By Luciana de Alencar | Translation: Christine Di Stefano
At the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, funk, a musical style created by black North Americans, surged in popularity in Brazil. The first to identify with funk were the youth who lived in the favelas. Funk’s main fan base was mostly young people who wanted to express themselves in a unique way. Later funk became a “national fever”, appreciated by all social classes. It has more recently become reworked and re-popularized with a distinctive Brazilian flavor that is growing in popularity around the world.
The first “Bailes Funk” (funk dance parties) of Rio de Janeiro was fostered in 1968 by Dom Filo in the North Zone the “Clube Renascenca”, and by the legendary DJ Big Boy in the South Zone, at the Canecão (Traditional Music Hall in Rio). The Funk was introduced to Rio de Janeiro as a vehicle for racial consciousness, encouraging Afro-Brazilians to embrace their heritage in the face of a society dominated by drug trafficking, unemployment, and lack of healthcare.
The dances in the Northern suburbs of Rio were dominated by Black rhythms (funk and soul), while in the richer South Zone rock continued as the most popular genre. It was from this cultural broth that “Black Rio” was created, as one of the first cultural movements of black Brazilian youth. It was during this time that the “Banda Black Rio” (whose funk swing was discovered by Gilberto Gil on his album Refavela, in 1974) became popular, as well as other important Brazilian soul and funk musicians, such as Cassiano, Hyldon, and Gerson King Combo. The “Bailes Black” (black dance parties) were also the starting point for many musicians that are today considered legends of Brazilian Popular Music, such as Tim Maia and Jorge Ben Jor.
The first great “Funk Team” was without a doubt the group Furacão 2000, who came into being in 1983 and is still active today. From the same cultural broth came other groups such as “Pipoo’s”, “Espião Shock de Monstro”, and “New Funk”. All of these groups came from the favelas and suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. The “Bailes Funk” became known as places that highlighted unique local acts that revealed their creativity in their beats, the social messages in their lyrics, and the sensuality in the dance. It was here that thousands of young people found a unique outlet for fun and cultural expression.
The strength and resistance in Brazilian funk is owed to its popularity in Brazil and the rest of the world. In Brazil, its popularity can be measured by the increasing number of funk dances in and outside of favelas. A space has been opened for social mixing and every weekend thousands of youths from different social classes dance, enjoying the beat and sensual rhythm of a music that originated in the favelas.
Social development projects in favelas are also receiving more attention through ONG’s (nongovernmental organizations) such as “Agencia Olhares” – whose project “Olhares do Morro” shows the importance of funk in favelas. Art mediums such as the work of photographer Vincent Roosebalt also aid in bringing attention to the social problems that exist within the favelas.
In the international sphere, Brazilian funk began to be exported beginning in the 1990s, when it was featured in European commercials and “Bailes de Pancadão”. Currently, Brazilian funk is a frequent feature in London nightclubs. The great international representative of funk abroad is Maya Arlpragasm, known as M.I.A., who mixes Brazilian funk and reggae, among other international beats in her music.
Even with all of this popularity, like any cultural manifestation created by underprivileged youth that is able to break socio-geographic barriers, the first general reactions are rejection, and misunderstanding. Funk would be condemned for, among other things, being a part of popular culture.
Nevertheless, the “Baile Funk” of the favelas represents the absolute freedom of expression of a people who are economically oppressed. It represents a resistance to the domination of commercialism, and against the standard way of thinking. By acting as a product of resistance against the dominance of the music industry, funk carioca has become an example that others can look to for inspiration. Globalization influences, but is unable to dominate the culture of a people. The reality is that today in Rio, Sao Paulo, London, and in other cities around the world, everyone is able to listen to and enjoy the contagious beat of Carioca Funk…or even better say, Brazilian Funk.