Bandits, Favelas and Utopia in Brazilian Funk

The Baile Funk as a Staging of Power

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The Baile Funk as a Staging of Power

Lá onde nasci tem que saber viver, estou me referindo à minha CDD

Malandro desde pequeno sempre em busca da paz

Nós somamos, dividimos, mas de menos jamais

A nossa união é coisa natural, e a simplicidade é mesmo divinal

Mas se tu tá de mancada, você ver virar raiz, mexe e morre pela boca!17

Before going on to examine the representation of the culture of drug trafficking in the lyrics of proibidão songs in the next chapter, it is worthwhile to describe the ways in which the gangsters typically support funk. In Rocinha, the drug traffickers pay for almost all of the major weekly bailes funk. Every Friday there is a baile in the street known as the Valão and Saturdays one on Rua Um at the quadra, a sort of gym-like practice area for the samba school, Acadêmicos da Rocinha. For events like New Year’s Eve and carnival, and on other special occasions, there are dances in the busy commercial street known as the Via Ápia. There are also children’s bailes called matinês on Rua Dois and in the soccer court in Cachopa. The traffickers pay individual equipes, or sound teams, who provide the equipment, DJs and MCs for the dance. Most favelas have certain preferred equipes that tend to put on the shows, but guest sound teams and even battles of the equipes are commonplace. Each of the major narco-alliances in Rio have their favorite spokesperson MCs who can perform at any allied favela but will never perform in a community ruled by drug traffickers of one of the other alliances. In addition to whatever other songs are played at these dances, called bailes de comunidade, the MCs that perform inevitably sing proibidão songs about the drug traffickers, even at the matinês. If an important member of the comando is killed, a luto, or mourning, is sometimes imposed by the traffickers on the favela in which local business owners are required to close shop and the bailes are suspended in honor of the deceased gangster. Besides just paying for the dances, the sound teams and the MCs, the drug traffickers also support the bailes by personally attending them. They bring their machine guns and a general atmosphere of power, prestige and danger that is an essential part of a baile de comunidade. Additionally, the drug traffickers guarantee the protection of the people at the baile, where neither fighting nor harassment of members of the opposite sex is allowed.

For an MC, accepting the patronage of the drug traffickers is a decision of major consequence in his or her career. On the one hand, it is the somewhat guaranteed path to success given that proibidão is perhaps the single most popular type of funk music and that therefore a good singer will get lots of work at community bailes. On the other hand, becoming associated with the drug traffickers is likely to keep a performer from ever tapping into the more mainstream funk market. At times during its history, funk has attained the level of a national fad and several MCs and DJs have participated on Globo TV shows such as Xuxa Hits or Domingão do Faustão. These artists, such as DJ Marlboro, duos Leonardo and Júnior and Claudinho and Buchecha, and the Bonde do Tigrão, certainly make more money much faster than their proibidão counterparts. Some, such as MC Júnior, do not particularly like proibidão anyway and lament the connections between funk and the drug traffickers.18 Additionally, these funk artists not connected with organized crime can and do go to favelas all over the city controlled by the CV, TC and ADA alike. Those MCs who do choose to be spokespersons for the narco-alliances will never have the chance to sing their rhymes to a national audience nor meet the president, and they wouldn’t even think of trying to sing in a favela controlled by rival gangs.

Of course, by making such a public spectacle of their appearance at the dances, the drug traffickers are able to use them to build legitimacy. The baile is a platform for the presentation of the discourse of the hegemony of the traffickers, a discourse which unifies the community in racial, class and geographical terms as it naturalizes and universalizes the rule of the drug traffickers. Not only are these dances free, a present from the boca- de-fumo, but they are stages for the power of the gangsters. Drugs are used in abundance, the very product which sustains the whole structure of organized crime in the favela, guns are brandished, as is the high lifestyle of the gangsters, with their numerous friends, girlfriends, and gold chains. For example, on the last night of Carnival 2002 dozens of armed traffickers were present at a baile in Rocinha. Some were dressed in matching black jumpsuits and carrying shiny silver-plated weapons; one in particular wore an Osama bin Laden mask as he smoked a joint, his AK-47 swinging on his shoulder with a Flamengo soccer club sticker visible on its stock.19 At a deeper level, their presence at the community dances, attended by anywhere from 1,500 to 20,000 people, is a public affirmation that they are in control and that all is well in the community. In the world of the favela, the drug traffickers and their friends are the rich and famous and their fast lives are necessarily quite public. Even if they cannot leave Rocinha, the drug traffickers are in their element at the funk dance; they are the warriors of the tribe, the special forces, brave, responsible, sometimes well loved, sometimes hated, and always dangerous.

Confinement to Rocinha on the part of its top gangsters still leaves many options for night life and is certainly not as bad as it might be in almost any of the smaller favelas around the city. Although funk is the main attraction in terms of sheer numbers of people attending, there is an abundance of large scale, mostly outdoor musical events of a variety of styles in Rocinha, from funk to pagode, samba and forró. The presence of a large number of cookouts, pizza places and bar front parties with live music create a continuously festive atmosphere in the favela, especially Thursday through Sunday. There is the main quadra of the samba school by the tunnel in São Conrado, where practice sessions are held for carnival as well as the bi-weekly 100% Bagunça and VIP Nites mixed-music, all-you-can-drink events. There have also been large scale charity events featuring performers such as Gabriel o Pensador, O Rappa and Padre Marcelo. It is not uncommon to see Brazilian celebrities, such as soccer players, singers and actors from the Globo network, passing through in cars or mixing with the crowd.

In Rocinha, generally the only funk dances not directly supported by the comando are the ones at the Clube do Emoções, an enormous nightclub on the fringes of the favela, in São Conrado. Emoções, which showcases pagode music on Fridays, forró on Saturdays and funk on Sundays, is highly successful and attracts patrons from Rocinha, other poor neighborhoods around Rio, and the middle-class alike. The two levels of the club have a capacity of about 2,500 people, elaborate security and air circulation systems and numerous security guards. Because Emoções is a private club that can charge admission, the drug traffickers do not pay for the dance nor do they attend in their armed bondes. As a result, fights do occur at the club, but they tend to be well contained by the club’s bouncers. Because the fights often continue outside the club after the trouble makers are thrown out, the owner of Emoções asks the police to stay about the entrance of the club throughout the night. Emoções also has matinês at which no alcohol is sold, before the bigger adult bailes.21

Although clubs like Emoções tend to feature a more diverse variety of acts than the community bailes, with such things as competitions of groups of all male dancer/singers and female acts, there are still always one or two big-name MCs representing the Comando Vermelho who are the high point of the dance. No matter what dance trends and other changes come and go in the funk movement, the MCs are the idols and heroes of funk and many have been around since the first funk songs in Portuguese were performed in the early nineties. Their prominent place even in the dances outside of the direct control of the comando and the popularity of their raps proibidos is testimony to the importance of the world of the drug traffickers in funk. This is true as much for the adult bailes and the matinês, a fact that was more than apparent to me one night at a children’s dance in which I saw a little toddler on his fathers’ shoulders making a gun with his hand and shooting it to the beat of a proibidão about the power of the Rocinha gang.20

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