By Sibel Tinar, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One of the distinct sounds of Rio, Baile Funk can be heard blasting from the many favelas of the city, even from long distances due to its unmistakably distinct beat. Bailes, or the big dance parties are accompanied by Funk Carioca, the catchy dance music originated in Rio with roots in Miami Bass, whose MCs are local musicians who almost always were raised in, and most likely still residing in the favelas.
There is, however, at least one musician who stands out as an exception to this long-standing Carioca tradition: Alex Cutler, a.k.a. MC Don Blanquito is a funk musician, but he is neither coming from the favelas, nor is he Carioca, or Brazilian for that matter. The 29-year-old Los Angeles native with three college degrees is struggling to make it in the baile funk scene in Rio, all for the love of the music.
Cutler (or Blanquito) first came to Rio in 2004, and immediately fell in love with the city and its culture, which kept him returning over and over again, until it became his second home. “I found my soul here”, says Alex, who eventually moved to the city in 2007, started recording funk songs, and doing shows.
Having already rapped in English and Spanish for years, it was not the Portuguese that posed the biggest difficulty, but the tough and competitive culture that accompanied the music scene.
“The biggest challenge has been being a white boy in the middle of a million Brazilians”, says Blanquito, “I only do shows in the hood, the baixada, favelas. Being accepted and respected by the crowds and locals has taken the longest time, however, now I can actually say that I’m considered as MC Don Blanquito as opposed to an Americano trying to be a funk singer.”
The road to recognition and acceptance has not been an easy one by any means, as Blanquito had to do more than a hundred shows for free, take buses in the middle of the night from dangerous places, perform in front of drug traffickers, and spend the rest of his time trying to promote his music, in order to be able to establish himself in the scene and make a name for himself.
About this constant struggle, Blanquito shrugs: “I hang in favelas next to the DJs until 8AM to get into their squad and have them play my music. I’m tired, want to go home and sleep, but without pain, success doesn’t come.”
“I think there is definitely a place in the Carioca society for a gringo, I’ve proven that”, says Blanquito, who now gets the respect and recognition in the funk scene that he has been fighting for.
This is not to say it has always been a smooth journey for Blanquito, who admits there have been many times that he wanted to give up. “I get all ready for a show, take a bus at 2AM to a far away place, and then I don’t even get to sing; but I can’t give up”, he tells us. “Funk is just cruel like that. You have to keep your head up and be a warrior.”