“We still have our own music,” musician and undersecretary of culture of Rio de Janeiro, Humberto Araújo recalls Paulo Moura telling him years ago when he studied with the master clarinetist and saxophonist decades ago. “ ‘It’s time for you to feel it,’” Moura had proclaimed to Araújo in the 1980s.
Though youths living in favelas flock to Rio’s bailes funk, the scene is not likely to draw tourists. The quadras, used by samba schools in the past for Carnaval preparations, are now the turf for funk dances, where the festive spirit is matched by the threat of gang violence and drugs. The funk dances and many of the performers are sometimes funded by some of Brazil’s most infamous gangs, according to Professor Paul Sneed, an assistant professor in the Center of Latin American Studies at the University of Kansas.
Two types of funk first emerged in Rio in the 1970s: montage, a DJ-mixed layering of samples and beats from media ranging from gunshot noises to American funk recordings, and “rap happy,” which revolved around sung (not rapped) narratives by emcees. Variations evolved over the years, from a Miami hip-hop style with a bass-driven rhythm to the heavily syncopated rhythms derived from the Afro-Brazilian syncretic religions Candomble and Umbanda.
Funk lyrics, in the sub-genre called “funk sensual,” are usually sexually suggestive and provoke equally suggestive dancing. While double entendres and sexual objectification abound, funk sensual does not necessarily carry the same sexist and homophobic messages for which American hip-hop has often been criticized. Transvestites are big fans of funk and a few have become prominent performers of the music. According to Sneed, who has lived in a Rio favela, “women can assume a traditionally masculine stance [of being the pursuer] and they objectify men in a playful way.”
Another lyric subgenre is called Proibidão, which emphasizes the gangster associations of the music. Sneed says Proibidão may be increasingly popular because it speaks to the social experience of youths in the favelas. “The everyday person who’s not actually involved in a gang somehow identifies with the social banditry as a symbol of some sort of power and hope.” Whether the appeal lies in the hard-driving beats or its controversial lyrics, Rio’s favela funk scene gains more and more listeners every day.
Brazil’s musical diversity is good thing, says culture undersecretary Araújo. “I believe that every style or genre should have its own place, its own stage. Music is no longer an elite affair.”