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By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It’s 3AM before São Paulo hip hop group Racionais MCs take to the stage under the Viaduto Negrão de Lima in Madureira. The parking lot under a concrete overpass in the Zona Norte neighborhood is packed with hip hop fans from across the city in anticipation of one of the country’s leading rap outfits playing at the twenty year old home of Black Music in Rio.

Racionais MCs' Mano Brown performing at Viaduto de Madureira on Saturday, photo by Washington Brito

Every Saturday the Espaço Cultural Rio Hip-Hop Charme, or Viaduto de Madureira as it’s more commonly known, hosts the most important Black Music party in the city. Originating from the Carnival bloco ‘Pagodão Madureira’ created by friends known as Leno, Pedro, Edinho and Xandoca in May 1990, local black entertainment businessman Cesar Atáide invited the group to establish Projeto Charme na Rua, a hip hop, soul and R&B party for the neighborhood.

With Atáide’s influence the group secured the space under the Viaduto Negrão de Lima and using seminal funk rapper MC Marlboro’s sound system, the team launched the now legendary event on the first Saturday of Carnival in 1993.

While soul and R&B had been played in Rio clubs since the 1960s, the Viaduto de Madureira events were the first to popularize the genre and create an focal point for Carioca hip hop and charme, which can be loosely defined as the Rio manifestation of North American R&B. Understanding the importance of the events for the spread of Black culture in Rio, the state government officially recognized the parties in 1995 renaming it The Rio Charme Project.

The animated crowd at the home of Black music in Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News
The animated crowd at the home of Black music in Rio, photo by Washington Brito.

In contrast to the baile funks, with their glorification of gang violence and often tense atmospheres, the Baile do Viaduto is an urban street party with a palpably positive vibe. Starting at 10PM, things start to get going at 1AM and in the run up to Racionais MC’s performance DJs spin a mix of hip hop and R&B by national and international artists such as 50 Cent, 509-E, Beyonce, Orixás and BNegão while street dancers bust a groove on stage.

Bursting onto the stage in a fug of smoke and vitriolic lyrical attack, Racionais MCs command the crowd with socially engaged flow over pared down hip hop beats. Formed in 1988 by MCs from the favelas on the periphery of São Paulo, Racionais promote social consciousness with lyrics directly addressing issues such as drugs, racism, police brutality and poverty.

At Viaduto de Madureira, MCs Ice Blue, Manu Brown, Edy Rock may circulate the stage with gangster swagger but have a serious agenda, whipping up the audience which includes a crowd looking on from outside the railings lining the main ticketed space.

Hits such as ‘Vida Loka’ and ‘Diário de um Detento’, which relates the incident where police killed 111 inmates of Carandiru prison on October 2nd 1992, get the loudest reception with the audience chanting along word for word while Ice Blue fixes us with his formidable glare.

A crush follows the show. Barriers fall down as fans clamor to be photographed with the MCs backstage. The anarchic chaos befits the huge popularity of the group who, as pioneers of Brazilian hip hop, are totally befitting for the Baile do Viaduto.

Baile do Viaduto is every Saturday night at Espaço Cultural Rio Hip-Hop Charme, Viaduto Negrão de Lima, Madureira, Zona Norte, from 10PM to 5AM.

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