But Where's the Funk?
It's Saturday night, and I'm sure that if I listen hard enough in a few hours, a bass beat or two will trickle down from the hills. Unfortunately, I won't be on the scene to tell you more about it.
Three weeks in and I feel like I've made minimal progress. Granted, my Portuguese is improving, even if I don't admit it, and that will be invaluable in the month to come. Class, too, has been more time-consuming than I expected, and will also be out of the way come August. But I'm only going be able to make the best of my home stretch in Rio if I lay the groundwork for it now (and I'm beginning to think I should have started well before leaving the States). My original goal was to volunteer to teach English in Rocinha with the Dois Irmãos / Two Brothers Foundation, which offers cross-cultural opportunities to Rocinha's residents. I was initially very excited about this prospect, as Two Brothers was founded by Paul Sneed, a professor at San Diego St. University who wrote his doctoral thesis on funk. (Entitled "Machine Gun Voices: Bandits, Favelas, and Utopia in Brazilian Funk," he very kindly sent me a copy, which I'm going to wade through soon).
However, after several inquiries, the first of which I wrote over two weeks ago, I still haven't heard back from the local contacts in Rocinha he told me to e-mail. I'm still hopeful that something will work out with Two Brothers (Prof Sneed told me in one e-mail that the next session of classes starts in August, and right now it's winter vacation for a lot of students, so perhaps that explains the lack of response). However, rather than sit around and wait, I realized I've got to start exploring other leads. To that end, I've been in touch with our program coordinator at PUC, who in turn is going to put me in touch with the people responsible for PUC's community outreach efforts in Rocinha. It's better than nothing, but I'd rather be affiliated with an institution from inside Rocinha than from a large university (and one, which I've been told, has a reputation for being a rich kid school).
I also fired off an e-mail to this cat, who lives in Rio and definitely reps all things Brazilian musically speaking. As it turns out, he's currently in Zanzibar, working on his own efforts at digging up fresh beats. I won't to get meet him in person, but hopefully he'll be able to offer some suggestions/contacts/tips/anything.
Unfortunately, I don't even know something as simple as whether or not I could walk into Rocinha and go buy music safely. I'm aware of all the claims that life in the favelas is just that -- life, people living there & going about their daily lives without too much trouble most of the time (cf Robert Neuwirth's excellent "Shadow Cities" -- he lived in Rocinha for several months as part of the research for that book, also put me in touch with Prof Sneed in the first place, also has a very regularly updated blog that's in the permanent links to the right). And I believe them, too. But given my Portuguese and my skin tone, I'd rather follow Robert's initial advice: "Go in for the first time to meet somebody."
Oh, and my host's son, Gus, has some connections in the more well-to-do music scene. He DJs on occasion at a club just down the block called Melt (according to a recent Jornal do Brasil article, which I'm still trying to find online, Rua Rita Ludolf is one of the most desirable addresses in Rio . . . all the more reason to move to Botafogo next month). In particular, one of their resident DJs, Adriano, is a friend of Gus and supposedly knows a thing or two about the funk scene (I have heard that bailes tend to be open to all, not just to residents of the community in which they're held).
It may be one of the poshest clubs around, but when I was there my first weekend at Gus's invitation, there's was a solid half-hour to 45 minute funk set wedged between blocks of commercial house. Likewise when I wandered around my first night here and stumbled into an absolutely awful Mexican restaurant-cum-sorry excuse for a club, I was drawn in because I heard that funk bass emanating from the windows. A young & wealthy enough crowd (esp. if they're going out in Leblon), these kids knew every word and it was easily the music that got them the most animated the whole time I was there.
Not that I didn't know it before, but it's plainly obvious that funk is this city's music. From well-heeled clubs to car windows to radio waves, the city breaths funk. It seems to be universally accepted by those who like dance music of any kind, whatever their socio-economic status.
But for reasons linguistic, cultural, or otherwise . . . I haven't yet figured out how to get to the source.
I just got off the phone with a friend who, as we speak, is here waiting to see this tour. There's some fairly abiding irony in all this: I freely admit it was Diplo who brought funk to my ears in the first place -- and to the ears of a whole lot of other people, which is the phenomenon I'm theoretically down here to study. And while he's bringing Funk Light to the masses, I'm (vainly?) hoping for the real thing . . . but instead sitting here contemplating another night out in Lapa.
As a paean to what I hope is to come, I'll leave you with an mp3 recorded from the vinyl-only Sou Funk EP, those trademark horns that arguably started it all.
Unknown - "Rocky Theme"