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By Doug Gray, Senior Reporter

A Short History Of Baile Funk Part 2, The 1980s Electro Revolution

RIO DE JANEIRO – Afrika Baambaata grew up in The Bronx, New York, and is widely regarded as the Godfather of Hip Hop. As one of the first to mix together funk breaks from popular tunes rather than the whole song, he became famous. As the creator of 1982 track “Planet Rock’ he also unknowingly pioneered a black music revolution in Brazil just as the scene appeared to be losing its footing.

Afrika Baambaata, whose track Planet Rock heralded the arrival of Funk Carioca as we know it today, photo by Foxtongue/Creative Commons licence.
Afrika Baambaata, whose track Planet Rock heralded the arrival of Funk Carioca as we know it today, photo by Foxtongue/Creative Commons license.

Disco may have killed the original rebel spirit of black music in Rio de Janeiro, but it certainly didn’t dampen the fire that Funk had created in the hearts and minds of the kids religiously hitting the bailes week in, week out. When a handful of DJs got hold of copies of ‘Planet Rock’ and began to spin it at the balls, the touch paper was lit again, and the sound of Electro and Miami Bass flooded into the city via the new breed of DJs.

The dance floors quickly adopted this wild new sound of electronic funk, and Planet Rock was at the core, causing havoc every time it was played with MCs firing off lyrics over the top in Portuguese. Suddenly every sound system had its own version.

In an interview with Afrika Bambaataa, journalist and author Silvio Essinger recalls the surprise with which the New Yorker met the news that his track had been embraced in Brazil. In the same way as James Brown’s signature sound taken over the first bailes; “It was that 808 kick drum that took hold on the dance floors in the early 1980s – nobody had heard anything like that before.”

Taking the 808 drum machine sound on further, Miami Bass and electro pioneers like Kurtis Mantronik and Gigolo Tony found a hungry audience in Rio – a city Fab 5 Freddy describes as ‘half Miami, half LA’ – and the often x-rated lyrics and energy of the tracks were ready made for the Carioca bailes, giving the underground something to once again adopt as its own.

Though the lyrics were rarely fully understood, the message seemed to translate just fine, and it wasn’t long before the misogyny and raw sexual content was delivered by MCs in Portuguese over the original tracks. When 2 Live Crew’s “Do Wah Diddy” hit the soundsystems, the combination of 808 beats and blatant hit sample left an indelible mark on the city.

The first ever compilation of the new sound of Rio, Funk Brasil Vol.1
The first ever compilation of the new sound of Rio, DJ Marlboro's Funk Brasil Vol.1

With the local kids perfecting their own raps of the music coming over from Miami it wasn’t long before an ‘official’ version of Do Wah Diddy was released. DJ Marlboro’s “Melo da Mulher Feia” might have talked about an “ugly woman who stinks like a vulture” but it was comparatively radio friendly and became the first genuine hit to come out of Funk Carioca. He followed it up with a compilation of similar ‘covers’ under the name ‘Funk Brazil Volume One’; put together by mainstream label Polygram Brazil, the release of which truly represented the mainstream’s recognition of this new sound, with Marlboro the figurehead.

Off the back of the compilation came a wave of imitations, and the hip hop flooding in from the USA was causing mass hysteria as the kids copied their favorite stars with self-penned versions of the biggest tracks. The TV show Som Na Caixa beamed videos from the likes of Young MC, and 2 Live Crew straight into the living rooms of Cariocas for three years between 1987 and 1990 right in the middle of the day, resulting in playground re-creations across the city. Rapping was taking hold.

As the Real currency was introduced in Brazil at an exchange rate of R$1 to US$1 in 1994, suddenly hitherto prohibitively expensive production equipment became affordable, and rather than simply laying Portuguese lyrics over original US tracks, Rio began to nurture a new breed of producers bringing Carioca flair to the Miami Bass beats.

Sampling was huge and nothing was off limits – everyone from The Smiths to Dire Straits and TV shows from Batman to The Munsters turned up as the hook on these now naïve-sounding tracks. But with the production revolution came less of a reliance on the imported sounds of the US, and thus came the beginnings of what would be considered the funk sound of today. Incorporating candomble drum patterns and samba rhythms, the scene was again revitalized but this time by a new ‘Brazilian-ness’, and the first true stars of Funk Carioca emerged.

MC Cidinho & Doca found fame with their second single Rap Da Felicidade in 1995, singing about their life, love and happiness, counteracting the harsher lyrics of some of the music that had begun to give the scene a bad name. The opening line “I only want to be happy, to walk peacefully in the favela where I was born” struck a chord with the masses, and remains a favorite today having appeared in the infamous 2007 film Tropa De Elite about Rio’s BOP police force.

At the same time the duo Claudinho Buchecha released their debut album including the track Rap do Salgueiro and quickly sold over a million copies. Funk music had officially arrived, and they became the poster boys of the movement who, appearing on daytime TV shows to confirm what had seemed impossible just a few years before; Funk was crossing over into the mainstream, progressing beyond the violence and sexism and into new realms.

In the next installment of this three part feature, the new millennium sees Funk spreading to all corners of the world as its popularity reaches new levels and its main protagonists get bookings across the globe.

With thanks to Silvio Essinger.

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