Brazil's funk is Black music

Brazil’s funk is Black music

Brazil’s Baile Funk music is a sub-genre popularized by the youth movement mainly from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

Although different from the funk of the seventies in the USA, it does share similarities. Its origins were influenced by Miami bass, Rap, Soul and other American music genres.

Basically, as one hit tells it: “Funk is black music, Melanciamusic from the favelas.” For most of Rio’s disenfranchised youth, funk is their only form of self expression to get messages out to mainstream media and to society in general.

In the last five years, the genre has expanded its reach and enjoyed more social acceptance, with the help of an association of funk artists and supporters, Apafunk, and the backing of liberal legislators.

Its market potential has become hard to ignore: A recent survey by the Brazilian think tank, the Getulio Vargas Foundation, revealed that funk disc jockeys, MCs and others generate about $720 million a month in revenue.

A few performers, such as M.C. Naldo and Buchecha, have broken onto major television channels, but many of the genre’s performers and fans have been forced to battle in courts, streets and newspapers for respect, repeating the struggles of the pioneers of Rio’s now-revered samba, the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira and Afro-Brazilian religions.

A 2007 law that had made it virtually impossible to hold the traditional open-air funk parties in favelas was repealed in 2009, and the musical genre was recognized as a “cultural movement.” Dance face-offs between performers of “passinho,” a type of breakdancing associated with Rio’s funk scene, now come with corporate sponsorship.

“We’re watching now the institutionalization of funk,” said Julio Ludemir, a writer and cultural producer involved in the organization of passinho battles. “It’s being accepted by the white elite. But it’s very complicated; like with samba, you start by creating spaces for the middle class to come dance. Now, samba is no longer for the poor. It’s for the middle class, tourists, people from Sao Paulo.”

When police take over favelas to regain territorial control of areas long held by drug dealers, one of their first actions is to clamp down on the raucous bailes. Then police require residents to apply for special permission to throw a funk party, said Ludemir. Such communities still represent a fraction of the nearly 1,000 favelas in Rio State, but the change is hard to miss.

“The baile loses its first characteristic, of being out in the open, for the whole community,” Ludemir said. “The funk accepted by the police is a privatized funk. It’s inside, you pay to get in, it’s got a controlled schedule. It’s the end of the fun for poor people.”