Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Friday, July 28, 2006

"biggest cultural treasure we have right now"

Like I said, this has been a big week. While I can't underestimate the value of something as simple as having a contact in one of the favelas, as I do now with Rogerio and Dois Irmãos, the whole project was jumpstarted a few days ago when Maga Bo sent me what amounts to a rolodex of contacts in Rio. At this point, it's implied that any interview I conduct or person I meet or party I attend probably has something to do with that guy. (Although Reasoner deserves some points too.)

The first lead that has gone somewhere concrete was with Adriana Pittigiliani. She's an artist (esp. photography) and a booster of all things funk. As far as I can tell, she acts as something like a manager, or at the very least networks like one, and seems to have her fingers in all the major international promotions of funk (Diplo, Man Recordings) and is well-acquainted with the better-knowns locally (Mr Catra, DJ Sandrinho, DJ Sany Pitbull).

We had quite a long bate-papo ("chat" . . . has a distinctive enough word because Brazilians are known to chat and chat and chat . . . it took awhile to get out of there) about funk, favelas, and the Rio-US/Europe connection.

There's plenty of subtleties to be worked out in the ideas we discussed (Prof Sneed's thesis, which I've started, does a good job of that -- working on getting a link or permission to post the whole thing, & will certainly comment on it later), but a quick overview of the highlights:
  • Invisibility: The favelas are invisible to the society at large, natch (ever since Wayne used it in reference to my blog, I've been tempted to pick it up), despite being up close & next to them instead of banished to the periphery. What's the best way to make yourself known to your rich neighbors? Guns work. So does earth-shattering bass. (but the two go hand in hand, the thesis isn't called Machine Gun Voices for nothing.) It's giving me a sudden urge to read Invisible Man. Certainly it's a universal theme.
  • Ownership: Diplo was quoted in the April 2006 issue of BPM Magazine (afraid a link to the actual article is no where to be found, Adriana gave me a PDF of it) as saying:
    It's tricky because a lot of artists from the morros in Rio, they don't really think past next week. They do their shows, drop a funk track here and there, bust into a funk ball and get some respect and some girls and some paper, and thank the Lord they can live another month. They don't have contracts, endorsements and marketing plans like rappers got in the US -- they just got a little love from their neighborhoods -- and they feel dignified and that's fulfilling. So it's not going to be the street shit to blow up in the US. The artists just can't mesh with the music lifestyle and business like we see in the US.
She agree wholeheartedly with this, and railed against the fact that DJ Marlboro holds 100% rights to almost 4,000 funk tracks cut by local MCs for whom the short-term promise of several months rent is far more important than abstract notions like copyright. He then gets his name on the credits (his production, his DJ in the studio), plays them on his radio show (and apparently they're watered down versions anyway, more radio-friendly), and reaps any potential royalties. Want to make a funk compilation? Fat chance, Adriana tells me, as the Nossa Design guys figured out, since he's sitting on all of the best recordings.

It does make me wonder, though, how the Man Recordings comps got out and who's profiting from them. I'm all for freedom of exchange (the production & distribution of the music within Rio seems to be nothing if not fluid), and these facts do put in a better light the criticism of Diplo's funk mixes for not crediting the artists (better but not perfect -- whether or not it's a money thing, and whether or not the original "artist" by our standards can be found, he had to know a thing or two about them, but then again he's into the closely-guarded-secret thing, or so I'm told). However, if someone is going to profit from this stuff monetarily, it should somehow trickle down into the communities that created it in the first place.
  • Pastiche/Bricolage: That was ownership from the economic side, now let's get high-minded for a sec. Adriana is way into Roland Barthes -- I happen to think he's a pretty cool guy myself -- and together we vibed for a bit on the aesthetic of funk as a musical pastiche or bricolage (although the latter is of Lévi-Strauss coinage). I would say more of the latter than the former, however. Pastiche implies more parody or imitation, and a point that Adriana was insistent on is that you can't call funk simply some derivation of American hip-hop. Its Afro-Brazilian/Brazilian-Brazilian/is there much of a difference? roots & inspirations (capoeira, candomblé, samba, football) are not to be ignored. To that end, it's more a bricolage of musical styles, both local/national Brazilian ones and the imports of Euro-American cultural hegemony (cf the samples that made funk so popular up North in the first place: The Smiths, Tetris, The Clash, The Eurythmics, etc. etc.). That in turn makes it a distinctly postmodern musical form (this all relates to "Machine Gun Voices" -- I've already e-mailed to see if I can get permission to post it). But perhaps that bricolage is turning back over to pastiche? Part of the naive pleasure was that the older samples, as far as anyone could ascertain (or so Jace told me), probably came from black market bootleg tapes. As such, the DJs mashing them into funk tracks had no idea what kind of iconic status Morrisey carried to legions of kids who wanted to go out tonight but didn't have a stitch to wear. Now, as Adriana showed me, with Internet access readily enough available, a funk version of Madonna's "Hung Up" is being made in Rio, rather than by some bedroom DJ with a copy of FL studio and too much time on his hands. [desperate for mp3s, I know, she's giving me some next week.]
And so a quick overview turned into a much longer one. I have more to say (always, always), re: history and narratives, codes, porous borders, and all kinds of shit that's going to bore you and be a treasure trove for me when thesis time comes around. [speaking of treasure, those are of course her words in the title. in other words, samba is so 1955.]

One quick mp3 before I take a baile nap (would be a disco nap, but tonight I'm not going to a disco . . .) and prepare for my first foray into funk in the flesh. Here's a track by Mr. Catra, who's gravelly voice I figured made him the Mark E. Smith of funk. Adriana, however, says it's just that he shoots it to hell by performing at 3, 4, or even 5 shows a night. (and I thought I had misunderstood the Portuguese when his manager wrote me back and offered to have me accompany him to a night of shows.) Frenetic, that's just how they do it down here.

Mr Catra - "Mamada Safada"

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At 7/29/2006 11:31 AM, Blogger wayne&wax said...

nice post, greg! definitely enjoying your observations and musings.

re: "natch" -- glad you like it. as it so happens, i own the trademark on that one, so it's a good thing you cited me.

on a more serious tip, though, while it's not surprising that the favelas are, in a sense, invisible (thus making "natch" an appropriate interjection), such invisibility is far from "natural," so i might caution you on the implications of that seeming toss-off of a term, lest you reinforce the very sort of myth that barthes so trenchantly illuminates.

indeed, there's something all too artificial and engineered about the "invisibility" of the favelas, which makes your point about their militant audibility all the more important. similar theories have been floated in the hip-hop literature: see rose's black noise, of course, or robin kelley's "kickin reality, kickin ballistics."

At 7/29/2006 4:54 PM, Blogger atari is a girl said...

i have defintiely heard that marlboro does control the "rights" to a large catalog of funk songs, but well, it's a tricky situation, since he can't quite release the songs abroad either due to the massive sampling clearance that would have to occur. there are no royalties paid on virtually any of the funk mix cds (3 for 10 reais if you can find them in the favelas), although a few have been released commercially and he has probably gotten some royalties off of those. even still, i'm not sure how much "control" he really does exert over it all, especially since funk artists don't make their money from selling music anyway. i guess i'll have to ask the nossa guys.

At 7/29/2006 8:13 PM, Blogger scruggs said...

duly noted. the intention was more along the lines of a cynical naturally-the-well-heeled-ignore-the-favelas than a claim that it was "natural" for it to be this way.

At 7/29/2006 8:15 PM, Blogger scruggs said...


he's got control via his radio show, though. big mix radio is a tastemaker for funk, as MC Gringo was telling me last night: he schmoozed all night at the Cantagalo baile but ultimately didn't get asked to perform. getting played on marlboro's show would boost his profile, and hopefully lead to more gigs (where, as you rightly imply, the money actually is).

At 7/31/2006 12:07 AM, Blogger stuartbuchanan said...

Great post, thanks for some illuminating insights!

At 7/31/2006 4:57 PM, Blogger said...

definitely interesting. keep it up!

At 8/01/2006 12:30 AM, Blogger Mr. Driscoll said...

invisibility seems an integral part of the funk aesthetic. recently returned from a visit to rio with a stack of mix CDs, it took some serious google acrobatics to find the names of the MCs. even then, i could only find the biggest names like Mr Catra.

here's a live recording of Catra's killer jam, Vem Todo Mundo. keep up the good work.

At 8/01/2006 3:00 AM, Blogger Popozudo said...

Re.: Licsensing for "Rio Baile Funk Favela Booty Beats". As you were wondering how the tracks on "Rio Baile Funk Favela Booty Beats" compilations were licensed: I would like to give a few insights. For the 1st CD, I´ve been to Rio for a couple of weeks, going to bailes, buying funk CD-Rs on street markets and CDs in stores. After finding out who was the MC/singer of the track and finding out who was owning the copyrights to the songs, I´ve contacted the labels. 40% of the tracks on the 1st volume belong to Link records (DJ Marlboro´s label), 40% belonged to Furacao 2000 and the rest was licensed from Sony Music, who owned the copyrights to De Falla and Bonde Do Tigrao. So it is actually not too difficult to license tracks from Rio artists - though it´s just a much bigger effort than putting together an average compilation using tracks that were issued in the U.S. or Europe. So all those U.S. people complaining that they couldnt track Rio artists, labels etc down and then releasing bootleg CD mixes/EPs of funk are either too lazy or simply don´t give a shit.
The profits generated from the sales of "Rio Baile Funk Favela Booty Beats" have been distributed to the labels from which we´ve licensed the tracks. Whether the artists have received the money from their labes, is unknown. As you´ve mentioned with Marlboro, he is known for generally never paying any royalties to his artist, not for licenses, nor for the mechanicals. About Furacao I´m not so sure, I met Dennis DJ half a year after the 1st volume of the CD came out and he didnt knew that he had tracks on a foreign CD, as did Mr.Catra. So yes: The Rio labels are to blame.

Re.: Man Recordings. Well, we havent released any compilations yet (except for Nao Wave). D.M.Project´s "Habibi" we´ve licensed from Link.

Re.: Marlboro. I disagree to your statement that "Marlboro sits on all the best tracks". After being to Rio a couple of times I´ve noticed that there´s still many good tracks around that do not belong to Marlboro. Please give a listen to my new compilation "More Favela Booty Beats" (out on Essay Aug 26th). All tracks used were either licensed from the artist themselves or licensed from other labels. Okay, we couldnt include Lelsinho´s "Ela So Pensa Em Bejiar" as it belongs to Marlboro, but we didnt want to comply to his demand to give us the track only when licensing exclusively Marlboro/Link only stuff for the 2nd volume for our compilation.
Other compilations, such as "Funk Carioca" on Mr.Bongo and the Italian "Colors" compilation on Funk used Marlboro only tracks.

If you have any comments, questions, please drop me a mail at


At 8/17/2006 3:55 AM, Blogger FaveladodaRocinha1 said...

mr driscoll. I have over 7.000 songs of funk and know most of artists here. If you want to know who is singer of a can send me e-mail maybe I can help..



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