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Funk dancing losing ground in Rio's favelas

04 april 2012, 13:41
A DJ performs during a "Baile Funk" party at the Rocinha shantytown. ©AFP
A DJ performs during a "Baile Funk" party at the Rocinha shantytown. ©AFP
Once the rage in Rocinha, Rio's biggest slum, hardcore funk dance parties have become tamer since police reasserted control last November after expelling drug barons who ruled the area for 30 years, AFP reports.

With puffy eyes from too much booze, a teenager, who identifies himself only as Igor, remembers with nostalgia the dance parties ("bailes funk") of yesteryear that glorified drugs and violence.

"The best one was on Street 1," which shut down after police took over Rocinha in November, he says.

Of the five funk dance parties in Rocinha, only one remains, "Emocoes" or excitements, where songs extolling weapons crime have been replaced by lighter musical fare, often sexual.

Perched on high heels and donning a neon tube top and ultra-short skirt, Joseane Vieira, 18, awaits the main attraction: MC Carol, popular with songs such as "My grandmother is crazy" about the indignation of a granddaughter when her grandmother suddenly begins riding a motorcycle and smoking marijuana.

Vieira says she preferred the "banned" parties and insists that violence remains a fact of life in the favela.

Over the past few days, four people linked to drug trafficking have been killed in Rocinha, including a community leader, and police say drug barons are trying to make a comeback.

In 2008, authorities moved to regain control of favelas in Rio's South Zone, the richest and where most tourists stay, as the city geared up to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. And about 20 Police Pacification Units (UPPs) were deployed in the pacified areas.

The commander of each UPP can decide whether to authorize dance parties, much to the chagrin of funk fans.

There is a state of exception similar to a state of emergency in Rio favelas, where many dance parties have been banned, complains MC Leonardo, author of the popular "Rap of Weapons" which was used as the soundtrack of a movie.

MC Leonardo, president of the Association of Professionals and Friends of Funk (Apafunk), said Funk "is a legitimate expression of local culture."

Rio funk has nothing to do with the US funk of the 1960s which was popularized by James Brown.

It emerged in the 1980s and is derived instead from Miami Bass and freestyle (another Miami-based genre), music mixing Hip Hop with electronic drums.

Rio funk songs focus on poverty, human dignity, black pride, sex, violence and social injustice, depicting the reality of life in the city's nearly 1,000 favelas.

The genre's popularity spread in the 1990s, including among the middle and upper classes.

Main features of male funk dancing are fancy footwork, springing from the floor to standing position quickly and repeatedly, as well as foot shuffling and skipping.

The female dancing is overtly sexual, with the most basic move involving bending over, putting your hands on your knees, sticking your butt out as far as you can behind you, and rotating it from the waist.

Funk songs reflect the frequent violence between rival drug gangs.

In 2002, Brazilian journalist Tim Lopes was killed in the Vila Cruzeiro favela as he was reporting with a hidden camera on drugs and explicit sex at funk dance parties.

His death fueled a sense of revulsion in public opinion against this type of music.

But the violence continues. Last week, two people were wounded during a shootout at a funk dance party in the police-controlled Salgueiro favela.

The only authorized funk party is in Copacabana's Tabajaras slum, which was pacified by police in June 2010 and is home to nearly 5,000 people.

"There was a clamor from the community so we allowed it but they cannot play banned songs," according to the local UPP commander, Joacir Virgilio.

"In theory, they are supposed to have camera surveillance and metal detectors but we don't insist on all of this, because it would not be economically viable for the organizers."

According to a report by the Getulio Vargas foundation, funk generated $5.5 million per month in Rio in 2009, providing jobs for more than 10,000 people.

The pacification of the favelas did not have a major impact on the funk market business because "most of the financial gains come from discotheques and clubs" in other parts of the city, according to Jimmy Medeiros, one of the authors of the report.

By Luciana Bruno

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