Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Em Casa no Morrão / At Home on the Big Hill

The Beat Diaspora has been in a kind of Babylonian exile, you could say, for quite some time now. But it was just this time last year that it really picked up steam, occasioned of course by the time I spent in the cidade marvilhosa. Shame on me, though, for having left more bailes, graffiti, funk tunes extraordinaire, and carioca style completely unpublished than I'd like to admit.

But, as hinted, I was coming back, and here I am. At home on the big hill, this time living in Rocinha: Rio’s, Brasil’s, South America’s (?) largest favela. I’m here with the help of the Two Brothers Foundation—or, more accurately, their Brazilian counterpart, the Instituto Dois Irmãos—who helped me find a place in Cachopa, an área (not neighborhood, since Rocinha itself is a neighborhood, even if it’s one of 150-300k people) about halfway up from the entrance by the Lagoa-Barra highway.

I took the title of this post from a documentary that 2Bros produced at SDSU this spring. It’s only 25 minutes and worth a look: forget all the escalating hyperbole on favelas, just interviews with three students from the Instituto, regular kids, talking about hobbies and hopes. Big up to Paul Sneed for the old school funk soundtrack.

Rocinha: Em Casa no Morrão
[Portuguese with English subtitles]

I’m living in a house that belongs to the family of Sarah, the 12 year old. They’re evangelists of the Pentecostal Church, which has apparently been sweeping the third world (or at least the poorer areas that still conjure up such terminology; I suspect my condo-dwelling neighbors down in São Conrado would resent the label), stealing away the Catholic faithful. I asked Seu Jose why he converted from Catholicism and his answer was simple: more direct connection with God. So in a sense nothing new, Protestants have been saying that since Luther.

He’d probably be mortified if he knew how much I’m into the baile funk, so I try and keep the jams restricted to my headphones. Not that I need to most of the time—on every street corner, every sidewalk bar, there’s funk blasting from the speakers. It’s almost comical how I spent the first couple weeks here last summer searching for any trace of the music, only to have been cursing the tamborzão my first night in Roça because it was still blaring at 6 am and I wanted to go to sleep. A mere couple days here was more evidence than I needed for a basic, even obvious, premise that I want to develop further: funk is the soundtrack to Rio’s favelas. It’s an equation equally applicable in its own way to Baltimore club, Miami bass, London grime/dubstep, Chicago house, Detroit techno, Berlin techno, maybe even Boston bounce?

Well, duh. But I’d like to take this idea of a “soundtrack” a little further. What about funk makes it uniquely carioca, uniquely favelado? In terms of lyrics, musical structure, production, consumption, all of that. How does funk articulate favela and how does favela articulate funk? I think they reinforce each other—the rapid exchange of beats and samples in funk like the riotous growth of favelas, the precarious architecture of the morro like the rough, raw production of your favorite pancadão (big hit). If I’m starting to sound academish, it’s because I’m here at the behest of the H-Bomb, doing research so I can write another 100 some pages on this stuff and walk across a stage next June.

To that extent, I’ll be writing more with the idea of virtual research notepad in mind, as LuisInParis&Chicago did with considerable dedication. Since the exact focus is TBD, I’m trying to absorb as much as I can about life up on the hills.

Less than two weeks in and I’m already backlogged on entries, but I’m optimistic: the casa da Cachopa is hooked up with Internet, something I managed to pull off about 4x quicker here than I could in Paris. Rocinha Ad Hoc Utilities 1, FranceTelecom 0.

That gray one streaking in from the upper-left corner, then hanging loose in the middle, before rejoining the tangled mass at the end of the alley? My lifeline to the world.

The picture was also the occasion to meet the neighbors. Amlir, who lives across the beco, was standing in the doorway as I took the shots. I remembered Seu Jose saying that a former guest in my room had taken shots in the alleyway and it had angered the neighbor, who thought they were of his house (Robert Neuwirth told me of a similar anecdote, when a guest from an NGO snapped some photos of sewage infrastructure and they were accosted later by an angry resident asking why they were taking pictures of his house). Well, Amlir didn't mind at all once we started talking, and even had me over for a shrimp cake he just made. He turns out to be from Bahia and a practitioner of candomblé with a fair share of paraphernalia on his walls.

Amlir dressed as a pai-de-santo, leader of the rituals.

Certificate from the Sociedade Cultural Afro-Brasileira.

Candomblé has been a minor abiding interest since reading Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé by J. Lorand Matory. But I've got a pai-de-santo next door, so I suppose I won't have to look too hard to find it. That's Rocinha life for you, camaraderie of the beco, because we're too close not to be in this together. He hosts parties fairly frequently and told me I'm welcome whenever (I already crashed one on Tuesday because I knew I wasn't going to sleep until it was over).

Time to hit the sack -- early rising to visit Vigário Geral, a favela in the Zona Norte that became infamous in 1993 when 21 innocent residents were shot by police in retaliation for a bribe scheme that didn't pan out. It became symbolic, along with the massacre of street children in front of Candelaria church downtown, of an era marked by violence excessive even for Rio. When favela youth stormed the famous beaches of the Zona Sul (Ipanema, Copacaban) to fight one another and rob tourists, well, that was the last straw. They say funk propelled the invasion, but that's another story for another day.

I'll be making the cross-town trek at the invitation of Jean-Philippe and Jasmine, who have been recording on location for Montreal-based Masala (which comes replete with blog, podcast, and radio), who I met my first Friday at the infamous Baile de Cantagalo, where DJ Sany Pitbull is still holding it down with consummate style. I'm going to check out Grupo Cultural AfroReggae (of Favela Rising fame), which has been doing its part to mend a few of the city's many many rifts. Adrianna, proprietress of Carioca Funk Clube, also had some Norwegian (? or some kind of Scandinavian) radio journalists in tow at Cantagalo. And Leonardo HBL was on hand filming for Diplo's Favela on Blast, which I still don't know much about. (Although HeapsDecent sounds, well, heaps decent, and I’m considering pitching 2Bros as an avenue for doing something similar in Rio. “Smash a Macaco” anyone?) Cantagalo’s turning into a regular foreigner hotspot, something of a Castelo das Pedras lite, you know, where they take the tourists. Hard to slight it though: with Sany cranking out the best MPC mixes in the city and the CV willing to pay for massive equipes de som ready to burst the bass through your torso, they’ll keep on coming up the stone steps from Copacabana (there are over 100; I counted this time).

And what kind of reinauguration would this be without some beats. In honor of the bandidos that hang out at the end of my block:

Amigos Guerreiros a Rocinha

No morro da Rocinha é o maior lazer
A onde é o quem sube não quer mais descer . . .
Up on the hill of Rocinha it's the most relaxed
Where whoever climbs up never wants to come down again . . .

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At 7/21/2007 1:07 PM, Blogger wayne&wax said...

Oui, Luisinparis is a fine model of research notepad blog dedication -- but I hope you'll be striking a different balance between musical and culinary coverage ;)


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