During the late 1980s through the late 90s, baile funk as a genre remained a purely regional music style. It was played at parties in the favelas, but gradually it caught the ears of America and Europe, with references in both European media and in the New York Times. The first non-Brazilian recordings were released in France in 2001.
While some decry the exportation of baile funk as exploitation, the resulting interest has increased awareness of the plight of favela residents. Diplo is producing a movie about baile funk and the favelas, and baile funk hero Mr. Catra is the subject of Mr. Cata O Fiel, a film by Danish director Andreas Johnsen.
Baile funk focuses on outlaw themes–drugs, explicit sex, violence and social injustice, challenging the prevailing order and expressing the feelings of its creators. Baile funk artist Mr. Cara’s lyrics are so explicit that the Brazilian police have coined the term funk proibido and have outlawed this particular genre. In response, some funk proibido artists record a second lyrics on their releases, while others sell their music on the black market, yet play the banned songs live.
In 2000, the Rio state assembly passed a law setting strict conditions under which baile funk parties could take place. Metal detectors and military police presence were mandatory. Orlando Zaccone, head of the Rio police’s 19th Precinct told Blender:
They are demands that are not made for parties with any other type of music. And of course, the law demanded the impossible.
In Brazil, baile funk is considered part of a criminal enterprise, funded by drug lords. It is an accepted fact in Rio that illegal baile funk parties, now held deep in the favelas to avoid the police, are staged by drug cartels to “give back to the community” and to move their product.
One baile artist, Juca told Blender magazine that Red Command, one of ruling drug factions liked his song “24 Hours”
so much that they paid to have it recorded, and distributed 1,000 copies of the CD. The lyrics are a tribute to jailed faction leaders Marcinho and Elias Maluco; Maluco is accused of ordering the 2002 murder of an undercover TV reporter who was investigating baile funks. The story goes that he was sliced into pieces with a Samurai sword…Juca is often asked by drug soldiers to write lyrics that include their names…
Most of the songs glorify the Red Command, and many list the names of its leaders. It’s against Brazilian law to promote crime in song lyrics, which makes most of these funk tracks illegal. This is outlaw music—proibidão [pro-EE-BEE-daow], or “totally forbidden”—and singing or playing it is a crime that carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.
But what is Juca to do? He loves to make music, and playing one night at a baile party earns him what he makes in a week at his job as a car washer. In the introduction to Shadow Cities, Neuwirth asks about
the morality of a world that denies people jobs in their homes.
While Juca hoses down cars in his favela barely earning enough to support his wife and two children, he makes a much better wage by working outside the law at illegal baile funk parties. playing his proibido songs. And the criminal enterprise that funds this music and the parties also provides jobs for many young men in the favelas. Dangerous jobs, deadly jobs, soul killing jobs, but jobs close to home that pay far better than the work they could get in the favela or in Rio.
There is another criminal aspect to baile funk that hits at the heart of multinational entertainment corporations: Illegal sampling of music. Baile funk, like rap, samples bits and pieces of well know songs and remixes them, overlaying the MCs’ lyrics. The CDs are pressed and sold illicitly, and of course there are no copyright clearances. Do the MNC care? At a street level there is nothing they can do about it.
But by signing popular baile funk artists, MNCs can control and profit from the use of samples. Like WalMart swallowing up a mom-and-pop store, a record company can absorb individual initiative while giving the illusion of economic freedom. With this “freedom” comes a price: Samples must be paid for even if the songs are owned by artist’s label, and these costs must be recouped. This brass ring of a MNC signing may only happen for a few, and it is not really an end goal for the majority favela residents who are hoping just to get by, maybe make a little extra.
In an email, Jeff Antebi writes:
For many poor people living in the favelas, especially young people, there are virtually no opportunities to be had for a better life and many turn to the drug cartels and a brutal life of crime. But some are able to turn baile funk into opportunities as DJs, musicians, sound engineers, MCs, dancers and such. There is a phenomenal community throughout Rio of artists, music producers, small record companies and the like. It’s a tight-knit support network.
Matt Mochary explains that Grupo Cultural AfroReggae
have turned music and entertainment into a business that favela kids can learn and perform. And those kids are making real money. GCAR employs over 250 favela kids. And of those, about 200 are the top earners in their household, even though some of those kids are only 16 or so.
GCAR provides an alternative drug dealing and in Favela Rising, Anderson Sa says that a drug lord came up to him and thanked him for steering his younger brother away from the drug trade getting the youngster involved in AfroReggae, giving him an alternative.
The youth who get involved on the working end of the music scene have a chance to improve their lives, to not necessarily get out of the favelas–many faveladores stay in their community to reinvest and help their neighborhoods. If they don’t die trying–since death can come from a random bullet, a shot fired in a case of mistaken identity, or in retaliation. There are overdoses, accidents, and illnesses as well; the poorer the neighborhood, the greater the risks.
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