Bandits, Favelas and Utopia in Brazilian Funk

Who Writes the Ten Commandments of the Favela?

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Who Writes the Ten Commandments of the Favela?

Já é… se liga na responsa.

Porque tem vários caras que pensa que ser bandido, mano,

é desfazer do irmão, é usar o outro de trampolim, tá ligado,

e na verdade o verdadeiro bandido respeita pra ser respeitado,

considera pra ser considerado.

Então, vou mandar mais ou menos assim, ó… 15

In a sense, what I have been arguing thus far is that the construction of the drug traffickers as the social bandit-type primitive rebel that occurs in the culture of Rio’s favelas and in proibidão funk is the doing of the population. In so doing, the population takes an active role in the creation of a consensus about the rules that exist in the “culture” of drug trafficking in the favelas. In the remainder of this chapter, I wish to discuss the participation of the traffickers themselves in negotiating this consensus, the ways in which they “pander to this view,” as Hobsbawm says, particularly as this negotiation is presented in lyrics of the music of proibidão. As a way of exploring the ideological formation of the drug traffickers in the favelas as evident in the practice of the culture of funk music, I will examine it in terms of the following hegemonic strategies borrowed from the work of Terry Eagleton in his well-known study of ideology: unifying, action-oriented, rationalizing, legitimating, universalizing and naturalizing.16 In reality, the very use of the word “strategy” is indicative of some problems of which the present study can only hope to scratch the surface, such as, ultimately, who is responsible for the creation of the consensus about power in the favela and the culture of the drug trafficker as a ‘social bandit’. Do drug traffickers promote representations of themselves as social bandits in the music of funk as a part of some public relations plan? Do they recognize the baile funk as the staging of their power, or for them is it simply a chance to show off and/or enjoy themselves? Is proibidão the voice of the trafficker or of the community; is it the traffickers explaining the rules to the community, or the community explaining the rules to the traffickers? Is it really meaningful to speak of the two as separate in this way, or is it more accurate to characterize the discourse of power in the favela as a process of negotiation between drug traffickers and the other residents of the community in which both rulers and ruled have an active role?

In the case of power in the favelas, such questions are important because, no matter how close the MCs who sing proibidão might be to the quadrilha, and no matter how much patronage they may receive from the gangsters, an MC is not a drug trafficker. Of course, one or another MC may be, or have been in the past, an actual gun-toting drug trafficker, but in general they are friends and sympathizers of the drug traffickers who write and sing their music with only the indirect support of the gangs. If the discourse of proibidão only worked in one direction, that is, if its messages were always directed at the residents by the drug traffickers, it would lead one to believe that the drug traffickers did in fact basically rule their communities through intimidation. But there are least an equal number of messages in funk songs directed at the drug traffickers, such as the song quoted at the beginning of this section, a fact that suggests some participation on the part of the community in the negotiation of power in favelas. This participation of the people being ruled in the hegemonic process means that the question of power in the favelas is more complex than a top-down rule by arms; instead, power is built upon the consensus of a block of people from various strata in the hierarchy of their social order. 17

The quote at the top of this section is a spoken introduction to a live song performed at a baile funk. It is an excellent example of an MC telling the public, understood as both gangsters and other residents, of what a “true bandit” is. Other examples of this sort of ‘code of conduct’ for gangsters are the many songs that give advice, usually as if from the perspective of another bandit, telling them not to be selfish and to respect the community. There are also innumerable songs that humorously ridicule gangsters who are braggers, brown-nosers, cowards and bullies. On the one hand, only the proximity of the MC to the actual gang and his credibility as a representative of the world of crime in Rio can give him the authority to speak in such a way; attempts to define the “true bandit” by people outside the world of crime, such as pastors, school teachers and bus drivers, would inevitably carry less weight. Still, the MC and other composers who write proibidão songs are far enough removed from the gangs for me to consider them as more “residents” than “drug traffickers.” An MC is not legally considered a criminal and, although singing about crime can potentially cause some problems in his or her life (yes, there are some female MCs, as shall be discussed in chapter four), an MC can leave the favela and generally travel about freely in Rio without fear of arrest. It is interesting to note that, although some MCs have had legal troubles or suffered from police harassment for the content of their material, in general they are considered as a part of the gangs only by a gang from a different narco-alliance. In other words, although an MC can travel the asphalt of the city at will, if he sings songs about the CV he will not be able to go into favelas ruled by the TC or ADA, for whom he is regarded as an enemy as much as any other bandit from a rival gang.

Even if the funk MC of proibidão is somewhat a liminal figure, existing as he does as a quasi-bandit, the lyrics of his music are often written by residents of the communities with no involvement in crime. In Rocinha , there is a very successful composer who writes mostly pagode, forró and funk melody songs, a composer who tends to write very pop-sounding romantic tunes that have nothing to do with organized crime. This composer is also a DJ on a popular radio show and the owner of a small business who has never used either alcohol or any other mind-altering drug his whole life, nor has he committed any crimes or had any professional connection with the gangs. He has recently written a proibidão-style song that two of the most famous MCs are trying to buy from him.18 In the mouth of either of these MCs, both consecrated proibidão artists, the song has the potential to gain a legitimacy that the composer himself could never give it. Coming from either of these MCs, the song is likely to be taken by residents and gangsters alike as the “real deal,” an authentic message of a warrior who represents the world of the favela and the drug traffickers. In this way, the art of a non-gangster resident of the community is absorbed into the hegemonic discourse of the favela.

Funk music and the hegemony of the traffickers cannot be broken down into such neat divisions as production and consumption; the moment a composer of a funk text sits down to write the lyrics to a song, he or she does so both as a producer and as a consumer of past and present products.19 In other words, the song itself does not exist outside of the circuit of production and consumption, but occurs as an interpretation of the culture of funk within the culture of the favelas of Rio and the rule of the traffickers. To a certain extent, how well the composer is able to interpret this culture and represent it in his or her new production will determine its relevance and, to a degree, the success of his or her work of art within the funk movement. In this sense, although funk songs as texts can be said to reflect the reality of the culture of the rule of the traffickers, at the same time they can innovate and shape that same culture in small ways. Traffickers do not, as far as I know, come to a composer and demand or even ask that he or she write a song about a specific topic. Still, if the composers are not friends of the gangsters or even gangsters themselves, they are at least residents of the communities and have a first hand experience of the reality and culture of the rule of the traffickers.

Because of this, I would place the composers and therefore the production of music about traffickers as something only partially dependent on the traffickers. In many important ways, they can be said to represent both the ruled population and the rulers, for all composers of proibidão are part of the ruled population even as they are patronized by the traffickers, and their characterization of life in the favela represents both sides of the social consensus. One implication of this is that the residents can be said to have a role in shaping the expectations of the community in regards to this consensus, so when an MC sings about the ways in which a “real” gangster behaves, he is not only telling the community what they should expect with regard to the traffickers but also giving the traffickers standards by which to measure themselves. I am not overly optimistic about the power of the composer to shape the social reality of the favelas, for if the things his or her song suggests have no resonance with the public, taken as residents and traffickers alike, no one will pay attention to the song. So when I use the term “ideological strategy,” I am referring to this process of negotiation and its representation as it occurs between people living in the social formation of the favela and not some self-conscious plan.

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