De-Funkification? The Fight For The Right Of The Funkeiro

On: June 16, 2011
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About ellen sluis
I am currently enrolled in the MA New Media. After graduating in Communication and Information Sciences from the Utrecht University I worked during one year in Brazil (São Paulo) as a web designer and, after that, at a NGO, developing the website and PR.


As a result of the “pacification” project through the implementation of a “peace police” (UPP) in Rio de Janeiro, which is intended to combat (armed) drugs trafficking and decrease violence in the favelas, the Baile Funk (Funk party) has become criminalised. The bailes are often outdoor parties, with enormous sound systems (paredão — big wall), and usually — but not necessarily — organised by the drugs traffickers.

There are several justifications for the criminalization. Funk, and especially the proibidão (the “prohibited” ones, often with lyrics about drugs gangs and trafficking) are seen as praising, or justifying drugs trafficking or criminality and gang leaders (“apologia ao crime”). At the funk parties – known as baile funk – a lot of drugs is being consumed. Moreover, many (armed) people gather, which is difficult for the police to maintain order.

Funk is often seen as very closely related to criminality. Besides that, there is a strong devaluation of Funk by the middle and upper classes. Funk is neither recognised as a cultural expression, nor as a cultural movement. Besides the proibidão the most popular (and not explicitly prohibited) songs/lyrics are about women; often very sexist and denigrating. In many cases Funk goes far beyond sexist or criminal lyrics and ordinary parties. Moreover, it’s much more than music only. The criminalization of funk simplifies something as complex and as “funk” into the bailes (the parties), thus making an end to the main site at which this form of culture is practiced. Moreover, it smothers one important tool for the favela resident to have a voice.

MC Leonardo, a rapper born in Rocinha (a favela not yet pacified) entered the funk scene in 1992. Defending the rights of the funkeiros, he founded APAFUNK (association of professionals and friends of Funk) and established a law that recognises Funk as a cultural movement. A couple of weeks ago he told me about the implications of the criminalization of funk.

“We defend Funk as a means of communication in the first place. I consider Funk, more than a form of cultural expression, as a powerful tool to communicate.” Whereas the media construct a particular discourse about favela life, Funk allows the people living in these communities to communicate about their local reality. “Secondly there’s the cultural side of Funk. The Right to Culture is included in the Human Rights Declaration, so neither Lula (the former president) nor Cabral (the governor of the State RJ) provides me access to this right, because it already exists. So ever since I founded APAFUNK, we fight for the preservation of Funk in order to defend, a.o., the right to communication, the right to culture and the right to work, which are several rights we have. This means that Funk goes far beyond the mere right to entertainment.”

Today, in the pacified favelas, this right to communication through Funk is impeded when the bailes become criminalised. In Complexo do Alemão, which is currently occupied by the Brazilian Army, outdoor funk parties are prohibited and many other parties must turn off the music after 2 o’clock. MC Leonardo argues that the current situation in the pacified favelas could be compared with a dictatorship, a situation in which the (heavily armed) police hold power.“The police has to function as police! Everyone wants a police patrol at the corner of the street. But the job of the police is to protect the citizens. To serve and to protect them, but not to control and to watch! Today the pacified favelas are living a modern dictatorship in which the police has the power to shut down Funk, which serves as a tool for communication. At 3:00 a.m. in the morning the police invades a party and says: ‘I don’t want baile funk in my area’, and the party has to be ended immediately.”

APAFUNK tends to defend the rights of the people that want the bailes in their community. The problem, however, is that people don’t want to express their discontent about the current situation. “They are afraid to express their opinion about the atrocities committed by the police. How am I going to defend someone who is afraid express his criticism?” Mobilization in Brazil, and particularly in Rio, is (still) very limited. When we continue talking about this particular topic – people being afraid to protest, to criticise – I realise that the problem is a little more complex. It’s not only a fear of this new authority, the lack of criticism and mobilization is also a result of a history of oppression, discrimination of the favela residents and a systematic lack of (access to) education.

“We are children of a false liberty. Boys are arrested and go to jail, they don’t have the opportunity to study, not even primary education.” In addition, MC Leonardo explains that there’s a lack of knowledge among the MCs to put the criticism in a constructive – and non-offensive – way. “The kids talk about the crime without any responsibility, which is picked up by the media and the elite as an apology to crime.” The fact that their texts are the result of the state’s neglect of cultural and educational matters are not recognised, or distorted by the discriminatory discourse. They lack the capacity to provide a critique without offending the authorities. Therefore, he explains me, it is important that MCs tell about the absurd way in which the state combats the use and trafficking of drugs. They should talk about the state’s lack of instruments to understand the complexity of the favela life. And about the fact that the state spends more on munition than on class rooms.

Today, the discrimination is reinforced through the criminalization of Funk in the pacified communities and a discourse associating Funk with criminality and drugs trafficking, particularly disseminated by the media. This resulted in the arrest of, a.o., MC Smith, a famous MC from Vila Cruzeiro, one of the favelas that are being occupied by the army since November 2010. His lyrics talk about the local reality of his community, and about the drugs gangs who used to control the area.


He was one of the most talked about, tough in the fights,

But no one can live of fame

He wanted money, he wanted power

He involved in Article 12 through the C.V.*

FB** is on alert, but look who’s talking

No one gave him nothing

He is very strong in the hierarchy

Messing around with women

He is the […] of the faction, on top of the R1

The thickness of his necklace causes a “zum zum zum” ***

He has several women, several rifle at his disposal

The battalion of the area is eating out of his hand

He has disposition for the bad and the good

The same face that makes you laugh makes you cry as well

Our life is [bandit] and our game is tough

Today we party, tomorrow we are dead

A tank does’t scare me

We don’t escape from conflict

But we’re also armoured by Jesus Christ’s blood”

He was arrested for association with trafficking and “praising/justifying” crime. “There’s nothing prohibited in this lyric! Telling the truth became a crime in Brazil”, argues MC Leonardo. In fact, another truth is constructed through the media. A reporter, Wagner Montes, says things like ‘Lock them up, punch them, make them talk, etc.’ about MCs, or rather, funkeiros. “Rather than someone like MC Smith talking about the local reality, which is in fact the result of the state abandoning those areas for decades, the reporter’s words are what incites violence!” While MCs are locked up, reporters can say what they want, even though they don’t know the local reality as they never enter the favelas. And those who report from inside the favela are being neglected. Our conversation about Funk reflects a more general critique on the “pacification” of the favelas expressed by some of the residents I have talked to in Complexo do Alemão. “Peace without a voice is fear”, is a famous phrase sung by O Rappa, a Brazilian band, that often returns.

APAFUNK continues to defend the rights of the funkeiros, not only through the recognition of Funk as a cultural movement, but also the artistic rights of the MCs. Where on the one hand Funk is criminalised by the elite, on the other hand MCs face difficulties as they are exploited by two major producers that claim the rights, copy and distribute the songs, leaving the MCs without any benefits. Strikingly, whereas Funk fulfils an important role in terms of communication and culture, those producers don’t have any ideological or cultural intention and see funk merely as business. Today, Funk is produced as a “disposable product”. Digital technologies, the incredibly simple rhythms and lyrics allow fast production, distribution and consumption, making sure that songs won’t last any longer than 3 months. The difficulty in mobilising the funkeiros and the favela residents to defend their own rights is that there isn’t a market for politically charged lyrics. A combination of a lack of education and consumer focused production of funk songs closes a vicious circle of the association of funk with crime and favela life.

Rio de Janeiro is often described as a divided city, not so much in geographical but rather in ideological terms. An exclusionary discourse by the media and the elite discriminates the favela residents (often afro-Brazilian), maintaining this socio-economic division. George Yúdice writes in a chapter on the Funkification of Rio in his book “The Expediency of Culture” how Funk is used to discriminate the favelado (resident of the favela). It is argued that those who listen to Funk lack any artistic sense. MC Leonardo explained me how it is prohibited to exclude or discriminate people on the basis of their “race” or ethnicity,  but not on the basis of their taste of music. That is, there isn’t any legal consequence when referring to Funkeiros, while often this is just as discriminatory. What it comes down to, and what is the major problem, is an association of Funk with favela life, which is seen as dangerous, disorganised and an breeding ground for criminality. And in fact, the way in which the favelas are being “pacified” – through the occupation with armed troops – reflects or reinforces this vision. Whereas Funk is tried to be shut down in a top-down and rigid manner by the elite, similarly poverty and criminality (which I see as complexly linked as poverty is criminalised – see f.i. what happens with Funk) are combated under the guise of “pacification”. That’s why I think that a bottom-up approach, investing in culture, creativity and education rather than in defence (armed troops), would combat “criminality” more effectively, speaking of Funk as well as criminality in favelas in general.

(At the moment I am conducting a research in Complexo do Alemão on the spatial effects of the occupation/pacification. For more posts about my research-related thoughts visit my blog)

*Comando Vermelho

** FB is one of the former traffickers Complexo da Penha, near Complexo do Alemão

*** A noise

Comments are closed.