In a poem published in 1919 entitled ‘Muzica brazileira,’ Olavo Bilac defined Brazilian music as ‘flor amorosa de três raças tristes’ (the loving flower of three sad races) – the Portuguese, the African and the indigenous Amerindian. Samba rose from outlawry in the 1930s to become an icon of Brazilian unity, offering the black and the poor symbolic compensation for material exploitation. Since the 1960s, however, some have found in African-American soul and funk an antidote to the ideology of subaltern integration. The core of música soul consists in a set of 1970s albums by Cassiano, Carlos Dafé, Hyldon and Tim Maia. Funk carioca, the first Brazilian genre of electronic dance music, was born in 1989. It circulates freely on the web and is sold by street vendors on pirate CDs and DVDs. MCs earn their living from live performances, whereas DJs can also count on studio production as a source of income.
Also known outside Brazil as baile funk (funk dance), the music Brazilians call funk carioca (funk from Rio de Janeiro city) derives not directly from African-American funk but from a variety of US hiphop known as Miami bass. The name ‘funk’ has clung to the music because of its roots in the bailes funk of the 1980s, which were fed by US funk and rap. Bailes funk in turn relate to the bailes black (black dances) of the 1970s, which had themselves been fed by US soul and funk.
The huge popularity of both bailes black and bailes funk can be judged from some estimates of those attending. According to the journalist Lena Frias, who named and disclosed the scene in one of the main Brazilian newspapers in 1976, every weekend the ‘Black Rio’ dances used to attract from 500,000 to 1.5 million black or black-identified – that is, poor – young people of the Rio de Janeiro slums and periphery to dance to the sounds of James Brown and other soul brothers in big bailes promoted by equipes de som (sound crews), the local equivalent of the Jamaican sound systems of the 1960s and DJ Kool Herc’s Bronx, NY, block parties of the 1970s. Some of them reached an attendance figure of as many as 15,000 (Frias 1976, 1). When, in the 1980s, electro and Miami bass replaced funk and soul as the soundscape of choice for the marginalized youth of Rio, the anthropologist Hermano Vianna estimated that 700 bailes funk were taking place every weekend in the greater Rio area, each attracting from 500 (a failure)–1,000 (the average), 2,000 (no less than 100 dances) to as many as 10,000 funkeiros (funk carioca funksters), making a total of at least 1 million young people every Saturday and Sunday (Vianna 1988, 13). In 1996 DJ Marlboro estimated that every week in the Rio de Janeiro state 800 bailes were each bringing together an average 2,000 funkeiros, amounting to at least 1.5 million young boys and girls each week (Matta and Salles 1996, 42). In 2008 the prestigious Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) calculated, with a margin of error of five percentage points, that an ensemble of 67 equipes de som was doing an average of 878 bailes a month, of which 552 were in clubs of the greater Rio area, 185 in the favelas and 140 elsewhere in the Rio de Janeiro state, with an average of 1,810 tickets sold in each club, and 1,232 in each baile de favela (FGV Opinião 2008, 60).
The appropriation and resignification by Brazilian artists of African-American music from the United States is as old as the recording industry itself. George Washington Johnson’s ‘Laughing Song,’ the biggest-selling record of the 1890s, appeared in the southern hemisphere as early as 1902. Recorded on disc under the title ‘Gargalhada’ (Laugh) by Eduardo das Neves with words by Vagalume in 1906, it remained in the Brazilian Odeon catalogue for approximately a quarter of a century. But whereas in his recording Johnson, despite being African-American, caricatures the behavior of a black man according to white stereotypes, Neves, also of African descent, mocks bootlicking, which he presents as a widespread trait of Brazilian society. In the process, a ‘coon song’ became a lundu (a Brazilian urban song), as ‘Gargalhada’ was consistently marketed until 1926. With Kerry Mills’s ‘At a Georgia Camp Meeting,’ recorded in 1898, the reverse occurred. A cakewalk of worldwide renown, Mills’s piece appeared in Brazil under various guises in the earlier decades of the twentieth century, one of which was the song ‘O mulato de arrelia’ (The Quarrelsome Mulatto), recorded in 1907. But whereas a cakewalk entails an African-American choreographic parody of white upper-class behavior, ‘O mulato de arrelia’ involves an ethnically unspecified male singer impersonating the bravado of a rustic Afro-Brazilian in the Europeanized capital of the nation. In the process, a cakewalk was turned into the Brazilian counterpart of a ‘coon song.’
Resignification follows from a fundamental property of phonography: a sound produced at one time at one place resounds here, now, and acquires thereby inherently new meanings. In the late 1960s the Prague Spring, the Paris riots and the Civil Rights movement shook Europe and the United States. In Brazil, the military shut down the Congress and gave the de facto president legislative and judiciary powers.
In 1961 the LP Os anjos cantam (The Angels Sing), by Nilo Amaro e Seus Cantores de Ébano (Nilo Amaro and his Ebony Singers), announced the soul craze of the early 1970s in Brazil with eclectic repertoire, doowop arrangements and Platters-like vocal styles. The forceful appearance of unheard-of 64-year-old Clementina de Jesus surrounded by the elite of samba in the musical Rosa de Ouro (Golden Rose) in 1965 could have provided the blueprint for radical Afro-Brazilian vocality. Instead, Brazilians turned to soul and funk as signs of freedom.
On 24 June 1967, on the first anniversary of black megastar Wilson Simonal’s TV show, recorded live for a double LP, 3,000 white people sang along as he performed his ‘Tributo a Martin Luther King’ (with lyrics by Ronaldo Bôscoli), with its exhortation: ‘cada negro que for, mais um negro virá para lutar, com sangue ou não, com uma canção também se luta, irmão, ouve minha voz, luta por nós!’ (each black that’s gone, one more black shall come to fight with blood or without, we also fight with songs, brother, listen to my voice, fight for us!). Recorded in the previous February, the single of the song had been waiting in the drawers of the censorship service; now, in June, it was finally released. Three years later, soul and funk were exploding on national television with the rapid rise of black performers Toni Tornado and Trio Ternura in ‘BR-3,’ by white composers Antônio Adolfo and Tibério Gaspar, and of black singer Erlon Chaves and Banda Veneno (Poison Band) in ‘Eu também quero mocotó’ (I Want Knuckle of Veal Myself Too) by black composer Jorge Ben. Despite these popular successes, the sight of undomesticated Afro-Brazilian showmanship triggered a multimedia war: two years later, Tornado was driven away from the country, Simonal brought to court and slandered; deeply wounded, Chaves died of a heart attack in 1974. In 1971 white star Marcos Valle and white superstar Elis Regina released ‘Black is Beautiful,’ by the Valle brothers, demonstrating the acceptability of female or male blackness as a luxury item provided for whites by whites. Any unsettling feelings that the image of a white woman singing her surrender to a black male body on prime time TV might arouse were conveniently deflated by her characterization as a clown. The year 1975 saw the release of Tim Maia’s ascetic first Racional album, the crowning achievement of Brazilian soul. Maria fumaça, by Banda Black Rio, blended samba and funk in a collection of instrumental tracks in 1977, and Tim Maia disco club, by Tim Maia, restored Brazilian disco to the blackness of the original US movement in 1978. The contemporary cultural press viewed such novelties as threats from the foreign music industry. For their part, Brazilian DJs of the 1970s and 1980s, whether black or white, saw disco music as the unfunky white thing that killed the bailes.
In the decade from the latter half of the 1960s numerous Brazilian artists, some of them – for example, Roberto Carlos and Elis Regina – hugely successful, flirted with African-American soul or funk. Their relation to the bailes black was nil. In the same period, a number of Brazilian artists, one of them (Tim Maia) also hugely successful, devoted themselves mostly or exclusively to the same music. Whatever their relationship to the bailes black – and except for Gerson King Combo it was almost certainly insignificant – it is clear that the bailes could make good without them.
The question of the relationship between the bailes black of the 1970s and the bailes funk of the 1980s is not a settled one. In her remarkable study of the Rena-scença Clube, where, from 1972 to 1975, Asfilófio de Oliveira Filho, a.k.a. Dom (Sir) Filó, hosted Noite do Shaft (Shaft’s Night), one of the most influential of the 1970s bailes, Sonia Giacomini resorts to interviews with former participants to highlight ruptures rather than continuities between the two scenes (see Giacomini 2006, 189–256). Journalists and scholars agree that in the second half of the 1970s the bailes were dealt mortal blows by a combination of factors: negative attention triggered by Frias’s article (see above); the hostility of the samba world; and the arrival of disco in 1978. Vianna nevertheless records the existence of bailes funk in which DJs played ‘an older kind of funk’ – very likely, funk tout court – in the mid-1980s. He also provides details concerning the shifts first from African-American soul and funk to disco, then to a slower kind of rhythm and blues locally known as charme, and finally to African-American hip-hop, a process he deems completed in 1985 (Vianna 1988, 11, 30–1). On this basis, it seems appropriate to emphasize connections that link the places where bailes black and bailes funk took place, the social status of their dancers, the places they came from, the relationship of their clothing and dancing patterns to those of the so-called Zona Sul, and, more than anything else, their common reliance on African-American vinyl. However, if it is indeed the case that in the grooves of such vinyl the kinship between African-American soul, funk and hip-hop is inscribed, it is also true that participants looking back on the bailes black of the 1970s have often voiced their contempt for early twenty-first-century funkeiros, as have Brazilian hip-hoppers. In Vianna’s words, funk carioca is ‘o excluído do excluído’ (the excluded of the excluded) (2005, 20). Even so, Oséas Moura dos Santos, a.k.a. Mr Funky Santos, the DJ/MC behind some of the early bailes black of the 1970s, in the later defunct Astoria Futebol Clube in Catumbi, begrudgingly acknowledges the kinship between both scenes by admitting that ‘if there is pagode today – see the way the guys look and talk –, if there is funk [carioca] today – no matter how mediocre it may be –, if there is rap today – but a beautiful rap, like that of Racionais MCs – it is all soul’s fault’ (Essinger 2005, 48; author’s translation).
Not unlike Northern Soul, a scene that developed in northern towns in the United Kingdom in the mid–late 1960s, centered around the spinning of obscure up-tempo Motown-type US-made records, the Rio de Janeiro bailes relied, from 1970 to 1989, on the spinning of US-produced African-American musics in poor neighborhoods of Rio and its peripheral cities. Nonetheless, while the Northern Soul scene lost momentum when African-American music moved into Philly soul and funk in the early 1970s and there were no more obscure records of the right kind to unearth, the Brazilian bailes showed a willingness to assimilate a variety of black musics – from Wilson Pickett to Stevie B – and thus feed on US imports for two decades, before generating their own sound.
Execrated and extolled by the media, for whom the slum dweller is either a bandit or a very creative person, and figuring side by side with música sertaneja (Brazilian country music), pagode romântico (1990s romantic pop samba) and axé (up-tempo Afro-pop from Bahia) among the most cited genres in lists of musical abominations, funk carioca, in which the slum dweller can be at the same time violent and very creative, constitutes the first Brazilian genre of electronic dance music, Brazil’s equivalent of house music. Like Chicago house, funk carioca results from the creative appropriation of cheap technology by people with no formal musical training to produce music for segregated segments of the population: for young black gays of Chicago in the mid-1980s read young inhabitants of economically deprived urban areas of Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities from the late 1980s onward.
A constant item on the agenda of the Legislative Assembly of the Rio de Janeiro State, which, with precarious syntax and concord, once declared ‘forbidden the execution of pieces of music and procedures of crime apology in places where social or sportive events of any nature take place’ (Clause 6 of Law 3410 of 29 May 2000; author’s translation), bailes funk share with UK rave the privilege of being fed by a music governed by specific legislation: Law 3410/2000 (abrogated), Law 4264/2004, Law 5265/2008 (abrogated), Law 5543/2009 and Law 5544/2009. They must be understood in the context not only of the appropriation of African-American musics from the United States by marginalized sectors of the Brazilian urban population but also of the acts of physical and cultural violence perpetrated against these populations by individuals, civil society, the media and the state, of which the compulsory crimination of the poor is only one instance (see Araújo et al. 2006). The history of funk carioca consummates the brutal disruption of the mystique of joyous interaction between masters and slaves, the slum and the beachfront, the living room and the kitchen, the modinha and the lundu. The nationhood that funk carioca portrays is almost irretrievably partitioned. Yet, in the historiography of funk carioca, the integrationist paradigm holds sway.
For most authors, the Baile da Pesada (heavy party), which white middle-class radio-DJ Newton Duarte, a.k.a. Big Boy, and mestizo club-DJ Ademir Lemos put on in the upmarket Canecão beerhouse in the early 1970s, plays the role of founding myth. If Vianna and Marlboro are right, funk carioca appeared when a white upper-middle-class anthropologist – Vianna himself – presented a white lower-middle-class DJ from the Rio periphery, Luís Fernando Mattos da Matta, a.k.a. DJ Marlboro, with a drum machine. The first commercial release of funk carioca – the LP D.J. Marlboro apresenta funk Brasil (DJ Marlboro Presents Brazil funk), produced and co-authored by Marlboro in 1989 – followed thence, an interpretation endorsed by Marlboro himself on the LP sleeve. Even proibidão (literally, big forbidden thing), a subgenre dealing with the feats and fights of the criminal factions, is presented by Essinger (2005, 91) as originating from the first album of clean-shaven media-friendly Marlboro.
In addition to proibidão, also known as funk proibido (forbidden funk), rap de contexto (context rap) or funk de facção (faction funk), the roster of musical subgenres includes funk sensual (sensual funk) or putaria (harlotry); funk consciente (conscious funk); funk melody (sweet funk); funk de raiz (rootsy funk); gospel funk (evangelic funk); and montagem (montage), exploring the rhythmic repetition of vocal fragments, as in early house. The boundaries between crime, sex, awareness, romance, rootedness, the Gospel and dehumanized speech were and are often difficult to ascertain. The dances may be divided into many types: bailes de comunidade (community dances) take place inside the favela, bailes de asfalto (asphalt dances) happen outside it, whereas bailes de rua (street dances) may happen outside or inside it; bailes do bicho (murder dances), bailes de briga (fight dances), bailes de corredor (corridor dances), lado A e lado B (A-side, B-side) and 15 minutos de alegria (15 minutes of joy), each extinct by the twenty-first century, all featured violence with a recreational character. In any of these events, the music comes from a DJ who plays funk carioca tracks from vinyl, CDs, a drum machine or a portable computer; from one or more MCs who rap/sing – often accompanied by a group of dancers (the combination of MC and dancers forming a bonde) – to the sound of a DJ who plays tracks on vinyl, or a combination of beats and breaks triggered from a drum pad; or from an often invisible DJ who releases an elaborate prerecorded track on top of which the MC raps/sings live. Whatever the format, a massive wall of loudspeakers is de rigueur. Equipes de som are owned by donos de equipe (sound crew owners), who hire DJs, sound technicians and dancers in addition to producing CDs and DVDs, owning phonographic copyrights, hosting radio and TV shows and maintaining DJs and MCs under more or less exclusive contracts. According to a leading MC, the major equipes are ‘os cânceres do funk’ (the cancers of funk). However, FGV has shown that, in 2008, MCs received by far the largest share of profits, 61 percent of them having never been under contract with an equipe de som.
The loop that underscores rapping has evolved so far in cycles of approximately 10 years. DJ Battery Brain’s ‘808 Volt Mix’ (1988) prevailed in the first decade (1989–98), although Willesden Dodgers’ ‘122 BPM’ (1982), Hassan’s ‘Pump Up the Party’ (1987), Ice-T’s ‘What Ya Wanna Do’ (1989) and other electro, Miami bass and freestyle tracks were also used. In 1998 DJ Luciano Oliveira created the Tamborzão on a Roland R-8 Human Rhythm Composer, combining the musical patterns of Miami bass with the rhythms and sounds of maculelê, capoeira and candomblé. Tamborzão reigned over funk carioca until 2010, when it was replaced by the anonymous Human Beatbox loop, emulating the spontaneity of rapping to the rhythm of handclaps and vocal noises, as seen in Denise Garcia’s 2005 documentary.
The end of the millennium saw a rebirth of interest in música soul (a phrase that, in Brazilian parlance, may also encompass African-American funk, so as to distinguish it from the less prestigious carioca brand), to some extent due to the emergence in the media of issues related to racism and affirmative action policies. Since that point, new artists have appeared, old ones have returned and the careers of others who never stopped performing have received a new lease of life. Revival bailes black, where 1970s DJs perform their repertoires of yore, attract young crowds. In addition, house, drum ‘n’ bass and hiphop DJ-producers have been remixing selections of 1970s soulful and funky Brazilian music. As to the world of funk carioca, it is alive and always changing. According to FGV, in 2008 the earnings of the 164 MCs, 90 DJs, 67 equipes and 248 peddlers whose income depended on the bailes added up to well over R$17 million in the city of Rio alone (FGV Opinião 2008, 79). A diachronic study of the music, however, is yet to be undertaken.
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Sou feia mas tô na moda , dir. Denise Garcia. 2004. Brazil. 60 mins. Documentary. Features MC G3; MC Frank; Bonde das Boladas and DJ Duda; Bonde das Danadinhas; Jack and Chocolate; Bola de Fogo; Juliana e as Fogosas; Tati QuebraBarraco; Mister Catra; Wagner DJ and MC Nen; Deise Tigrona; Vanessinha Pikachu; Indiara; Valeska and Pardal; Marco DJ; DJs da Pipo’s; MC Serginho; MCs Cidinho e Doca; DJ Marlboro; Umberto Tavares, Victor Junior and Mãozinha DJ; Amilcar e Chocolate.