Posts Tagged ‘Funk’

The criminalization of Funk in the pacified favelas is a hot issue. Funk is criminalised for several reasons. Funk, and especially the proibidão (the “prohibited” one, often with lyrics about drugs gangs and trafficking) are seen as praising, or justifying drugs trafficking or criminality and gang leaders (“apologia ao crime”). Also, at the funk parties – known as baile funk – a lot of drugs is being consumed. Many people gather, which is difficult for the police to maintain order. Funk is often seen as very closely related to criminality. But also, as George Yúdice writes in a chapter on the Funkification of Rio in his book “The Expediency of Culture” is how Funk is also used to discriminate the favelado (resident of the favela). Those who listen to Funk lack any artistic sense. In an interview I had with MC Leonardo, a famous MC in Rio de Janeiro, he explained me how it is prohibited to exclude or discriminate people on the basis of their “race” or ethnicity,  but not on the basis of their taste of music. That is, there isn’t any legal consequence when referring to Funkeiros, while often this is just as discriminatory. What it comes down to, considering these examples, is an association of Funk with favela life, which is seen as dangerous, disorganised and an breeding ground for criminality.

The problem here is a devaluation of Funk by the middle and upper classes. Funk is neither recognised as a cultural expression, nor as a cultural movement. In many cases Funk goes far beyond sexist or criminal lyrics and ordinary parties. Moreover, it’s much more than music only. The criminalization of funk simplifies something as complex and as “funk” into the bailes, thus making an end to the main site at which this form of culture is practiced.

MC Leonardo, a rapper born in Rocinha (a favela not yet pacified) entered the funk scene in 1992. Defending the rights of the funkeiros, he founded APAFUNK (association of professionals and friends of Funk) and established a law that recognises Funk as a cultural movement. A couple of weeks ago he told me about the implications of the criminalization of funk.

“We defend Funk as a means of communication in the first place. I consider Funk, more than a form of cultural expression, as a powerful tool to communicate.” Whereas the media construct a particular discourse about favela life, Funk allows the people living in these communities to communicate about their local reality. “Secondly there’s the cultural side of Funk. The Right to Culture is included in the Human Rights Declaration, so neither Lula (the former president) nor Cabral (the governor of the State RJ) provides me access to this right, because it already exists. So ever since I founded APAFUNK, we fight for the preservation of Funk in order to defend, a.o., the right to communication, the right to culture and the right to work, which are several rights we have. This means that Funk goes far beyond the mere right to entertainment.”

Today, in the pacified favelas, this right to communication through Funk is impeded when the bailes become criminalised. MC Leonardo argues that the current situation in the pacified favelas could be compared with a dictatorship, a situation in which the (heavily armed) police hold power.

“The police has to function as police! Everyone wants a police patrol at the corner of the street. But the job of the police is to protect the citizens. To serve and to protect them, but not to control and to watch! Today the pacified favelas are living a modern dictatorship in which the police has the power to shut down Funk, which serves as a tool for communication. At 3:00 a.m. in the morning the police invades a party and says: ‘I don’t want baile funk in my area’, and the party has to be ended immediately.”

APAFUNK tends to defend the rights of the people that want the bailes in their community. The problem, however, is that people don’t want to express their discontent about the current situation. “They are afraid to express their opinion about the atrocities committed by the police. How am I going to defend someone who is afraid express his criticism?” Mobilization in Brazil, and particularly in Rio, is (still) very limited. When we continue talking about this particular topic – people being afraid to protest, to criticise – I realise that the problem is a little more complex. It’s not only a fear of this new authority, the lack of criticism and mobilization is also a result of a history of oppression, discrimination of the favela residents and a systematic lack of (access to) education.

“We are children of a false liberty. Boys are arrested and go to jail, they don’t have the opportunity to study, not even primary education.” In addition, MC Leonardo explains that there’s a lack of knowledge among the MCs to put the criticism in a constructive – and non-offensive – way. “The kids talk about the crime without any responsibility, which is picked up by the media and the elite as an apology to crime.” The fact that their texts are the result of the state’s neglect of cultural and educational matters are not recognised, or distorted by the discriminatory discourse. They lack the capacity to provide a critique without offending the authorities. Therefore, he explains me, it is important that MCs sing about the absurd way in which the state combats the use and trafficking of drugs. They should talk about the state’s lack of instruments to understand the complexity of the favela life. And about the fact that the state spends more on munition than on class rooms.

Today, the discrimination is reinforced through the criminalization of Funk in the pacified communities and a discourse associating Funk with criminality and drugs trafficking, particularly disseminated by the media. This resulted in the arrest of, a.o., MC Smith, a famous MC from Vila Cruzeiro, one of the favelas that are being occupied by the army since November 2010. His lyrics talk about the local reality of his community, and about the drugs gangs who used to control the area.

I tried to translate, but it’s full of slang and not easy!

“He went to the parties of fight

Took a ride and borrowed clothes

He was one of the most talked about, tough in the fights,

But no one can live of fame

He wanted money, he wanted power

He involved in Article 12 through the C.V.*

FB** is on alert, but look who’s talking

No one gave him nothing

He is very strong in the hierarchy

Messing around with women

He is the […] of the faction, on top of the R1

The thickness of his necklace causes a “zum zum zum” ***

But it’s several women, several rifle at his disposal

The battalion of the area is eating out of his hand

He has disposition for the bad and the good

The same face that makes you laugh makes you cry as well

Our life is bandit and our game is tough

Today we are party, tomorrow we are dead

A tank does’t scare me

We don’t escape from conflict

But we’re also armored by Jesus Christ’s blood”

*Comando Vermelho

** FB is one of the former traffickers the Complexo da Penha

*** A noise

He was arrested for association with trafficking and “praising/justifying” crime. “There’s nothing prohibited in this lyric! Telling the truth became a crime in Brazil”, argues MC Leonardo. In fact, another truth is constructed through the media. A reporter, Wagner Montes, says things like ‘Lock them up, punch them, make them talk, etc.’ about MCs, or rather, funkeiros. “Rather than someone like MC Smith talking about the local reality, which is in fact the result of the state abandoning those areas for decades, the reporter’s words are what incites violence!” While MCs are locked up, reporters can say what they want, even though they don’t know the local reality as they never enter the favelas. And those who report from inside the favela are being neglected. Our conversation about Funk reflects a more general critique on the pacification of the favelas expressed by some of the residents I have talked to in Complexo do Alemão. “Peace without a voice is fear”, is a famous phrase sung by O Rappa, a Brazilian band, that often returns.

APAFUNK continues to defend the rights of the funkeiros, not only through the recognition of Funk as a cultural movement, but also the artistic rights of the MCs. Where on the one hand Funk is criminalised by the elite, on the other hand MCs face difficulties as they are exploited by two major producers that claim the rights, copy and distribute the songs, leaving the MCs without any benefits. Strikingly, whereas Funk fulfils an important role in terms of communication and culture, those producers don’t have any ideological or cultural intention and see funk merely as business. The difficulty in mobilising the funkeiros and the favela residents to defend their own rights is that there isn’t a market for politically charged lyrics. A combination of a lack of education and consumer focused production of funk songs closes a vicious circle of the association of funk with crime and favela life.

Concluding, I just want to point at the fact that although Funk is very present in the favelas, it’s not at all the only form of entertainment and artistic expression. When discussing the topic with teenagers, many of them don’t like Funk, and prefer Rock or MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira). There also numerous artists composing, playing and producing kinds of music other than Funk. While they could construct an alternative image of the favela, few of them are recognised. This weekend the final of the “Favela Festival” – an Idols kind of contest promoting MPB from the favelas – will take place in Complexo do Alemão. My friend Eddugrau is one of the finalists!


After this weekend more blogging on this festival.

Currently I am attempting to write an essay about the pacification project by the government in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This project aims at replacing the violent military police BOPE (as you might know from the movie Tropa de Elite) with a so-called socially trained police called Pacification Police Unit (UPP).

The main objective is the recovery “of these areas lost to trafficking and socially including the most marginalised of the population through the implementation of this special unit. The project’s official website explains that this unit is a new model of Public Security and policing which promotes a closer and improved relation between the police and the citizens. The main objective of this program is to integrate the police into community life. It is a strategic concept based on the collaboration of the citizens and the public security institutions.


How will this new protector be received? The feelings of a traumatised people that has given up to believe in the government’s goodwill are now mixed with new hope, but also with simultaneous disappointment as those promises are not entirely lived up to. This is reflected in the discussion about the UPP. On the one hand positive voices are heard. Violence has significantly decreased and most of the drugs lords are exiled from the favelas that are occupied by the UPP. In Cidade de Deus, for instance, is no more shooting. One particular news item reports on a high authority from the UK who visited the favela and the fact that there was no extra protection necessary in order to receive this woman.

Other reports, interviews and comments in discussions on the web argue that favela residents have embraced the new police men. They are accepted as new authorities in the favelas and have even replaced the drugs trafficker as the young boys’ hero. On the other hand, however, it is argued that politicians have a clear stake in the implementation, seeing a new possibility to gain votes by the middle class. Also, two major international events – the olympic games and the world cup in 2014 and 2016 – at which Brazil can prove its socio-economic improvements to the outside world are seen as important motives for “organising” the city. As they initiated the program in the favelas located in the city’s south (Zona Sul), the richest and most touristy area of the city, the effect would be much more visible to the middle class than starting in the peripheries or suburbs of the city. Moreover, it is argued that precisely these favelas in which the UPP has been installed are those that are considered less violent. In the most challenging favelas the operation has not started yet. These critiques are hard to prove, but reflect the wary attitude towards the government by a part of the population.

While the implementation of the UPP has proved to be successful in providing security in terms of significant reduction of violence inside the favelas within which they operate, one might argue what “security” entails. Is pacification enough? And will the end of violence bring peace, and not the least important, equality? That is, what do we consider violence, merely armed violence or violence in terms of lack of access to basic services? When these areas were under rule of drugs traffickers, access to water, electricity, cable tv and housing was democratised. No that these economies are formalised, costs rise and access to these services become very expensive for most residents.

But perhaps more important is the question of participation of the local people in this process. An article in Direito Para Quem, a human rights journal, gives a voice to Rapper Fiell, who explains that the famous Funk parties (Baile Funk) are now prohibited, just as the cyber cafés and other “illegitimate” forms of leisure. This same guy took the initative to create a flyer that informs about the rights of the people and how they are often abused by the police. He claims: “On the asphalt (middle class/elite areas) people like the work of the UPP, but here in the favela we are forced to adapt to the program without the ability to participate”. What about a participatory democratic process, in which citizens have a voice? Doesn’t the fact that the UPP occupies these favelas suggests that this is a form of repression?

Pacification certainly is a good step, but too often policy makers fail to take into account local structures. Something that struck me in Brazil is the very strong social organisation in the form of, for instance, neighbourhood or community associations that represent the voices of the people. To what extent do they have a role in the implementation of this project? It’s hard to form an opinion about an oversea situation… For now I just got upset by the fact that Fiell’s Funk parties had stopped. I just sent a friend request to the APAFUNK (associação dos profissionais e amigos do FUNK – association of professionals and friends of FUNK)..