By Pedro Souza
October 2nd, 2016
For most people, the word “funk” brings to mind the groovy rhythms played by the likes of James Brown, Rick James and Herbie Hancock. Brazilian funk however, bears little resemblance to its American counterpart.
Born in the eighties in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian funk was heavily influenced by Miami Bass, being considered a derivative of it by some. With repetitive beats, sensual choreographies and lyrics that reflect the daily life in the favelas and other marginalized communities, the style quickly spread.
In the end of the eighties, funk had become the voice of the favelas, talking about drugs, violence, poverty and sexuality. Funk parties became popular events where communities competed by displaying their songs and sound systems. It was at this time that the first famous Mc’s started to appear and make their names in the music community. The style however, was still confined to poor communities, and was viewed by many with prejudice.
One of the reasons was the association between funk parties and violence and drug use. Many criminal factions financed funk parties, and used them as a way to spread their influence and dispute power with other factions. In the 2000’s however, the style broke through its isolation and began to be appreciated by Brazilians from all walks of life.
As the names of popular MC’s became well known among Brazilians regardless of their origins, the style also began to appear in radios and television shows. Funk also started to develop into a more diverse style, with many different subdivisions. One of these subdivisions is funk melô, with melodic and romantic characteristic. This form of funk conquered the public with MC’s like Claudinho and Bochecha. Another notorious subdivision of funk is the “proibidão”, with violent and super-sexualized lyrics. Nowadays it is one of the most popular forms of funk.
The rise of funk wasn’t without resistance however. In 2009, the prefecture of Rio de Janeiro launched a project with norms that made it impossible to throw funk parties in the favelas. The norms had to be revised after a wave of popular protests however. The style also faces criticism from many intellectuals and other segments of the Brazilian populations.
Some critique the style for its frequent apology of drug-use and crime. Others complain about the promiscuity of the lyrircs and the effects it may have on children and teenagers. Another common criticism is the sexist behavior and objectification of women that is often seen in funk culture.
While there is some validity to these objections, Brazilian funk should be seen as a legitimate cultural manifestation, one that allows people from marginalized communities to assert and express their identity. Alongside with rap, it has become one of the main channels for these communities to let their voice be heard. And like rap, it has come a long way from its humble beginnings to its invasion of mainstream Brazilian pop culture. Even after coming that far, however, there is still a stigma to Brazilian funk. But like it or not, it is here to stay.