A Brief History of Carioca Funk

Silvio Essinger text published in the exhibition catalog Cabelo Apresenta Mc Fininho e Dj Barbante no Baile Funk (Gentil) Carioca.

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A Brief History of Carioca Funk

by Silvio Essinger

In the beginning was the Baile. The meeting of young locals in front of an innovation: funk.

And at the dawn of the ’70s, funk was wild dancing, dirty, sexual, dangerous and seductive at the same time, with which the American James Brown drew hearts, hips and minds worldwide. Baile Funk: instead of the sound of leather, wood and ropes of samba, it used the powerful speakers of the soundsystem to trumpet grooves to the delight of kids that were short on money and high in spirit. A black tsunami followed the tracks from the Central station, flooded the suburbs, and its victims celebrate it until today: every weekend the funk still plays, and people still say ¨já é, demorou¨ (“Hey, let´s go!”).

Since the `70s, funk music went through successive mutations – disco, discofunk, eletrofunk, hip-hop … these innovations were embraced without difficulty by Baile Funk DJs. Swallowed up like Bishop Sardinha who landed in Ramos beach, this alien sound was incorporated into local drumming and chanting. And turned into the music of a city that was born in samba and raised in the ratatat of guns. It turned into the batidão, pancadão (Big Beat)… the music of the Rio Bailes – the Baile that began with James Brown and entered the new millennium without losing the nickname funk.

It was in the late ’80s that the screaming crowd, playing with that chorus in English that nobody understood, produced a new version of the music. “Doo wah diddy diddy diddy dumm”, was sung by the American MC on one side of disk. On the other side, the masses shouted back: “mulher feia chupa p* e dá o c*” (ugly woman sucks d* and gives her a*). Without sin and without judgement. The DJ copied the beats, tempered the lyrics “cheira mal como urubu” (“stinks like a vulture”) and played the song at the Baile. The “Melô da Mulher Feia” (Melody of the Ugly Woman) was born, the first ever success of Brazilian Funk (Rio of origin).

The message ran and hit the city slums. Holding imported weaponry the boys yelled – Play the Volt Mix DJ! – The boys who shouted and waved at the Bailes never stopped terrifying: they did raps to tell us where they were from, how they lived and what they wanted. The Baile played and they continued. One day, the entire city learned that happiness could be found there, where for a long time it seemed to have been banned. “Eu só quero é ser feliz, andar tranquilamente na favela onde eu nasci, e poder me orgulhar, e ter a consciência que o pobre tem seu lugar” (“Rap da Felicidade”, de Cidinho e Doca, MCs da Cidade de Deus). The funk took its time to take hold, but then it exploded.

Rio listened, Brazil listened. And danced. But violence made the headlines: fights, brawls, bad manners, noise that would´t allow the neighbors to sleep … funk embodied all of that, as if a musical genre could be blamed for all the wrong things in the Cidade Maravilhosa. Meanwhile, few were aware that a cultural revolution was underway. An underground revolution, not noted in the so called mainstream culture.

Even so, with more headlines in the crime pages than in the cultural pages, funk didn´t get fazed. It spoke of love, of celebration and of the not always pretty reality of the favela. It inspired impossible dance moves. It invaded the pop music of the middle class youth, the rhymes of their grandparents, the western sertanejo records (Jack Matador!), the percussion of umbanda communities … and arrived in 2000 with a character of its own, ready for further invasions.

Those who saw it, lived it. The Bonde do Tigrão paving the way for the ripped young people of the slum to exhale sensuality. Tati Quebra-Barraco giving it back to the sexist MCs. Mr. Catra mixing sex, religion and political awareness with an authoritative voice of thunder. Serginho and the sadly missed Lacraia challenging sexual stereotypes by using innocent jokes. Leo making everyone dance easy. And Créu making everyone f* in five speeds.

Today, funk is sound, light, dance, a masters thesis, a source of income, trouble with the police and success in Europe (after all, which German DJ resists the pressure of it´s gutsy beats?). Funk is the “Mulher fruta” (“fruit woman”), having fun with internet videos, making fun of the tanned blonde from São Paulo, the videogame soundtrack and the theme of TV debates.

In the country where everything used to end with samba … Today it is baile funk that has the answer. Too bad James Brown is no longer around to see what his seed turned into.

Silvio Essinger is a journalist and writer, author of ‘Batidão, uma História do Funk’.

  • 1 –  A “Baile”  is a party in which funk music is played.
  • 2 –  Bishop Sardinha was eaten by the Aimorés tribe in the 16. century. The story of  Bishop Sardinha is mentioned in the Manifesto Antropófago, written by Oswald de Andrade (Cannibalist Manifesto, 1928).
  • 3  – Praia de Ramos is a popular beach in the north zone of Rio de Janeiro.
  • 4 – “I just want to be happy, walk quietly in the favela where I was born. And be proud. And be conscious that the poor have their place “(” Rap da Felicidade ” by Cidinho and Doca, MCs from Cidade de Deus).
  • 5 –  Sertanejo is a style of music from the Brazilian countryside.

Translated from Portuguese by Thais Medeiros

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