Archive for Brazilian Funk

Funkeiros and socialists defeat repression in Rio

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 26, 2009 by Jack

In 2008 the state assembly of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, passed highly repressive laws in an attemt to outlaw baile funk (funk balls) and stop the mainly poor and black citizens of the city’s favelas from being able to party freely.

For those that don’t know, funk as a genre in Brazil means something different than what it does in the UK or US. It’s a kind of electronic dance music that’s descended from Miami Bass. It’s very bass heavy, combined with percussive loops, nowadays often samled from Brazilian hand drums like those used in some forms of capoeira. Over the top of this you get a uniquely Brazilian kind of rapping.

The lyrical content of much funk can be justly criticised for misogyny, and many of the songs are highly sexually explicit. The other area it comes under attack for is for supposedly glorifying the drug factions that control most of the different favelas far more than the state does.

However, as a genre funk does in fact have a range of content and expression, and it shouldn’t be pigeonholed or stereotyped.

When you listen to how bass heavy the sound is, it’s obviously designed to be played at big parties with massive soundsystems. Outdoor dance music mega parties have been going on for a long time in Brazil, and the name funk derives from the late 70s, when imported US black music such as funk, disco and soul all came to be labelled as funk in Brazil.

The funk balls that take place now attract tens of thousands, and can go on for days. As that kind of partying usually does, it attracted the ire of the state. Last year, the Rio state legislature passed law 5265, which secifically targets funk as a genre in a way reminiscent of the UK’s Criminal Justice Act talked about the “emission of a succession of repetitive beats”, or more recently the Metroolitan Police demanded to know the racial background of people likely to attend an event.

The law stipulated that police had the right to shut down a ball, that organisers had to give 30 days notice to the State Secretary of Security, and that they had to record events for review by police up to 6 months later. It also made lots of petty restrictions, such as specifying numbers of toilets that must be available.

The laws were clearly motivated by immense prejudice. Brazil remains one of the most economically and racially divided countries in the world, and the political elite clearly just wanted to stamp on the rights of over a million poor, mostly black people who live in Rio’s favelas.

The effect of the law practically would have meant that the only party organisers that could have afforded to stay in business would have been the most commercial, profitable ones. (Again, much like the huge commercialisation of rave culture that took place after the state clamped down on its formerly largely free and autonomous status.)

However, the response of funkeiros was to get organised and fightback, forming the Association of Professionals and Friends of Funk, or Apafunk, spearheaded by MC Leonardo.

Apafunk have waged a year long campaign to have funk recognised as an official cultural expression of Brazil. They argued they wanted to see funk used as an educational tool in schools and the positive benefits of parties in the favelas, where there is virtually no state investment in youth, recognised.

The campaign had an ally within the legislature, Marcelo Freixo, of PSoL, the Party of Socialism and Liberty. Freixo’s background is a human rights defender. His party was formed by militants who broke away from Brazil’s traditional socialist party (the PT or Worker’s Party) when its leader, Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, was elected to the Presidency and proceeded to lurch to the right, abandoning the party’s previous left wing stance.

Freixo was also central to the efforts that led to the arrest for corruption of former Rio deuty governor Alvaro Lins, the man who originally wrote the repressive laws.

Although they’re not perfect* as a socialist party, the fact that a PSoL representative is at the forefront of defending youth culture from state repression is a real credit. However, the backbone of the camaign has been Apafunk.

The campaign came to a head on August 25th, when a mass demonstration descended on the legislature, and leading artists and performers testified to an open session inside.

Calling the laws “absurd” and “nonsensical”, representatives of Apafunk and other social movements vehemently demanded repeal of the repressive laws.

MC Leonardo, the President of Apafunk, said “This is a very moving and historical moment, especially to see so many people here for the first time.” He finished his speech by singing a political song including the lyrics “everything is wrong, it is hard to even explain”.


MC Leonardo singing on an Apafunk demo.

Also attending the session were anthropologists and cultural critics such as Hermano Vianno and Adrian Facina.

Following this session, the state legislature voted to repeal 5265 on Setember 1st. In its place are new laws authored by Marcelo Freixo, that aim to protect funk, and take all regulation of it out of the hands of the police in favour of the government Deartment of Culture.

It was a massive victory for a grassroots social and cultural movement of the poor against the corrut and racist political elite. Funkeiros celebrated by singing Rap de Felicidade, or Rap of Happiness, a political song that shows how funk mustn’t be stereotyped:

(For some reason I can’t get the news video to embed, watch it here)

The lyrics are below, helpfully translated by Otra Luna (thanks!)

Rap of Happiness

My only wish is to be happy
Go peacefully in the favela where I was born
And be proud and know that the people have their place
Faith in God… DJ!

My dear authority, I don’t know what to do
With such violence, I’m afraid to live
‘Cause I live in favela and am very disrespected
The sadness and the joy walk here side by side
I do a prayer to a protector saint
But am interrupted by shots of a machine gun
While rich live in a big and beautiful house
The poor are humilated and told off in the favela
No longer do I stand this wave of violence
I just ask from the authority a little more competence

Amusement today, we cannot hope for
Since there to bailes they come to humiliate us
There in the square everything was so normal
Now the violence is a fashion in the place
Innocent people who have nothing to do with it
Are asking today for their right to live
Never saw a post card that pictures a favela
Just landscape, very nice, very beautiful
Who goes by the favela feels sadnesses
The gringo comes here and doesn’t meet the reality
Goes to Zona Sul to meet the coconut water
And the poor in the favela have a hard time
Change of the presidency, a new hope
I suffered in the storm, now I want the calm
People be strong, all you need to see is
if they do nothing there we’ll do it all from here

Looking for more funk downloads? Try this site, scroll down a bit and you’ll see what they’ve got.

*As some who know me may be aware, I’m not the world’s greatest fan of the CWI (the organisation that wrote the article), and I don’t necessarily agree with everything they say here, but it was the best up to date piece I could find on the situation in PSoL in English. Sorry!