For those cooped up in the Beantown cold, the Rio summer heat will be there in sound&spirit tonight at the Harvard Graduate School of Design for the opening of "Dirty Work: Transforming Landscape in the Non-Formal City of the Americas." The exhibit is up through March 16, and tomorrow (January 30), I encourage everyone to see Robert Neuwirth speak on the "21st century medieval city." His book Shadow Cities was a huge influence on my own understanding of Rio, and in fact he put me in touch with Two Brothers -- I certainly would not be sitting in the room I'm writing from if it weren't for him.
I can't be there in person to tonight (7 or 8 pm, I'd guess? No time listed on the site) for obvious reasons, so instead I sent in the following mix&commentary that will be played&displayed during the opening. It's practically another Blogariddims contribution (& one of the 76-minute specials at that) featuring tracks that diligent readers/listeners will recognize from both my own blogariddims funk mix and postings throughout the last year(s), but hopefully now contextualized in a different way. And of course, there's stuff I got just a few days ago, so it's fresh all around.
I'm quite happy about the title's twist on the name of the class that produced the exhibit (see below) -- the catchier Low Income Tomorrowland was unfortunately already taken.
Landscaped Beats for Low-Income Strategies
Mixed by Gregzinho in the favela of Rocinha
Rio de Janeiro, January 2008
The tracks in this mix come from the favelas, suburbia, periferia, villas miserias, or, in more technical parlance, low-income settlements, of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Buenos Aires, three of the seven cities featured in the exhibit “Dirty Work: Transforming Landscape in the Non-Formal City of the Americas,” a product of the Harvard Graduate School of Design class Landscape Strategies for Low-Income Settlements. The other four are certainly also rich in music that has its strongholds in the cities’ barrios, from Colombian cumbia and hip-hop (Bogotá) to reggaetón and other Caribbean sounds (Caracas), to Mexican music both traditional and contemporary (Mexico City and Tijuana). However, I was limited by what I know personally—having been to Rio, Sampa, and BsAs, I’m intimately familiar with samba, funk carioca, cumbia villeira, and Brazilian hip-hop and reggae. Tranquilo? Pronto? Vamos.
1. Dudu Nobre – Batucada 01
Dudu Nobre is a young, popular samba composer out of Rio de Janeiro and the fierce rhythms of batucada, a percussion-heavy samba variation with strong African influence, set a proper tone to start things off.
2. G.R.E.S. Imperatriz Leopoldinense – Liberdade! Liberdade! Abre as Asas Sobre Nós (Liberty! Liberty! Open Your Wings Above Us)
The story of the rise of samba in Rio—and later Brazil writ large—is inextricably tied to the growth of the city’s favelas, where samba—once outlawed for being too African—took refuge in the first decades of the 20th century. Groups of sambistas who performed routines around Carnaval began organizing themselves in escolas (schools) around 1930 and by the post-war era became the premiere attraction at Carnaval time. This 1989 samba enredo (story samba, the elaborate, scripted routines performed in the official parade at the Sambódromo) commemorates the centenary of the proclamation of the Republic of Brazil, which was precipitated by the abolition of slavery a year prior in 1888—itself an important theme in the 1988 sambas, especially given samba’s origins in slave music. Imperatriz Leopoldinense hails from the Ramos neighborhood in Rio’s north side, which includes the Complexo da Maré, a large complex of favelas that greets visitors as they get on the Linha Vermelha expressway at the international airport and head downtown.
3. Cartola – Verde Que Te Quero Rosa (Green That I Want You Pink)
Cartola is quite simply the most famous sambista of the 20th century, and one of the founders of the most famous samba school: G.R.E.S. Estação Primeira da Mangueira. Green and pink are Mangueira’s colors and were chosen by Cartola.
4. Digitaldubs Sound System ft. Ras Bernardo – Morro Não Tem Play (The Hill Doesn’t Have Playgrounds)
Digitaldubs is a contemporary reggae sound system in Rio. In addition to importing the latest 7”s and dubs out of Jamaica, they produce and perform their own Brazilian reggae, with MCs toasting in Portuguese and their DJs mixing in other Brazilian music, including funk carioca (see tracks 6-14). This lament about conditions on the morro (hill, a catch-all term for favelas in Rio, which are often located on hills), especially for children, fits perfectly with the social concerns that reggae has traditionally taken up.
5. Capoeira Mestre Suassuna - Macuele
The dance/martial art of capoeira, like samba, has its roots in Brazilian slave culture but has since become a prominent part of Brazilian culture. While the best capoeiristas don’t necessarily come from favelas, the historical link between enslaved black Brazilians, and favelas is well documented historically. No surprise, then, that the ginga (rhythm) of capoeira is cited as an influence on the development of the tamborzão (big drum) beat, which has been the basis of most funk since about 2000.
6. MCs Leonardo e Júnior – Endereço dos Bailes (Address of the Bailes)
Funk carioca (carioca is the adjective to describe someone or something from Rio) or just plain “funk” to those who live it and love it, is something like the new samba—nurtured in favelas, persecuted by authorities, bane of the middle and upper classes, but slowly gaining respectability. Musically, its most direct antecedent is not American funk (from where the name comes) but rather Miami bass, the syncopated, minimal-beats-maximum-bass hip-hop style of the late ’80s (think 2 Live Crew). Black American dance music (funk, disco, soul, early hip-hop and techno) had been popular in Rio for some time, but when Miami bass arrived, it took the black dance crowds by storm and, coupled with technology that allowed producers to record local vocalists on top of looped Miami bass beats, became an immensely popular Brazilian style. “Endereço dos Bailes” is a 1995 track by this duo of brothers from the favela of Rocinha, Rio’s largest, and shouts out the different bailes funk (funk balls) taking place in favelas across the city, forming a kind of alternate tourist map to the one they describe in the opening lines, featuring the usual gamut of sun, soccer, sand, and samba.
7. MCs Cidinho e Doca – Rap da Felicidade (The Happiness Rap)
Also from 1995, this song became a national hit, its plaintive “Eu só quero é ser feliz, andar traquilamente na favela onde eu nasci (I only want to be happy, to walk peacefully in the favela where I was born)” resonating as Rio was racked by violence in the early ’90s. Cidinho and Doca hail from Cidade de Deus (City of God), whose reputation for violent gang activity was immortalized (and to some extent sensationalized) in the Oscar-winning movie of the same time.
8. MCs Leonardo e Júnior – Rap das Armas (The Arms Rap)
Back to the brothers from Rocinha. “Rap das Armas”, from the same era, is another anti-violence song. The lyrics are basically a run down of the different kinds of guns (Uzi, M-16, AK-47, etc.) that the two saw on a daily basis in Rocinha. It concludes with a call for peace, but was misinterpreted by the media as an apology for the criminal factions. They fell on hard times, ultimately working consecutive 12 hour shifts as a taxi driver (so the car was always on the road), but are now rebounding and recorded a new version of “Rap das Armas” for Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad), a film that promises to be the new City of God and will be released in the U.S. this year.
9. MC Binho – Meu Sonho (My Dream)
Sticking with Rocinha, but more recently, is MC Binho, a current funk MC who handed me a CD with this track over the weekend. The more electronic, almost techno sound in the track is a new trend in funk production. While definitely a positive dream—to become a big star in music or on TV—it doesn’t have quite the same conscience as the previous three tracks. But then again, I can’t blame the guy: He squeezes his MCing in between shifts working as a cobrador, the guy who takes your fare in one of the vans that supplement the bus system.
10. Beto da Caixa – Blindão
Beto da Caixa is another current artist who deals more directly with the reality of favela life. “Blindão” is a slang term for the favela code of conduct—it comes from the word for ‘armor’—and Beto swears by it in this track. “Tenho fé não tenho medo / A gente é sempre no blindão (I have faith, I don’t have fear / We’re always in blindão),” goes the refrain.
11. Menor do Chapa – Vida Louca (Crazy Life)
Beto’s lyrics hint at one of the obvious preoccupations of funk tracks: the criminal factions that are, for all intensive purposes, the chief authority in a vast majority of the city’s favelas. Funk has evolved as the soundtrack of the favela—blasting out of nearly every corner bar and car window—and a particular subgenre called proibidão (extremely prohibited) sings exclusively about, and in favor of, the factions. Menor do Chapa has built a career praising the Comando Vermelho (Red Command, abbreviated CV), the city’s first, and most notorious, narco-trafficking gang.
12. Anonymous – Proibidão do Cantagalo
While Menor do Chapa’s proibidão has almost gone mainstream, much of it is recorded live or on rough studio equipment and stays very local—as in, specifically about the faction of the MC’s favela. In the case of Cantagalo, the favela between Ipanema and Copacabana, the CV is in charge—“minha facção, claro que é o CV (my faction, clearly it’s CV)”. It’s this kind of proibidão, however, that isn’t just an apology for drug trafficking, but also a vital form of communication within the favela. The proibidão MC speaks from the faction to the community, certainly, but also from the community back to the faction, and can articulate local concerns in communities that don’t have another medium in which to do so. While this role, at least in my opinion, absolves the proibidão MC from being a simple apologist for the gangs, they still tend to remain anonymous because of the possible trouble it can lead to from police or rival gangs.
13. MC Alex – Seu Presidente (Mr. President)
The lo-fi production values are a hallmark of funk—all it takes is a cheap sampler and some mics—as the bricolage quality of the music is, in many ways, reflective of the architecture and visual environment that supports it. Here, MC Alex from a favela in the Zona Norte (I never did get the name of it), sings as a “pobre cidadão” (poor citizen) against both the corruption of politics and the corruption of the gang, the latter complaint having made it very difficult for him to find bailes to perform at, as the gangs are usually the financiers in favelas, throwing huge bailes da comunidade (community balls) that are free to all.
14. DJ Sandrinho – Medley Yazoo
That said, lo-fi production values are becoming a thing of the past, especially among the best DJs and producers who oftentimes have top-notch computers and recording equipment. Funk has commercialized, commanding huge radio audiences and massive festivals, but that doesn’t mean it has entirely left the favela. DJ Sandrinho still lives and maintains his studio in the favela of Borel, despite having been the DJ to Mr Catra, hands down the most in-demand funk MC in all of Brazil, and also having toured Europe several times and had tracks on foreign releases. Clearly, his place of residence hasn’t diminished his access—and interest—in the wide swath of music he pulls into this feijoada de funk: new wave (Yazoo’s “Don’t Go”), early disco-house (Indeep’s “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”), and commercial alt-rock (Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”). It’s amazing what an Internet connection can do.
15. MV Bill – É Nós e A Gente
Rio rapper MV Bill helped found the Central Única de Favelas (Central Favela Factory, abbreviated CUFA), a national NGO that focuses on hip-hop culture as an alternative to the drug trade. He riffs on the arbitrary divisions of the narco-trafficking world in Rio by juxtaposing “é nós” and “é gente,” two slang expressions that mean the same thing—it’s us—but come from rival gangs, the CV and the Amigos de Amigos (Friends of Friends, abbreviated ADA), respectively.
16. Xis e Profeta – Us Mano e As Mina (Profmix)
MV Bill is really an exception to the rule: Funk is the music of Rio, and hip-hop is the sound in São Paulo. The two are considered very different, with paulista hip-hop fans looking down on funkeiros as juvenile and vulgar compared to the serious social concerns that SP hip-hop tackles. Xis’s 2002 track with Profeta doesn’t directly deal with the favelas paulistanas, banished to the periphery of the world’s fourth largest city, but the sound sets the right mood for the hip-hop paulista mindset.
17. Criminal Master – Pobreza (Poverty)
Going back to the roots now—“Pobreza” is from the 1988 hip-hop compilation Consciência Black. Lamentation in verse about the constant urban condition, all set to a funky (this time the American sense) beat.
18. Racionais MCs – Pânico na Zona Sul (Panic on the South Side)
Racionais MCs formed in 1988 and also contributed to Consciência Black with this track, launching a career that turned them into Brazil’s best-known rap group, a very serious voice for the millions of favelados in São Paulo. “Justiceiros são chamados por eles mesmos / Matam humilham e dão tiros a esmo / E a polícia não demonstra sequer vontade (Hired killers as they call themselves / Kill, humiliate, and shoot at random / And the police doesn't show any will to stop them).” Guess who opened for Public Enemy when they came to São Paulo?
19. Sidestepper – Mas Papaya (More Papaya)
Moving south to Buenos Aires, but picking up a sound that comes from further north. Cumbia is a Colombian folk music, but in its various mutations throughout Latin American, it has sprouted as cumbia villeira in the Ciudad Autónoma, popular in the villas miserias with hardcore lyrics about gangs and drugs, in a way akin to funk proibidão. A new breed of DJs and producers in BsAs has recently picked up cumbia and begun blending it into other global urban sounds, including Jamaican dancehall. [Edit: A commenter pointed out that Sidestepper is Anglo-Colombian -- so maybe I hit Bogotá after all -- but I got it off a compilation I bought at ¡Zizek! in BsAs, which evidently isn't a reason to assume every track is porteño.]
20. Colon Colon – El paena loco (The Crazy Crown)
Pure cumbia without other styles mixed in—the telltale shaker (shickishin is the local onomatopoeia) is cumbia’s signature sound.
21. Princesa – Aquí Princesa (Princess Here)
Princesa is a porteña MC who has been tearing up the local scene with a fierce blend of reggaetón and dancehall.
22. G.R.E.S. Acadêmicos da Rocinha – Rocinha é minha vida, Nordeste é minha história (Rocinha is my life, Northeast is my history)
Beginning with a forró flourish, the Acadêmicos da Rocinha chose to honor the heritage of many of the community’s residents in their samba enredo for the 2008 Carnaval parade—it will be performed on Saturday night, February 2, at the Passarela do Samba (known colloquially as the Sambódromo) in the Series A & B competition. The population of favelas in Rio’s largest cities has swelled in recent decades with an influx of nordestinos (northeasterners), fleeing the most impoverished region of Brazil. They in turn have increased the popularity of northeastern music, like forró, in Rio. Mangueira, for example, is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of frevo, a rhythm from Pernambuco, in their performance on Sunday night in the Grupo Especial. Broadcast live on national television with the winning samba school feted in Brazil as much as Super Bowl champions will be in the U.S. that same night, samba endures as a striking example of what the non-formal city in the Americas can accomplish culturally.