Bandits, Favelas and Utopia in Brazilian Funk



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Notes


1 This opening piece is meant to be a partially fictitious representation of the type of conversation and social interaction likely to occur at Beer Pizza on the day in November 2001 when the police did invade the favela and fly over the population for several hours in a helicopter while aiming rifles at various residents.

2 Translation:

You head’s nuts; you’re crazy in the head,

Rocinha is Comando (Vermelho) to the vein,

If you want to take it over you’d better bring an bazooka…



3 For more information about the mechanisms of conflict resolution in favelas, see Corinne Davis-Rodrigues.

4 In November of the year 2000, a stunning number of rounds of ammunition were fired between about 8:15 and 9:00 o’clock one evening in Rocinha. The sounds of the shots were mixed with other explosions, of fireworks and perhaps some grenades, and could be heard slowly making their way down from the top of the favela to the area of the Valão at the bottom. Many people assumed this to be a terrible gun battle; children were crying all over the neighborhood, folks ran for cover and stayed low down on the floor. Later that night, the rumor that the police had invaded was circulating, but the next day I learned that it had not been a gunfight at all. That incredible display of power, in which thousands and thousands of rounds of ammunition were fired, had been a celebration by the traffickers after they had successfully negotiated the ransom of the boss from the police, who had captured him earlier that day. It was a sort of hot lead party, a bit like the ones that happen when Brazil scores a goal in a big soccer game, but it was so huge and so loud that residents were scared and confused. While there may be any number of meanings to such an event from psychological and anthropological points of view, it is clear enough that this gun party did serve as a form of communication declaring the power of the drug traffickers in the community.

5 Translation:

I’m going to tell you how it is, don’t run away,

The ten commandments here in the favela

The first commandment is not to rat

A rat can’t live in the favela

The second commandment I’ll tell you right now

Don’t mess with the women of your friends

The third commandment I’ll also say

Is to be down with the gang and not to double-cross anybody

The fourth commandment is not difficult to say

The favela is a good school but you can’t rob here

The fifth commandment is that I’m pissed off

I’ll cut down any son-of-a-bitch with my G3

6 The word cagüeta, or cagüete, derives from the word alcagüeta, which comes from alcoviteiro, a person who acts as a go-between on behalf of two lovers.

7 Translation of dialogue(the lyrics can be found in their entirety in the lyrics appendix):

Yo, citizen, it’s pay-off time.

What the hell, boss? Again? Shit. You’re nuts.

Hey, my salary sucks, you know?

Oh, want some dough, then sell me a narc.

Translation of the quoted lyrical stanza:

He acts like your friend, he’s just pretending,

Son-of-a-bitch has got to get it,

Because of him my homie died,

The gang, all their work, he weakened,

And he caused lots of deaths leaving unhappy

The families of the homies who died,

The neighbors are dying to get him

They all have their eyes open looking for him,

The Boss has been arrested and has sent us the word,

The sentence we’ll execute

With AK bullets

8 See Letícia Helena, “Rap exalta lema do Comando Vermelho,” O Globo 22 Sept 1995. Júnior told me that they did not know that the words “Peace, Justice and Liberty” were considered to be the slogan of the Comando Vermelho and that, in fact, they have never have found proibidão to be a very interesting artistic option. They are not gangster MCs, like the two who sing verses quoted at the top of this chapter, whose names I will not mention to safeguard their integrity.

9 Personal interview with Nêgu Tema in Rocinha, March 14, 2002. Translation:

Funk is a protest with “Rap da Silva” and it’s also a protest when it talks about the power of our brothers from the Comando Vermelho, and so what? That’s also a protest. It’s like, “Shit, they never gave me nothing, the system never gave me a chance, so, hey, I’m from Rocinha and I not scared of the Terceiro Command, wanting to disrespect me… “Yo, dog! Come sell me a narc, grab your money and beat it.”



10 Translation: “Our crime is one of self-defense, one of legitimate defense.”

11 Interview with Tema (continued). Translation:

I consider myself a gangster…I consider myself a criminal, just like Galo, just like Catra, only a different kind of criminal… a different kind of criminal, but with more hate than them. I’ve never forgotten the prejudice I suffered… I haven’t forgotten, brother.



12 Here is an extended passage from the interview with Nêgu Tema in which he discusses crime as a response to a life of discrimination and his notion of the hip-hop ‘intelligent criminal’:

Bom, tem uma coisa, ainda… que é uma só. Tem o crime em volta. E o mundo não pode ser em volta só ao crime, certo? Assim, … Mas acho que é muita atenção que é dada ao crime, mas o crime que nós cometemos, do mundo do crime, quando falo do crime do primeiro mundo, o crime dos políticos, …o nosso crime é de auto-defesa, de legítima defesa… tu acha que o primerio mundo acha do terceiro, tu acha que os ricos acham do pobre, tu acha que o branco acha dos nordestinos e dos negros… que um cara ali do prédio dali no Joá acha da filha dele namorando um cara daqui da Rocinha? Um cara que trabalha, um trabalhador, trabalha no Fashion Mall ou no campo de golf da Rocinha, ali em baixo, ali no Itanhangá Golf Clube ou no, no… O que ele acha, desse namoro? Vai achar que o negão no mínimo tá se aproveitando, tá fazendo tudo que o funk manda ele fazer, com a filha dele, tadinha… “Botei talco no bumbum da minha filha para ela tar vivendo com esse negão na favela, meu Deus do céu!” Sabe? Se ele já acha que aqui só tem o crime, se ele ouvir a música daqui só falando do crime ele vai falar, “Porra, então é isso memo!” Agora, o mais perigoso para ele é ele saber que a filha dele tá dando po Nêgu Tema, que o Nêgu Tema é um rapper da favela da Rocinha, e que em muitas músicas do Nêgu Tema, o Nêgu Tema tá falando que ele é um filho da puta, que eu tou sofrendo aqui porque a empresa dele não me dá oportunidade e tou aqui na merda… por que eu estudei pa conseguir arrumar um emprego. Por causa da minha cor e do meu cabelo. Ele sabe que a filha dele tá ouvindo as palavras que tou falando no ouvido dela, e que ela tá se identificando comigo, como homem, como pessoa, como atitude e como palavra… Isso é “public enemy”… Eu me considero gangsta… eu me considero criminoso, igual ao Galo, igual ao Catra, só que um criminoso diferente… um criminoso diferente, mas com mais ódio do que eles. Eu nunca me esqueci do preconceito que eu sofri, não… eu não esqueci, mano… Eu como todas as gringa pensando assim, “Filho da puta, tu vai tomar, agora toma,.” E elas ficam amarradonas, já dá tudo que eles escondem delas, sabe? E a mina falou para mim, brasileira, filha de alemão, nós dois falando esse negócio de filho, ai ela fala que o pai dela falou que se o negro e o branco tiverem filho nasce problema de dentes. Como é que pode uma pessoa pensar isso? Em 2002?



13 Zaluar is quite emphatic as to the primacy of violence over authority in the rule of the drug traffickers, as is suggested by the paragraph in which the above quote appears:

Por deter meios de coerção física poderosos, ou seja, as armas de fogo, e por enriquecerem, os bandidos acabam virando uma força política e montando um esquema político no local. Muitos de seus métodos se assemelham ao do Estado moderno: seu poder está baseado em última instância na capacidade de fogo de suas armas e, com base nisto, às vezes cobram pedágio em pontes, taxas de proteção a comerciantes, etc. Mas não gozam de legitimidade do Estado e, se ganham a aceitação dos moradores locais como protetores e justiceiros, suas relações com aqueles trazem sempre a marca da ambivalência. Tanto mais que alguns deles abusam das técnicas repressivas aprendidas na sua experiência como membro das classes subalternas diante do aparelho repressivo do Estado e acabam empregando meios sempre violentos para manter seu poder. Reproduzem o que aprenderam da relação dominador-dominado sobre aqueles que ficam momentaneamente sob seu domínio, um domínio constituído na base do uso ou da ameaça do uso de sua arma. Esta é, aliás, a característica dos assaltos que mais ressaltavam: a sensação de completo controle sobre o outro, o da ordem que tem que ser obedecida, o da sugestão acatada e sem resposta. (77)



14 The use of the phrase “faith in God” in these verses, in addition to any reference to religious sentiment it may contain, is a reference to a slang greeting of gangsters in the Comando Vermelho. The translation is as follows (for the song’s complete lyrics, see Appendix, “Bandidos de Cristo”):

Bandits of Christ, have a lot of faith in God,

Bandits of Christ, have a lot of faith in God,

For this life you’ve gotta have determination,

Just ask the Boss
Rebel got pissed off and called a meeting

“I want everybody armed and at the top of the Big Hill.

Fireworks guys with AR-15s, the manager with a G3,

the chiefs with pistols, I’ll only say it once.

The soldiers of my gang come with 762

The watchers with tracers, the signal is two by two.”

When the gang is cool, the community knows it,

Rebel comes at the lead with an AK-47.



15 Translation:

Yo… Check this out.

Because there’s always some guy who thinks being a gangster, brother,

Is screwing over your friend, using other people as a trampoline, you know?

And really the true gangster respects in order to be respected

Treats people well so they treat him well

So, I going to send this one out more or less like this, yo…

16 For explanations of these ideological strategies, see Terry Eagelton (45).

17 Eagleton writes:

Ideologies are usually internally complex, differentiated formations, with conflicts between their various elements which need to be continually renegotiated and resolved. What we call a dominant ideology is typically that of a dominant social bloc, made up of classes and fractions whose interests are not always one; and these compromises and divisions will be reflected in the ideology itself. Indeed it can be claimed that part of the strength of bourgeois ideology lies in the fact that it ‘speaks’ from a multiplicity of sites, and in this subtle diffuseness presents no single target to its antagonists. Oppositional ideologies, similarly, usually reflect a provisional alliance of diverse radical forces.(45)



18 This composer, whose name I withhold, told me about his song in an interview taken on March 13, 2002.

19 One of the best known theories about the circuit of production and consumption is that espoused by Stuart Hall in his article “Encoding, Decoding.”

20 Translation (complete lyrics can be found in the appendix):

My movement (selling of drugs) is socio-political, my trafficking is cultural

My movement is socio-political, my trafficking is cultural…

I’ll tell you, there’s black and white, young sir,

Yes, there is, involved in its well-being,

The favela is socialist, it gave me an overdose of consciousness,

Religiousness, faith in God we carry in our hearts

Peace, justice and liberty, war for the good without destruction



21 In the mass-media dominated world of late-capitalism, the influence of this consumerist notion of “happiness” and human life in general cannot be over-estimated, but it is not total and rather coexists, albeit incoherently, with competing notions of “happiness,” such as those from the Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions, which would see happiness as independent of pleasure. It might be said that happiness for the Greeks was a sort of spiritual health comparable to physical health, a personal well-being that came through the balance of virtues. In Christianity, happiness could in some ways be described as the result of the experience of grace and love that come through salvation, usually conceived of as an internal experience. For both, the pleasures of euphoria are shunned by as illusory and as potentially detrimental to the “true” happiness of the individual person. Of course, in contemporary Brazil, the Catholic and Pentecostal views on happiness are not exactly the same and certainly a plethora of other notions of happiness still exist in Brazil besides, notions coming from Marxism or those that have existed amongst Afro-Brazilian and indigenous peoples in the country throughout its history of ethnic and racial mixing.

22 A very good commentary on the war of Canudos and the book Os Sertões is Robert Levine, Vale of Tears: Revising the Canudos Massacre in Northeastern Brazil, 1893-1897 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

23 In fact, it will be better to leave the treatment of the intricacies of Brazilian race relations and their implications for funk and the culture of the favelas for chapter four. For the time being I should clarify that the sort of “blackening” of racial identity I am talking about is not a process which occurs at the level of political consciousness but rather as an emergent form of lived consciousness. This means that while it may not yet be directly useful to the Black Movement in Brazil as the basis of political mobilization, it is an important part of the social cohesion of the favela as a subculture.

24 By “freyrian,” I am referring to the general theories of racial harmony and democracy espoused by Gilberto Freyre, particularly in his seminal work, Casa Grande e Senzala: formação da Família brasileira sob o regime da economia patriarcal.. According to this view, the intimate contact in Brazil of the European, Indigenous and African racial groups, particularly in the relationship between the children of the wealthy landowners and their Afro-Brazilian nannies, has resulted in a somewhat unique situation in which racism per se does not exist. Freyre associated certain attributes of the human personality to the different races in a stereotypical fashion, for example, that intelligence comes from the European influence and human warmth, musicality and sensuality come from African influence. Since the introduction of these ideas in the early 1930s, an introduction which occurred as a reaction to the even more racist notions of eugenics and attempts at embranquecimento, or the “whitening” of the Brazilian population, Freye’s ideas have come to occupy a central place in the Brazilian national ideology. More recently, the idea has been attacked precisely for the sort of racial hierarchy it presupposes as well as for masking and denying racial disparity in Brazil. Today, the success of Freyre’s ideas has been considered one of the chief obstacles for the mobilization of the country’s black movement, since even many people of color believe that Brazil is racially democratic.

25 This excerpt is from a song by Cidinho and Doca, most famous for early funk hit “Rap da Felicidade.” Translation:

Oh, that night started with a gunfight

The favela was surrounded, you couldn’t get out

And the children were scared

“For the love of God, Daddy, get us out of here.”

And then a tear came down my face

I saw that my strength was coming from God

I only ask that young man that before he pull the trigger

That he think about his kids before killing mine

But I just want to go into my house, young man, young man,

And kiss my kids, kiss my wife,

Have my daily bread, I just want to be happy



26 It can be argued that politicians and the other powers that be in any given society always have some degree of machiavellian self-interest motivating them whenever they take the actions that they do. Others believe that human beings can at least sometimes act in the interests of the well-being of their communities. While I will not argue that the drug traffickers are essentially any different from other leaders, I will say that the notions of success and power that drug traffickers in favelas in Rio might have are likely to be contingent on their experience as people born and raised in their own particular social formation. The drug traffickers are native residents of their own communities, not some invading army, even as they are residents of Brazil, and as a result, the pursuit of money and power on the part of the drug trafficker is not likely to take on the same form or entail the same values as that of people from the middle-class and elite segments of the population. For example, even the highest of drug traffickers never expects to become the president of the Republic, or a judge, lawyer, banker, engineer, doctor, or even to go to college at all. He knows he will never have prestige in the larger society, nor does he expect to enjoy pleasures such as foreign travel and fine dining. To the contrary, he is aware that he will not even be able to move about freely within his own city, but will be forced to either remain hidden within the favela or wear a disguise to occasionally leave its confines. Furthermore, once he has become at all integrated within the world of organized crime, he knows it will be difficult and dangerous to quit. Perhaps most importantly, the drug trafficker expects to die a violent, early death or at least to be locked up in prison for significant portions of his life.

27 Translation:

I suffered in the storm, now I want the calm

People, be strong, all you need to see

Is if they don’t do nothing there we’ll do it all from here



Chapter Four: Brazilian Funk, Utopia and the Found Sounds of the Black Atlantic

Eu só quero é ser feliz

Andar tranqüilamente na favela onde eu nasci

E poder me orgulhar

E ter a consciência que o pobre tem seu lugar

-“Rap da Felicidade”, by Julinho Rasta and Kátia1






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