Bandits, Favelas and Utopia in Brazilian Funk

Conclusion: Musical Macunaíma and the Power of Funk

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Conclusion: Musical Macunaíma and the Power of Funk

This chapter has meandered along the paths of different arguments deriving from a variety of approaches to the study of funk culture in Rio de Janeiro. Inevitably, theoretical considerations have left less room for the voices of everyday fans and residents of the favelas than I would have liked. Still, although this chapter is less an ethnography than a sort of thought piece, I hope that it successfully transmits something of the energy and creativity of those who are engaged in the practice of funk culture. I have suggested that funk has taken on some degree of the significance of Rio’s Carnival for many young people of its favelas and other low-income areas. I have also explored the nature of funk music as a utopian practice related to the legacy of the cultural cannibalist spirit of modernismo and as an example of the counterculture of black Atlantic peoples. Perhaps for the critics of funk who see it as an apology of crime, the cause of teen pregnancy and a generally tasteless, harmful practice, any exploration of the “utopian” dimension of funk may do little to legitimize its existence. Still, whether or not I have been successful at proving conclusively any of these connections, I hope that in suggesting them I have been able to contribute to an understanding of the significance of funk as a utopian form of entertainment with important cultural implications for people in a climate of social exclusion so prevalent in the panorama of contemporary Brazilian society.


1 Translation:

I just want to be happy

To walk tranquilly in the favela where I was born

And to be able to be proud

And know that the poor have their place

2 This scene at Emoções was observed on January 13, 2002.

3 This is cited from Larry Rohter’s article “As Crime and Politics Collide in Rio, City Cowers in Fear,” appearing on page A3 of the New York Times, May 8, 2003.

4 This quote from Theodor Adorno is taken from Paul Gilroy’s discussion on the utopia of art on page 38 of Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consiousness.

5 In one of the first ever studies on funk, Hermano Vianna examined aspects of dancing in the baile funk from an anthropological point of view as more a form of ritual than mere entertainment. (Vianna)

6 This explanation of the characteristics of músicas mulatas appears in chapter one of Quintero Rivera’s 1998 book ¡Salsa, sabor y control! Sociología de la música tropical, pages 35-92.

7 For a more detailed exploration of these tendencies in African American music, see Craig Werner, A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race and the Soul of America, 1999.

8 This quote comes form an interview with Penelope, a 21 year-old middle-class salesperson at Yes Brasil in the Fashion Mall of São Conrado, beneath Rocinha, on February 8, 2002.

9 Here are the lyrics of a song Filipe, a 12 year-old boy from the Valão area of Rocinha, wrote one day in the shower and sung to me in an interview at the Escola Moranguinhos on March 28, 2002:

Eu sou um relaxado, estava cozinhando,

Saí pra passear, deixei panela queimando,

Pegou fogo na favela, os bombeiros chegou

A mangueira enfiou e a mulher gritou

O fogo tá queimando, o bombeiro tá machucando,

Quando eles enfiam a mangueira a mulher fica gritando

As Filipe sung the words of the song to me in an interview, his friend Erick, a 13 year-old, vocally added in the sound effects they had decided should accompany the song: when the fireman puts the hose in, they said, a woman’s voice would be heard moaning in pleasure, Oh! Oh!” The song roughly translates as:

I’m a laid back guy, I was cooking

I went out for a while, I left the pan burning

The favela caught on fire, the firemen came

They stuck the hose in and the woman yelled

The fire is burning, the fireman is hurting her

When they stick in the hose, the woman starts yelling

10 The first person to express this opinion to me was Aline Damasceno during a debate about sexism in funk at the Congresso dos Estudantes de Letras do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, in Volta Redonda, in November of 2001. Subsequently, various formulations of this attitude were expressed during subsequent interviews by numerous women who go to the baile funk in Rocinha, including Clisna (January 3, 2002), Cleide, Fernanda and Barbara (January 13, 2002), Denise and Silvana (February 5, 2002), and Nani (March 5, 2002).

11 In this sense, the construction of race in funk is again somewhat freyrian in the manner of the racial identity evident in the hegemony of the criminal factions discussed in chapter three, page 40 through 43 of this study.

12 See Alma Guillermoprieto and Barbara Browning, respectively.

13 Carnival continues to thrive in Rio de Janeiro and to be an extremely relevant part of cultural life in the city for people from all socio-economic classes. I am not arguing that funk has completely replaced Carnival in any essentialist way, rather that the significance of Carnival as a utopian practice of the poor has been greatly reduced and has found a new outlet among young people in funk music. Still, the cultural terrain of the favela is greatly varied, as I have argued, and is made up of an enormously rich variety of musical practices and styles. In fact, something of a cross-fertilization has occurred in recent years between funk and the samba music associated with Carnival. It is telling that many samba schools have playfully included funk beats in the rhythms of their drum lines. Also, an album was recorded in the mid-nineties with classic samba singers matched up with the new generation of funk performers. (Afegan 441079/2-482221)

14 For a more thorough description of modernismo, see Antônio Cândido and J. Aderaldo Castello.

15 The “Manifesto Antropófago” was first published in 1928 in São Paulo in the first issue of the Revista de Antropofagia.

16 By “manifesto”, I am referring to the passage entitled “Caranguejos com Cérebro”, written by Chico Science and Fred Zero Quatro and appearing in the insert of the first album by Chico Science e Nação Zumbi. The album, called da lama ao caos, was released in 1994.

17 For histories of Chico Science e Nação Zumbi and Mestre Ambrósio see Crooks and Murphy respectively.

18 While it would take an enormous amount of space to catalogue the rich diversity of beats, samples and sound effects offered on CDs sold for the use of funk DJs, a brief glance at examples such as Pipo’s Clássicos dos Efeitos (PIP 022-2, 2000) and The Very Best of Sound Effects: Pipo’s Vol. 2 (PIP 006-2, 2002), will reveal the extraordinarily wide range of elements from other musical styles typically mixed into funk music. Beats are borrowed from twenty years of international popular music, from hip-hop and techno, to rock music and movie soundtracks.

19 This analogy is made in reference to the protagonist of Mário de Andrade’s seminal modernist work Macunaíma: o herói sem nenhum caráter, published in 1928, in which Macunaíma undertakes a fantastic/comic odyssey through a mythical Amerindian world and the modern landscapes of São Paulo. Symbolizing the amorphousness of the cultural cannibalist tendency of the Brazilian nation at the time of its writing, Macunaíma undergoes a constant metamorphosis throughout his adventures, changing his race and character to suit changing needs and circumstances.

20 In my recent review of Perrone and Dunn’s 2000 book Brazilian Popular Music and Globalization, I remark on how almost every article contained in the anthology makes reference to Gilroy’s work in the Black Atlantic. (Sneed, 154).

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