The Brazilian Beat: Favela Funk, Part I

The Brazilian Beat is contributor John Bohannon’s monthly column.

Over the past two decades, a phenomenon has taken over the slums of Rio and trickled down slowly into the rest of the world. Brazil has always been known for its keen sense of rhythm, and now that Bossa Nova and Samba have become the foundations of a past generation, the Brazilians had to find a new way to evolve their institution in rhythm. Much like hip-hop in the streets of New York, the new generation needed its own sound – its own voice. Insert Favela Funk, also known around the world as Baile (meaning party) Funk or Funk Carioca.

For those unfamiliar with favelas, they are the slums of Brazil and some of the richest cultural melting pots in the world. The surroundings in which Favela Funk was created are very similar to what happened in New York in the late 70s/early 80s with hip-hop. While the streets were bleak, the violence raging and the people looking grim, there was a group of people that had enough with the negativity, and turned it into something positive. While Favela Funk’s subject matter has more in common with N.W.A. than Grandmaster Flash, it truly reflects the struggle and sexuality of the elevated slums of Brazil. But as thousands crowd into the corridor balls every weekend, they escape the struggle for a few hours – something extraordinarily optimistic in itself.

A common misconception of this music is its association with the westernized notion of “funk.” We associate funk with James Brown, Sly Stone and the many influential black voices of the 70s. DJs from Brazil were scooping their records up in Miami, where people were still cutting up the funk records, and the term stuck. But a lot of what was being imported into Brazil at this time were Miami Booty Bass records, the foundation of the Favela Funk sound. Just like former movements in Brazil such as Bossa Nova and Tropicalia, the culture has been founded on Oswald de Andrade’s notions of a “cannibalistic” culture. Rather than actually referring to the ideal of cannibalism directly, his ideas are more based around the idea of being open to all cultures, and consuming things from different portions of all of them. Andrade was also interested in the raw element of things, very much so like the artists of Favela Funk.

DJ Marlboro – "Bucky Done Gun" (DJ Marlboro Mix)

Part of the appeal of this music is the lo-fi element to it. Made with nothing but budget drum machines, pirated music recording programs, a choice loop and a dirty vocal, it is truly a reflection of the way people in the favelas are living. There were no million-dollar budgets or promotion campaigns, just pirated discs and local heroes. Among the most prolific are DJ Marlboro, DJ Sandrinho, and Sany Pitbull. Marlboro is often considered the “ambassador of funk” to the scene and has been in the game since the mid-80s. He was one of the first to lay down tracks by 2 Live Crew and DJ Magic Mike in the clubs of Brazil, and a whole revolution had begun. He helped pioneer the sound of Favela Funk, blending elements of Miami Bass and the sounds of Rio de Janeiro. He went on to become a giant international success, and a father type figure to the entire scene, never abandoning his roots.

DJ Sandrinho and MC Gringo – "Perninha Depilada"

The reason I chose Sandrinho as one of the top figures in the game is his contribution to Favela Funk on an international level. He has continually put out bootlegs and strived to get the sound out of just the slums, performing in Europe and the states with his unique brand of funk that mixes electro, rock and much of the traditional music of Brazil. He has often been revered by Diplo (who I will be talking about in greater depth in part 2 of this piece) as one of the more notable names on the scene.

DJ Sany Pit Bull is responsible for a lot of the current influx of the Rio sound into the sounds that have become familiar to us today. Several years back, Diplo and M.I.A. made a trip to the favelas and were led by Sany to the favela balls, which would have a great impact on both Diplo and M.I.A.’s future sound. He got his name because he has been using his massive Pit Bull sound system for many years now, becoming the architect of a unique, heavy bass-driven sound amongst his peers. He is also one of the masters of the funk scene behind the MPC 2000 – stepping up the skill set involved in the creation of Favela Funk music.

DJ Sany Pit Bull – “We Are Your Friends” (Justice Baile Remix)

While this topic could cover the spectrum of an entire book, my goal of this column has been to expose you to the basics and ideals behind different movements and artists in Brazilian music. During part 2, I will cover the movement’s influence on the American and European sounds, and how a sound that was based off imports eventually became its own export.

The Brazilian Beat: Favela Funk, Part I