By Doug Gray, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Though imported as ‘Baile Funk’ around the world, the name given to the often primitive, always pounding sounds of Rio’s hillsides, raves and definitely not the affluent condos of Barra, is simply ‘Funk’ or ‘Funk Carioca’ (pronounced ‘Funk-ee’ in Rio due to the keen avoidance of finishing any word with a closed sound) to Brazilians.
From London to Berlin, Baltimore to Lisbon, Baile Funk has been adopted as a cutting edge and vital new musical form, really only heard outside of Brazil since the turn of the century despite its roots going all the way back to the 1970s and 80s.
UK journalist and promoter Elle J Small has been throwing Baile Funk parties under the name Rio Rox in England since 2004 and remembers her first exposure to the sound;
“It was my first trip to Brazil in 2003 and it was the raw energy and simplicity of the beats that I was attracted to.” Within months of returning back to England she had used her new contacts to begin her own Funk parties in London.
Put simply a ‘Baile’ is a dance, and ‘Funk’ is the music played there, the kick-drum and sample-led music born in Rio de Janeiro out of the Miami Bass sound that had become popular in the 1980s. Literally hundreds of Baile Funks are held across the city every weekend and though some still carry an essence of danger and edginess, they have become incredibly popular with young travelers and tourists desperate to take an authentic slice of the rich favela culture back with them in a time where sanitized tours have become the norm.
While there are a few communities where even locals would fear to tread, and their bailes are not recommended without the absolute assurance of a well-connected local for accompaniment, the likes of Castelo das Pedras in Zona Oeste regularly receive tour parties of foreigners. Being in a ‘dry favela’ the dangers associated with the drug gangs of other areas are avoided at Castelo, and the biggest threat to your safety is the waterfall of fireworks raining down from the roof unannounced throughout the night.
Elsewhere in the city, Eu Amo Baile Funk (I Love Baile Funk) is a ubiquitous poster seen all over billboards advertising their latest parties at Circo Voador in Lapa. Often the ‘Guarda Velha’ or Old Guard (stealing a phrase from their samba cousins) take to the stage here – pioneers such as Mr Catra, DJ Marlboro and MC Sapao are regularly booked for what are safe and popular, if not 100% authentic, Baile Funks.
Last year DJ Marlboro was booked to play to the millions gathered on Copacabana Beach on New Years Eve, further indicating the mainstream acceptance of the genre that he himself was integral in shaping back in the 1980s. Reaction to his appearance was mixed however, and those who continue to feel the music glorifies drugs and violence argued that there was no place for Funk at such an event, despite the positive messages of much of the music.
Earlier in the year The Rio Times reported on the overthrowing of a law used to close down bailes based on often excessive safety regulations. To underline their argument the ‘Association of Professionals and Friends of Funk’ appeared in court to underline the cultural validity of their music and show to the city that they are to be taken just as seriously as samba and bossa nova as a key musical movement in Rio.
What will follow in this section over the coming weeks is a brief history of the sound of Funk; where it came from, where it is going, and what the future holds for both the sound and the ‘Funkeiros’ who created it, offering an insight to this vital and constantly-morphing sound to hopefully make its message and its importance better understood.