Funk Carioca, Part 1

Dancing at Its Dirtiest

Girls dance at a baile. The one in the foreground is performing the most common funk dance move by sticking her butt out and shaking it repeatedly.
Rebecca Bachman

Funk Carioca is dirty dancing at its dirtiest, and lyrics at the height of vulgarity. It can be heard throughout the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, all day and night long, from cars, houses, and bailes funks (funk parties).

But contrary to what one might assume upon a first visit to Rio de Janeiro, funk is not just the extremely crude beat to which favela-dwellers live. The roots of this song and dance craze go as deep as the strapless tops warn by many a menina (young girl) at a baile, and as far back as the very same tiny-top-clad Brasileiras thrust their butts as they dance.

Around the end of the 1960s and through the ‘70s, the soul genre that gave way to funk in the United States also served as the template for Brazilian funk. Much like its North American equivalent, the Brazilian funk antigo combined soul with rhythm and blues, rock, and psychedelic music. It featured a heavy bass line, a lively brass section, and super-dancey percussion with syncopated rhythms.

Funk Carioca continued to evolve independent of its North American funk. In the 1980s it merged with “Miami bass,” a music phenomenon of many Miami slums. Carioca DJs tracking American musical trends stopped off in the American city most popularly visited by Brazilians, bringing Miami bass mixes back with them, and incorporating the faster tempos, dirtier lyrics, and more electro instrumentals into their own music. The fact that Miami bass also goes by the names of “booty music,” “booty bass,” and “dirty rap” gives some sort of an idea of what the American genre brought to Brazilian funk antigo.

Some women scope the scene at a baile while posing in front of the DJ table.
Rebecca Bachman

Miami Bass fit right into favela culture, featuring socially conscious lyrics concerning poverty, slum living conditions, racism, complaints about the government and the police, violent and sexually explicit street language, and, of course, danceable beats.

While ‘80s funk featured relatively sterile lyrics compared to many modern-day sub-genres, it certainly helped to establish many of funk’s archetypal characteristics. To this day, for example, thong-clad women who don’t get too attached in relationships are idealized. On the other hand, strong, powerful men who know how to manipulate women and physically defend themselves are glorified. While funk artists of the ‘90s held black women in highest esteem, the trend moved to blond women by the turn of the century, and the currently coveted funk females are novinhas, to be described later.

Funk Carioca blew up in popularity in the 1990s. It became a musical sensation in Rio’s favelas and, for the first time, gained recognition throughout Brazil and other parts of the world. Lyrics of the time focused principally on drugs, weapons, favela life, and sex. Also in the 90s was born a popular, violent phenomenon at funk bailes, according to several sources. Crews from rival communities would frequent the same dance party. The men, in search of a good fight, transformed the lively community parties into what were essentially battles. Two groups would form, and fight organizers would establish a line to divide lado A and lado B (side A and side B). A fighter could sprint onto the opposing faction’s turf, throw a punch, and sprint back. But if he was caught by the opposing faction’s fighters, he would likely be absorbed by the hits, outnumbered, and destroyed. It was not uncommon for people to get extremely injured or killed in these violent, organized fights.

While most frequenters of ‘90s bailes were probably there simply for a fun night of dancing, those who went looking for a fight began to give a bad name to the entire funk Carioca genre. An upper-class movement set out to ban the dances, deeming them unnecessary havoc wreaked by violent, uneducated people.

In an attempt to dissuade fellow community members from ruining the funk fun for everybody, some artists created music to undercut the coolness of the funk fight phenomenon. It died out by the turn of the century. Rocinha artist MC Nenêm released “Rap da Rocinha” in 1995, urging funk fans away from the violent habit:

A briga no baile está uma situação
Pôr isso eu dó um conselho sangue bom
Pare com isso pra que se rebaixar
O negocio e fazer a coisa mudar
Curtir, dançar namorar
No baile tem que ser assim
Sem briga para atrapalhar
Com paz e amor o baile é feliz

A Rocinha diz que a briga tem que acabar
O baile foi feito pra curtir e pra dançar”

Fighting at the baile is a bad situation
So I give this good, honest advice
Stop this and step down
From this business, and make things change
Enjoy, dance, date
The baile has to be like this
Without fighting to disrupt
With peace and love the baile is happy

The community of Rocinha says that the fighting has to stop
The baile was made for enjoyment and dancing

By the decade of 2000, funk had branched into many subgenres. Funk melody (melodic funk) is the cleanest. It is romantic, features slower tempos, calmer instrumentals, and cheesy, poetic, amorous lyrics which often worship the female body. MC Macinho and MC Perla are two of the most popular melodic funk artists of today. A famous song composed and sung by the former is called “Corpo Nú,” or “Naked Body.” To the repetitive beat of a drum machine, the lyrics essentially proceed to explain why the female subject of the song’s naked body makes the singer fall in love with her on a romantic beach in the sun.

This is the wholesome backdrop against which all other modern-day funk increases in vulgarity. Sexual funk is the most popular soundtrack of baile parties, and its most popular songs right now can be heard throughout the streets of Rocinha and at every party, repeatedly, all day and night long. Simple phrases which roughly translate to “thrust and bounce,” “sit your butt all the way down to the floor,” simply “sit, sit, sit” (which, in the context, translates closer to “mount”) and “It’s just a one night stand, so don’t fall in love” are repeated throughout these unbelievably repetitive songs, encouraging dancers to repeat the same extremely sexual dance moves well through the intense burn in their thighs. It’s easy to criticize, but even easier to give in to, laugh at, and enjoy the tasteless music.

Quite recently, the ideal subject of sexually charged funk music has moved from blond women (who took over from black women at the turn of the century) to novinhas. According to life-long funk lover and Rocinha resident Igor Barbosa de Silva, a novinha is “a girl of 13 to 17 years of age. She goes to the baile, dances, and wears tiny clothes. She doesn’t seem like a completely mature woman, but she is clearly ready to have sex.” Novinhas are commonly described as preparadas, or “prepared,” with done-up hair, make up, carefully selected tiny outfits, and high, high heels. A famous lyric concerning novinhas goes like this: “As novinhas de 14 já estão prontas para Sentar.” Or “the 14-year-old girls are ready to sit (or mount).”

Funk proibidão, of prohibited funk, is the most specific contemporary genre. It is heard at the bailes frequented by traficantes and bandidos (men involved in drug trafficking) and their women. It is funded by and glorifies the criminal factions that control most favelas, including Rocinha. Funk prohibidão can be used to insult or make fun of rival drug lords or criminal factions, who may control multiple favelas. It’s lyrics may trumpet the advantages of particular favelas, bragging for instance of superior weapons or stronger, tougher bandidos.

One more sub-genre of funk music deserving a solid mention are the raps. Funk raps are the modern counterpart to the socially conscious antigo songs. “Rap das armas” is a famous example, which can be heard in Brazilian film Tropa de elite. It begins by describing the beautiful features of Rio de Janeiro before delving into the violent, corrupt problems that plague the lower classes. “Rap da favela” is another example. It begins by repeating, “Tenho orgulho da favela nela aprendi a viver,” or “I’m proud of the favela in which I learned to live.” It goes on to describe various social problems and discrimination and to ponder their corrupt financial origins. All the while the singer highlights his favorite cultural features of living in a favela in Rio.

The dances, styles, and trends born of the baile funk craze of Rio’s favelas pose a series of subjects to explore. Various bailes are scenes for different social groups, from children to criminals. Look for upcoming overviews of the various bailes and tips on dancing and dressing funk Carioca.


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