer enemy territory by dancing against each other (see video below). By doing so, they symbolize the war between the drug-gangs. Many of these parties ended up in violent mass-fights. Even though many young people were not part of these gangs, Rio’s upper class soon stigmatized them as criminal drug-parties. For a while the parties were even prohibited.
In that vacuum of prohibition and public stigmatization, the drug-gangs did anything else but to stop partying. By establishing themselves as securities and drug providers for party people, they gained power and quickly raised their revenues. They started to pay musicians to glorify the gang, their weapons and their drug lord.
Today’s funk though has already developed itself into different directions. The biggest parties still take place at the favelas but after its liberalization in 2002 you can find them at neutral venues too – without any gang influence. At the same time fancy clubs in Rio’s rich South started to play this sound and throw parties for the upper class kids. Lately even the Pacifying Police Unit organizes Baile Funks to show their well-meant strategy. Since Daniel Haaksman’s music import, at the latest, Funk stars from Brazil’s favelas, like Dj Marlboro or Mr. Catra, are also booked in Europe. Besides that the lyrics have changed. They are not only about socio-critical anymore but sexual content. Recently several female stars have tried to turn this male sexism on its head. The mentioned book contains several interviews with Funk singers and translated lyrics.
The discourses of sex and crime as well as the myths of war and thrill of Baile Funk start to attract more and more young people from the white middle class of European metropolises. During the last years Baile Funk did not arrive only at Rio’s posh clubs in Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon but also in London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna. Some years ago Europe’s media still described the type of music as highly violent. After the controversially discussed movies City of God and Tropa de Elite as well as after several events in Berlin treating topics like violence and cultural practices in the favelas, this image slowly changes. There is a growing interest in the people living in informal settlements and their urban culture. In my eyes, Baile Funk is a cultural element which mirrors this trend. European artists are already re-adapting Baile Funk elements, refining them in their songs and last but not least making some profit out of it.
Maybe it’s time for Europe to get some inspiration from the enormous energies emitted by the most dynamic and least regulated mega-cities. Doing so, Europe could probably be roused from its cultural, social and political slumber. Put under critical light we could ask if this Baile Funk movement has some parallels with European colonialism: Back then Europe industrialized itself at expense of its colonies’ raw materials and labour forces. Nowadays industrialization is moving from European cities to other parts of the planet. On one hand the post-industrial society emerges – increasingly influenced by the culturalistic, creative economy. On the other numerous improvisation talents and cultural energies evolve in order to survive in Southern mega-cities. Whereby their ideas and practices are often stigmatized in their home town – like the Funkeiros in Brazil – they are turned into profitable commodities for Europe’s music industry.
Bearing all these reflections in mind, I’ll attend a concert of Daniel Haaksman and Schlachthofbronx in Berlin tomorrow night. Let’s see if the European audience is ready yet for this musical raw material from Brazil. However, I am looking forward to dancing.