A Seleção do Gringo, Part 1
I've been a longtime admirer of Blogariddims and its emphasis on dropping serious knowledge jewels in podcast form. So I chomped at the bit when the ringleaders over at The Fear opened it up for a second round.
Unfortunately, I was running on Brazilian time and it all came together past deadline. So grab the mix or better yet the whole series, then take a gander as I try to make some sense of this musical feijoada.
Blogaritmos 28: A Seleção do Gringo
The Beat Diaspora aims to take an ecumenical approach to beats and the cities that inspire them, although over the last year it's largely been usurped by all things carioca. Two consecutive summers of study, research, and volunteer work in Rio de Janeiro have just proved too captivating not to write about. And even if by Northern hype standards I came a year too late to ride the wave of buzz, I was still amazed at how much Rio really does move to the beat of the tamborzão. While there's a small cadre of DJs, MCs, and producers with an eye to the rest of the world (and you'll hear from them at the end), the funk scene doesn't need the rest of the world's attention (nor, for that matter, its crude characterizations, cheap rip-offs, failure to credit artists, and questionable contracts).
In my wanderings around Rio, rolling up to bailes, meeting DJs and MCs, and bartering for pirated CDs, I've amassed quite a bit of tunes. Rather than try to do a "definitive" take on funk, whose inner-workings, trends, ebbs, and flows are still kind of a mystery, I put together a mix of an hour's worth of favorites, roughly divided into funk antigo (old-school) that rides looped Miami bass beats, bangers on the tamborzão (the beat underneath most funk since the late '90s), and a new crop of "pós-baile funk" (post-baile funk), a term coined by Hermano Vianna. Vianna is an anthropologist and music journalist whose book O Mundo Funk Carioca (The Rio Funk World) was the first book-length study of funk waaaaay back in 1988. Granted, it was ahead of its time, but academics (like myself, I must admit) taking their ever-critical eyes to this stuff is going on its 20th anniversary. I don't think I'm in a position to offer any conclusive observations, but it's worth presenting in less sensational terms. Sure, it's wrapped up in the city's complicated and tragic socio-economic-narcotic disparities, and provides an intriguing window into Rio's social relations. But funk has also taken off as national pop music, the tamborzão beat even used for advertising jingles. It's a vast, vast world.
So instead of trying to represent, or re-present, here's my seleção. Selection, literally, but with a more important meaning in Brasil. The seleção is also the national team in a given sport, the proper noun "A Seleção" almost always referring to the national futébol squad. These aren't just any old tracks, but some of my favorites, whether it be for beats, lyrics, samples, community, or an MC or DJ I'm fond of.
As for gringo, that's simple. Rio is a city bringing in millions of tourists a year from the northern hemisphere, and they're all expected to plop down on Copacabana beach and drink caipirinhas. The last place any carioca expects to find gringos is hanging out at bailes funk or, as was the case this summer, actually living in a favela. It's not a term of hostility, just a fact. It's no use trying to act Brazilian, I'll always be the gringo, no matter the circumstances.
1. Beto da Caixa Intro / Praia do Leblon
Couldn't resist a few exclusive vocal drops. "Blogaritmos número vinte e oito, é a seleção do gringo, tá ligado? (Blogariddims number twenty-eight, it's the gringo's selection, you understand?)"
c/o Beto da Caixa, one of the MCs I spent the most time with this summer. We hooked up some (digital) dubs for the Liberation Sound System.
And with the generous use of studio time by our main man Sandrinho DJ, who makes an appearance in the mix later on.
Then the soothing sounds of the Atlantic along Leblon beach, a guy hawking cold drinks on a hot Sunday. Everyone congregates here, in theory the beach serves as the city's great democratic space (although that's come under question in recent years). It puts you in the right mood for what comes next.
Part 1: Funk Antigo
2. MCs Júnior e Leonardo - Endereço dos Bailes
Easily my favorite old-school funk hit, "Endereço dos Bailes" (Address of the Bailes) is simple but eloquent.
"No Rio tem mulata e futebol, Cerveja, chopp gelado, muita praia e muito sol, é... Tem muito samba, Fla-Flu no Maracanã, Mas também tem muito funk rolando até de manhã
In Rio there are mulatta chicks [this is a good thing] and soccer
Brews, cold beer, lots of beach and lots of sun
It has lots of samba, Fla-Flu [soccer rivalry] at Maracanã Stadium
But it also has lots of funk rolling through the morning."
After listing all of Rio's tourist attributes, they cinch the quatrain in the fourth line, asserting that funk deserves its place in the city's cultural pantheon. And even at this stage around 1993, they were obviously right, as they go on to rattle off a whole list of bailes that were kicking at the time. Some, like the Clube de Emoções in Rocinha, is still there:
MC Dollares holding it down while the crowd works it out on the dance floor.
The version of this song I got on relatively high-quality mp3 ripped from the Sou Funk EP, which I later discovered was 100% pirated, a pretty rough culture-vulture case. Fortunately, Flamin Hotz Records turned out not to be such bad guys, and I helped them track down which artists we could and pay them back. Júnior and Leonardo were one of them.
Reppin' Sou Funk with Rocinha in the background. In a huge coincidence, the house where they grew up (and where Júnior still lives) backs up to the Instituto Dois Irmãos, where I volunteered these last two summers.
3. MC Mascote - Rocinha e Vidigal
Staying in the Zona Sul (South Side), just behind Leblon Beach is Vidigal, something like a little brother to Rocinha (Rio's largest favela).
The unfortunate juxtaposition of a 5-star Sheraton just below it on the beachfront besides (how guests can sip cocktails and play tennis with this behind them I will never understand), Vidigal is home to the amazing NGO Nós do Morro (Us from the Hill), who interestingly enough trained many of the actors in City of God, which made favelas something of world famous.
MC Mascote, who lives in Rocinha now to my knowledge (although he says he lives in Vidigal in the song), keeps the friendly spirit alive with "Rocinha e Vidigal." With a short "Push It" sample he explains in the chorus, "Quem dança no Vidigal dança na Roça também (Whoever dances in Vidigal dances in Rocinha too)." Kind words for both too: Vidigal is a "morro de valor (worthwhile hill)" and Rocinha "uma comunidade linda, a maior favela da América Latin (a lovely community, the biggest favela in Latin America)." Both of these first two songs are really earnest takes on being proud of your neighborhood, and of course of their blazing bailes funk.
4. Unknown - Morro do Cantagalo Proibidão
Of course, not all songs holding it down for the 'hood are so upbeat. Proibidão (extremely prohibited) is the style of funk that's really raised eyebrows–the songs that big ups the local criminal faction (which is usually paying for the baile anyway), incite them to go to war with one another, and memorialize dead gangsters. Even if you can't understand the lyrics (which mostly talk about the righteousness of the Comando Vermelho, who run the favela of Cantagalo), the gunshots punctuating the track are hard to miss.
No surprise, then, that Paul Sneed, founder of the i2i and a prof at UKansas, would title his study of proibidao "Machine Gun Voices." He makes a brilliant case for the proibidão MC not as another part of the criminal apparatus, but a crucial link between the community and the gangs, speaking from to another in really the only public forum the favelas have. The Comando Vermelho doesn't give press conferences (although I believe they actually did once upon a time). "Rap is CNN for black people," says Chuck D. "Funk is TV Globo for favelados," this anonymous MC might say. It's notoriously hard to find artist names for proibidão by the way, since having your name associated with this stuff can get you in trouble with the authorities (or rival factions, for that matter).
Cantagalo is also the baile da comunidade (free favela party thrown by the local faction) I've visited most, presided over by Rio's finest DJ, Sany Pitbull.
5. Júnior e Leonardo - Rap das Armas
"O meu Brasil é um país tropical
A terra do funk, a terra do carnaval
O meu Rio de Janeiro é um cartão postal
Mas eu vou falar de um problem nacional
My Brasil is a tropical country
The land of funk, the land of Carnival
My Rio de Janeiro is a postcard
But I'm going to speak about a national problem."
I wanted to end the old-school tunes on a peaceful note. Back to my boys Júnior and Leonardo, who had a massively popular hit with "Rap das Armas." They run down a list of heavy weaponry because the difference between an Uzi and an AK-47 is a part of their daily lives.
Here's a recording of them on TV . . . this track was a huge, huge hit. Which made it all the more surprising to hear that later in the '90s, they were so hurting for cash that they had a taxi and drove it in 12-hour shifts each, keeping it on the road 24/7. One hit does not equal success for life. They're on a resurgence, though, planning to tour Europe as part of the release Tropa da Elite, which features "Rap das Armas."
That brings the old school section to an end. Tamborzão bangers coming soon.