THE CONTROVERSY BEHIND BRAZILIAN FUNK

 

An essay

Gabriel Montresor
Boston University '17


Diadema, São Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Danilo Barbiero.

Diadema, São Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Danilo Barbiero.

Brazilian Funk has been around since the 1980’s, having originated in the the comunidades, famously known as favelas, of Rio de Janeiro. Today, nearly three decades later, the genre has become one of the largest and most well-known in the country.

Funk has been a controversial genre from its very beginnings. When it first started to gain recognition in Brazil, its association with drug trafficking and violence as well as the locations of the shows in poor neighborhoods made it an easy target for prohibition and policing. Funk continued to be an expression of counter culture until the 2000's, when some tracks made their way into the mainstream and even international scenes. Much like samba and other Afro-Brazilian genres, cultural gurus did not value funk—a story shared with Afro-inspired genres such as jazz, samba, and even rock, which were once ostracized movements and are now critically acclaimed and loved by the masses. Within these genres, there is a consistent correlation between their popularity and the profit they generate. In other words, when the economic potential of the genre becomes evident, many tend to jump on board and give value not to its origins but its profitability.

Since its creation Funk has generated micro economies. DJ’s from lower classes found a solid way of earning a living, safely and legally. Talented poets of the favelas could make their story and voices heard. Today, Funk in Brazil is nearly as mainstream as pop, and its economic landscape shifted from shows exclusively in the favelas to sold out arenas and large budget productions for music videos. The popularity of Funk has grown astronomically and one can even expect their Brazilian grandma to know the current hit “Tá tranquilo, tá favorável.

But the overall success of the genre comes at a cost, and the price tag has become too high for those from the comunidades. As Funk became part of mainstream Brazilian culture the price of its shows has spiked, and cost-free street parties in the ƒavelas (known as fluxos) are often shut down by the police. Funk continues strain away from its popular roots as it increasingly becomes a large-scale industry.

Despite its newfound success, however, the lyrics of Funk continue to include controversial topics and generate debate on the value of the genre. Several mayors have vowed to ban the music from their cities, and law enforcement continues to target the shows to shut down what they believe to be a perpetuation of violence and sexual misconduct. MC’s who play funk face threats and violent attacks. So, even though the genre has enjoyed commercial success, the artists at the very bottom of the socio-economic scale continue to face violence, oppression, and prohibition.

The question of whether or not funk is a form of culture is at the center of its controversy. Many ostracize the genre and claim it is a source of cultural degeneration with its explicit lyrics and references to violence. However, this is not the whole story—funk is rooted in resistance, it possesses drum patterns with African roots, and it tells the story of the poor man who fights a daily battle to survive. In Funk, existence is resistance, and while on the surface it may appear simple, its history is intertwined with the struggles and hardships that are emblematic of the history of Brazil.

For more information on Funk check out these two documentaries:
Favela on Blast by Mad Decent and Mosquito Project
Noisey: São Paulo by Vice News

 

Any opinions expressed here are the author's own.